Dustin Dwyer


Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.

In 2010, Dustin left journalism to be a stay-at-home dad. Now that his daughter Irene is turning two, he's happy to be back at Michigan Radio, where there are far fewer temper-tantrums. 


1:41 pm
Tue December 3, 2013

A tiny town in Ohio tried paying kids to do better on state tests. Guess what happened.

Credit flickr user biologycorner

I've been thinking a lot lately about standardized state tests. This fall, I spent about six weeks observing a classroom of third graders in Grand Rapids as they got ready to take their MEAP tests for the first time. 

I was interested in this because the MEAP has a big impact beyond the walls of a school. Standardized test scores have been shown to affect housing prices. And housing prices affect all kinds of things, from consumer spending, to municipal tax revenues to, well, school funding

So, test scores matter. 

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11:39 am
Tue November 26, 2013

8 new charts showing how race and economics affect a baby's chance of survival in Michigan

Credit 2013 Michigan Health Equity Status Report / Michigan Department of Community Health

My colleague Steve Carmody reported yesterday on a new study looking at the social factors at play in Michigan's higher-than-average infant mortality rate. This is a topic we've been discussing on State of Opportunity pretty much since the project began, and our own Jennifer Guerra produced an award-winning documentary last year on the racial disparities in infant mortality. 

And if you haven't followed this reporting, let me get right to the point of it all: Researchers and public health experts now believe things like poverty and racism are literally killing babies. 

It's a strong claim, but it comes from a strong, and growing, body of research. For an overview, you should definitely check out Jennifer's documentary linked above. But if you just want a quick glance at the latest evidence, you can look at the results from the new Michigan Health Equity Status Report released yesterday. 

Here, then are eight charts from the report:


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Families & Community
11:36 am
Thu November 21, 2013

Three reasons why paid paternity leave should be more common

Very few dads in the United States take more than a couple of weeks off work to help with a newborn baby.
Credit user: bradbrundage / flickr

For the past four weeks, I haven't been much help to my coworkers here at State of Opportunity. I've been unresponsive to emails. I've contributed nothing to the website. I haven't turned in any stories for radio. I haven't even thought about it. And yet, crazy as it sounds, I've been paid the whole time. 

I wasn't on vacation. I was on paternity leave. My wife and I had our second child exactly one month ago today. Since then, I've provided absolutely nothing of value to my employer. And, even now, I'm only working part time. 

Paid paternity leave, beyond one or two weeks, is crazy-rare in the United States. While federal law requires employers to offer 12 weeks of leave to both mothers and fathers after the birth of a child, the law doesn't say that parents have to be paid for their time away. Some employers, and some state laws, make it so more mothers can be paid during an extended leave after the birth of a child.  Estimates are hard to come by, but some data seems to indicate that less than 10 percent of new fathers take more than a few weeks of leave when their children are born

In a country where paid maternity leave is far from a given, paid paternity leave seems like quite a luxury. But here are three reasons why it should be more common:

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12:20 pm
Mon October 14, 2013

Outtakes: Charles Murray's honest take on how spending cuts may affect kids

Credit flickr user Rollinho

Last year, I sat down for an interview with libertarian author and scholar Charles Murray. We talked for about 30 minutes. Four minutes of the conversation made it to air

I've been thinking lately about something Murray said at the end of our interview. Though he said it more than a year ago, I think it's relevant to many conversations happening today in Washington over how to manage the federal government's deficit.

Click below to listen. 

7:00 am
Fri October 11, 2013

The single most important piece of technology in the classroom is also one of the cheapest

A versatile learning tool.
Credit flickr user taylor.a

Over the past six weeks, I have been spending almost all of my time at a single elementary school, inside a single classroom. I've been observing, and recording, the classroom for a documentary we hope to air in January. 

For six long weeks now, I haven't talked to a single "expert." I haven't read any hot new studies about how kids learn. I haven't watched a single TED video. I've just been leaning against a wall in Renee Howard's third grade class at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids, watching kids learn. 

So, for today's installment of our new Technology & Opportunity feature, I wanted to talk about an important and exciting piece of technology that none of the experts seem to care about, even though it plays a vital role in the classroom. 

When employed by a skilled teacher, this technology allows kids to tinker, try, fail and try again. It builds fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, critical thinking and creativity. 

Best of all, in a time of shrinking school funds, this technology is incredibly affordable. 

It's a pencil.

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10:33 am
Thu October 3, 2013

Up to 19,000 kids locked out of Head Start classes because of partial government shutdown

Lead in text: 
Head Start teachers are not federal employees, but Head Start is funded by the federal government. The Department of Health and Human Services pays for thousands of Head Start programs around the country by awarding thousands of grants. Most of the programs that depend on these grants will be fine during the shutdown; their funding is already in place for the year. But in 23 programs across 11 states, the funding is not in place. It was supposed to come through on Oct. 1st, the day the government shut down. NPR's Audie Cornish talked to the director of one of those 23 programs to find out how families have been affected.
About 19,000 children are affected by the government shutdown. Head Start programs across the country are being forced to shut down as they lose funding from the federal government. Audie Cornish talks to Dora Jones, the director of Cheaha Regional Head Start in Talladega, Ala. Her program is closed Tuesday because of the shutdown.
11:44 am
Thu September 26, 2013

Which factors will help your kids climb the income ladder and which will hold them back?

Lead in text: 
We know that kids who grow up in low-income homes are less likely to have high incomes as adults. But which factors most help kids climb the economic ladder, and which hold them back? The Pew Economic Mobility Project put together a handy, interactive site where you can combine different factors such as race, marital status and education to determine which combinations give people the best odds of getting ahead. Are you a single black female? If you get a college degree, your chances of climbing the economic ladder are at 83 percent. Same person, no degree? You have only a 9 percent chance of moving up, according to Pew.
  • Source: Pewstates
  • | Via: Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, on Twitter
When it comes to economic mobility, which families are likely to fare better than their parents? We invite you to explore this interactive tool as it reveals the traits of families that experience upward mobility and, conversely, those that find themselves stuck in their positions on-or falling down-the economic ladder.
12:51 pm
Thu September 12, 2013

Kids who read for fun do better in school

Lead in text: 
Some bits of scientific research seem so obvious, you wonder why anyone even thought to do the study. But this seemingly obvious result out of the UK does have some surprises. Researchers found that kids who read for enjoyment end up doing better in school - which most of us probably realize. But it turns out that when researchers controlled for many different factors, reading for pleasure actually outranked parental education as a major factor in kids' academic progress. So if you want disadvantaged kids to learn more in school, cultivate a love of reading outside of it.
Centre for Longitudinal Studies - CLS - Home of the 1958 National Child Development Study, the 1970
6:37 am
Wed September 11, 2013

Dental care at school, no appointment necessary

Dental hygienist Julie Hilton cleans teeth in a corner of the school library at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Beneath a purple poster for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and between shelves of books, a third grader slides into the vinyl dentist’s chair.

For most of the year, this space is the library at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids. But since school began last week, this corner of the library has been a dentist’s office.

"Okay, open up big, I want to see those new teeth," says dental hygienist Julie Hilton.

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5:55 am
Wed September 4, 2013

Who gets to decide when the school year starts? Not schools.

First day of school at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Tuesday morning, at 8:30, the first bell of the year rings at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids.

Mrs. Howard is lining up her third graders.

Last week, she was running off last minute copies and sweating through her preparations in a school building with no air conditioning.

Yesterday, she and the rest of the teachers and staff at Congress were ready to go.

It’s not that anyone at this school is itching to get the year going earlier. It’s that this school, this district, doesn’t even have the option.

John Helmholdt is spokesman for Grand Rapids Public Schools.

"We determine the day school starts not based on the academic needs of children," he says. "But on the tourism industry."

In 2005, Michigan passed a law to prevent schools from opening before Labor Day. The main rationale behind the law was to allow families one last vacation weekend. The main promoters of the law came from the state’s tourism industry.

Helmholdt and many other school officials say that’s not how education policy should be set.

"Particularly for the lower-income students, when they’re more susceptible to summer learning loss, the start of school, the length of the school year, the length of the school day, these are real issues that we need to start talking about," Helmholdt says.

But it’s not just the tourism industry that wants the school year to start after Labor Day.

Tina Bruno heads a group called The Coalition for a Traditional School Year. It’s based in Texas, and advocates nationwide for laws that prevent schools from starting in August or sooner.

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