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. 

Ways To Connect


Over the weekend, The Washington Post published an analysis of every shooting death at the hands of a police officer since the start of the year. The Post found that the number of officer-involved shooting deaths is approaching 400 nationwide for the year, a number that's about twice as high as what you'd expect if you believe the existing statistics on deaths caused by police officers (most people don't). 

The Post has plenty of details within the numbers worth checking out, but still the most surprising part of this analysis is that it had to be done at all. Even with this analysis now available, it's clear that the number of things we don't know about violence involving police officers far outnumbers the things we do know. 

LBJ Library photo by Robert Knudsen

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson stood in the White House Rose Garden to announce a new program that would change the lives of millions of America's children. At the time, he called it "Project Head Start." 

"I believe that this is one of the most constructive, and one of the most sensible, and also one of the most exciting programs that this nation has ever undertaken," Johnson said of Head Start that morning. 

In the half-century since the announcement, millions of kids, and families, have received services through Head Start. The current annual cost of the program is nearing $10 billion. And yet there's huge disagreement even today about what Head Start has accomplished, or even should accomplish as its mission.

The Atlantic has a look at what seems like a huge shift in perception among Americans. Since 2001, the percentage of people who identify as lower- or working-class has jumped 15 percentage points in the U.S. Meanwhile, the number of people who believe they're in the middle class has dropped. Check out the piece for some thoughts on what this shift in perception could mean for the future.

There's an idea that's taken hold in the past few years about why it is that poor people, on average, eat less healthy food and have higher rates of obesity. The idea is simply that people in neighborhoods marked by poverty lack access to healthy food choices. Somewhere along the way (most likely starting in the U.K.) a person with an ear for good marketing decided to label these kinds of neighborhoods "food deserts."

Now, there's even a public service announcement dedicated to ending food deserts in the U.S.

The 2014 Farm Bill called for spending $125 million to attack food deserts by funding new stores or markets to sell fresh fruits and vegetables in low income areas. But this year, Congress decided to strip funding for the program

A new economic study argues this may have been the right decision. 

flickr, from 401calulator.org

The Atlantic is hosting its annual Summit on the Economy today in Washington D.C. You can follow the live webcast here, or in the embedded video below. 

You've already missed former Treasure Secretary Larry Summers and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, but you can catch some of what they said by following #AtlanticEcon on Twitter. 

Here's some highlights so far: 


Last week, a child showed up at the MidMichigan Health Medical Center in Clare with a suspicious set of symptoms. The child’s visit led to a phone call. That phone call led to an arrest.

Police told a local TV news station the child’s dad had been cooking methamphetamine inside the home. Yesterday, I reported that a record number of children were exposed to meth production last year in Michigan. The Clare case shows the problem hasn’t stopped this year, either.

When I was reporting the story, I called a doctor at the health center where the child showed up last week. Dr. Abid Khan isn’t the one who saw the child. But he is an expert on addiction. He runs a clinic at the center, and meets with addicts regularly.

He told me the way addiction is treated today is all wrong.

You see it on your local TV news every few weeks. Or maybe a small article in the paper.

Another fire. Another bust. Another story about meth.

The statistics tell the rest of the story: Methamphetamine use and production is on the rise in Michigan.

And last year, more children were exposed to meth labs than at any time since the state started keeping track.

LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe

Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon Johnson sat down at a table in Texas to sign one of the most important pieces of education legislation in the history of the U.S. You may never have heard of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act by name, but it undoubtedly affected your life.

Like most pieces of landmark legislation, the ESEA had many components, and those components have been amended over time. But at its heart, the ESEA was about using the power (and the purse) of the federal government to create more equity among the nation's schools. Johnson conceived it as part of his War on Poverty. It also became a key milestone in the civil rights movement. 

Johnson signed the law outside a schoolhouse where he had been a student. In his remarks that day, he did not mince words about what he hoped the law could achieve:

As the son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is only valid in its passport from poverty, the only valid passport. As a former teacher – and I hope a future one – I have great expectations of what this law will mean for all our young people. As president of the United States, I believe deeply no law I have signed or will ever sign means more to the future of America.

And if you've never heard of the ESEA by name, you might know it by the name it was given in 2002, during its most recent reauthorization: The No Child Left Behind Act. 

user alamosbasement / flickr

America is becoming less equal.

That much is now widely acknowledged.

But what can be done to improve things for the next generation?

We’ve been doing this work on State of Opportunity for nearly three years now. If there’s one thing I’ve heard over and over about how to help kids get ahead, it’s this: Education is the key.

"Once you’ve made it to college and graduated, your social mobility opportunities are great," said Fabian Pfeffer.

"Putting people into more post-secondary education would strongly promote their mobility," said Erin Currier.

"We’re talking about producing skills," said James Heckman. "Skills are the core of the modern economy."

If you want a good job, you have to have skills. If you want skills, you have to have education. That’s pretty uncontroversial.

But then I came across the work of this guy:

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Chamonique Griffith stands in front of her second-graders on a Thursday morning, about to try something that, for her, is new.

"How many of you know that I go to class at night?" she asks.  

Her second graders all quietly raise their hands.

"So, last night, I got to do a really cool activity with my teacher," Griffith continues, "and so I wanted to try the activity with you."

Griffith is part of the first cohort of teachers in a new college of education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids. This college is focused entirely on preparing teachers for urban classrooms. The students enrolled in the master's level program, for now, are all currently teaching at Grand Rapids Public Schools.