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. 


6:00 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Will better evaluations and more training help Michigan's teachers improve?

Teachers from Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids participate in the district's fall teacher development day.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Teacher evaluations have become a hot political topic in Michigan.

Chances are if you’ve heard anything about them, the discussion has been about how to use evaluations to get rid of poor-performing teachers.

But that's not the only way to use them. Teacher evaluations can be a tool to help teachers improve their craft. 

Now, Michigan legislators are considering changes that some say could help teachers do so. 

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6:00 am
Wed February 12, 2014

Political posturing, multimillion dollar contracts and the future of student testing in Michigan

One of the changes ahead for Michigan school assessments: switching from paper and pencil to computer-based tests.
Credit Kees Romkes / Flickr

Schools in Michigan will face a big change next year in student testing. After more than four decades in use, the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, or MEAP test, is on its way out. That much is known.

What’s unknown at this point is what will replace the MEAP. There’s currently a pitched battle raging in Lansing over what to do. And it turns out, much of that battle boils down to money and government infighting.

One thing we are able to say for sure: kids will be asked next year to take some kind of standardized test. It’s a requirement of federal law. And a requirement for the state to keep receiving federal education funding, which last year was equal to an estimated 13 percent of the state’s total education budget.

But which test will kids be asked to take?

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1:47 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

Outtakes: Ameera grills her little brother

Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

As you may have heard, last week we aired a radio documentary about the third graders at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids.

Audio from the documentary came from the six weeks I spent with the kids at Congress, from the first day of school until the end of MEAP testing in October. For the one hour program, I gathered, I think, well over 100 hours of audio. Needless to say, we have plenty more material to share with you for the State of Opportunity Outtakes feature.

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9:00 am
Thu January 30, 2014

The Big Test: Six weeks with one third grade class at a low-scoring elementary school

For this documentary, we followed the students in Renee Howard's third grade class at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids from the first day of school until the kids took their MEAP test, six weeks later. Here, the kids line up outside Congress on their first day.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

 The big test is coming. 

"I don’t even want to take it, says Musa, a third grader at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids. "I'm not a big fan of tests."

Musa carries himself like an adult: hands casually in his pockets, shoulders back.  He stands on the edge of a cracked asphalt basketball court.

It’s picture day at Congress, and Musa has on a red t-shirt with black sleeves. He says it’s for special occasions, only.  

On the shirt, the words, “Destined for greatness," are laid out across Musa's chest.

"Did you pick it?" I ask him about the shirt.

"Yeah," he says.

"Why did you like what it says?" I ask.

"Because I didn’t want it to be something bad," he said. "So I put ‘Destined for Greatness,’ so people think I’m good, not bad."

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6:00 am
Wed January 29, 2014

What it takes to feed 200 kids, twice a day (better hope it's not a taco day)

Destiny Jackson sweeps up the remains of taco day during the fall at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids.
Credit Dustin Dwyer

Tomorrow, on State of Opportunity, we’re airing a new documentary, called The Big Test.

To report the documentary, I spent six weeks in the fall following a group of third grade students at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids. Congress has low test scores, and we wanted to know what you might miss if you only focus on those scores.

In my six weeks at Congress, I gathered far more audio than we'll ever be able to air. So today, as a preview to tomorrow's documentary, we bring you a sort of deleted scene.  

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10:02 am
Tue January 28, 2014

28 kids. 1 big test. 5 teasers about our doc on high-stakes testing, The Big Test

From Angela Stockman's blog post on "Test Stress"
Credit WNY Education Associates / http://goo.gl/YM4c6p

Last fall, one reporter went into one classroom in one school and met twenty-eight kids trying their best to learn.

Despite stereotypes about their school as a "bad school," here are five things reporter Dustin Dwyer learned from, and about, the kids at Congress Elementary School in Grand Rapids. 

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2:21 pm
Tue January 7, 2014

Ideas & Stuff: Why kids in poverty are rarely seen as "gifted"

Credit Sharon Pruitt / Flickr

I came across a study today that looked at how a group of very gifted children became "innovators and leaders" as adults. The study, from Vanderbilt University, identified 320 gifted children at the age of 13 using an SAT test. The cutoff score meant that all of the 320 students in the sample represented the top 1 in 10,000 for achievement on that test.

The study's authors followed the kids for 30 years, and (surprise, surprise) the children ended up achieving great things. Most earned at least a Masters degree in college. Forty-four percent earned a PhD. Many held patents. A few wrote novels. Two became vice presidents at Fortune 500 companies. One ended up advising the president.

What do these results tell us? The study's authors say the results show conclusively that gifted kids make for gifted adults. From the study's conclusion: 

Young adolescents with profound talent in mathematical and verbal reasoning hold extraordinary potential for enriching society by contributing creative products and competing in global economies.

But, as you might have guessed, I don't think the lessons from this study are quite so simple. 

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10:52 am
Mon December 16, 2013

Gap watch: Which Michigan colleges are improving minority graduation rates and which are not?

Lead in text: 
Our friends over at MLive.com have a story out today about what some Michigan colleges are doing to improve graduations rates for black men. Along with the story, they've published a searchable database so you can check graduation rates at any Michigan college, break the rate down by race and then compare the results over time. It's a useful tool.
  • Source: Mlive
  • | Via: MLive.com
GRAND RAPIDS, MI - Graduation rates at Michigan's colleges and universities show significant gaps remain among black men and the overall student body. Schools throughout West Michigan, including Grand Rapids Community College, are working to reduce those gaps through programs that offer assistance to black men.
2:24 pm
Mon December 9, 2013

Should we flunk third graders who can't pass a standardized test? Here's what the research says.

Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Last week, the House Education committee at the state capitol passed a piece of legislation that would force schools to flunk any third grader who failed to get a score of "proficient" on the state's standardized reading test.

The legislation still has to pass both the full House and Senate and get a signature from the governor before it could become law. And, late in the week, there was news that state leaders may be putting the idea on hold while they gather input from teachers and school administrators (most of whom oppose the idea of flunking third graders based on a single test score). 

So while everyone pauses to gather their thoughts about a proposal that could force nearly 40 percent of Michigan's third graders to repeat a grade, I thought it's worth taking a dive into the research to see how this plan has worked out in other places where it's been tried. It turns out, the idea has been studied quite a lot. So here are four main takeaways from the research.

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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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