Education

Education
7:24 am
Wed August 20, 2014

One way to avoid tears on the first day of kindergarten

Abigail, a soon-to-be kindergartner.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

A little before 9 a.m. Monday, it’s time to clean up the morning work in the KinderCamp classroom at MLK Leadership Academy in Grand Rapids.

The free, week-long program is happening at four schools in low-income neighborhoods around Grand Rapids.

At MLK, nine children showed up on the first day.  The idea of KinderCamp is to ease kids into the experience of entering kindergarten.

Sitting on a blue carpet, kindergarten teacher Tina Watson leads a discussion with her KinderCampers.

"Can you say, expectations?" she asks them.

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Education
10:33 pm
Mon August 18, 2014

More questions than answers about the racial imbalance in Michigan's schools

Credit Derek Bridges / flickr

The death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown and the resulting chaos in Ferguson, Missouri is an extreme example of the long tail of a racial power imbalance. 

Racial power dynamics between police and the communities they patrol have historically been, and still are, important for communities in Michigan and across the country to address. But, a less explosive version of this racial power imbalance plays out elsewhere every day.

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Education
6:55 am
Wed August 6, 2014

A vision for how to make school choice work better in Detroit

Dan Varner
Credit courtesy of Dan Varner

Dan Varner went to law school, dreaming he could change the world. When he got out, he got a job at a firm that handled class-action discrimination lawsuits. 

"Got what I thought was a great job at a great firm," he says. "And became one of many unhappy attorneys."

He was unhappy because he realized the work wasn’t having any impact. So he got another job. He worked as a public defender for people accused of committing federal crimes.

"And I had this sense of this parade of largely black young men coming through my office," Varner says of his experience there. He says these men were "accused of committing crimes that most of them had committed, and who were going away to prison, for whom I couldn’t do much – A – and then B – for whom the education system had failed ... So at that point, I really began this journey back upstream."

He stopped being a lawyer, and ended up in education.

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Education
5:15 pm
Tue August 5, 2014

New Yorker report shows widespread cheating by educators on standardized tests

Credit user jdurham / morgueFILE

It's summer, but I'm going to talk about school for a minute here. This recent New Yorker article about standardized tests kind of blew my mind. In it, reporter Rachel Aviv profiles an urban middle school in Atlanta where teachers willfully cheat on the state standardized test; not only did a few of the teachers sneak a peak at the test before they were allowed to, the school's principal encouraged the teachers to correct the students' answers, too. 

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Education
4:32 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

MI curious answer: Why don't the courts step in on school funding in Michigan?

Credit Hope for Gorilla / flickr

Kara Gavin wanted to know the answer to this question, "Why does the law allow such persistent disparity in school district funding? Could civil rights laws be used to level the playing field?"

Gavin is getting ready to send her child to elementary school and that has her thinking a lot about school quality for her own family and families all over the state. 

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Education
1:27 pm
Tue July 29, 2014

Do Michigan's charter school rules need big changes, or just more tweaks?

Credit KT KING (flickr.com/xtrah)

What will it take to fix Michigan's charter school laws?   

The rules governing charter schools in Michigan were first put into place a little over two decades ago. Since then, there have been revisions – the biggest of which happened a few years ago when the state lifted the cap on the number of charter schools that can open in Michigan

But after the Detroit Free Press published a blistering investigation into the state's charter schools, the law may be headed for more revisions. 

And some are starting to make the case for a complete overhaul – not just of charters, but of Michigan's entire education system. 

"Let's start over," says Dan Varner, head of Excellent Schools Detroit, and a member of the state Board of Education. "I think it’s time for a complete reset of the way we deliver public education in Michigan."

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Education
12:56 pm
Fri July 25, 2014

Why even the biggest charter school supporters don't love Michigan's charter school laws

When then-governor John Engler pushed for charter schools in the early 1990s, he was hoping to create a system of schools with more freedom and less regulation. But charter schools in Michigan today have to abide by almost all the same regulations as traditional schools.
Credit Chuck Grimmett/wikimedia commons

This text is adapted from a segment of a State of Opportunity radio documentary produced by Lindsey Smith and Dustin Dwyer. To hear the full documentary, click the player above. To read more about how Muskegon Heights schools made history by converting to a charter district, go here

 Let's talk about one statewide trend that’s played a significant role in the events of Muskegon Heights schools: private companies that run public charter schools. 

A recent Detroit Free Press investigation sparked a statewide conversation about why these management companies don’t have to disclose their finances to their charter school boards. The Freep found numerous examples where that lack of disclosure and oversight led to some shady deals.

Gary Miron from Western Michigan University studies charter schools, and has a reputation as a critic of Michigan’s current charter school laws. 

Miron says that original idea for charter schools was to have small, locally controlled, locally operated schools that would be free to pursue new ways of educating kids.

But that didn’t happen in Michigan.

Today, Michigan has more public charter schools being operated by for-profit companies than any other state in the country. Miron published a study last year, which found that for-profit companies run 79% of Michigan’s charters, twice the share of the next closest state. At least a half-dozen states ban for-profit charter management all together.

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Education
4:20 pm
Thu July 24, 2014

Muskegon Heights schools were in trouble. Then the district made history. Twice.

Dancers from the Muskegon Heights High School Academy perform during the Festival in the Park parade earlier this summer.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

There are a lot of school districts in trouble in Michigan. 

Forty-five districts are in a deficit. Five districts are currently subject to state oversight under Michigan's emergency manager law. Two school districts completely ran out of money last year, and dissolved. 

Today, in a State of Opportunity documentary, we bring you the story of how one troubled school district survived. 

Two years ago Muskegon Heights made history by becoming the first school district in Michigan to convert entirely to a charter district and turn the operation of its schools over to a for-profit company. It had never happened before in Michigan, or, as far as we've been able to determine, anywhere else in America. 

But this spring, Muskegon Heights schools were in trouble again. Just two years into a five-year contract, its management company walked away from the district. And, once again, leaders in the community had to work with the state to find a plan to keep the district's doors open. 

This, ultimately, is the story of how they succeeded, at least for now. And what lessons we might take for the other school districts in Michigan that are facing financial problems. 

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Education
7:00 am
Wed July 23, 2014

Detroit kids go to camp to do things they can't do in the city

Detroit students get to practice archery at Camp Burt Shurly.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

This week on State of Opportunity, we’re going to summer camp!

I spent this past Monday with about 100 elementary school students at Camp Burt Shurly, a 250-acre campground near Chelsea. The week-long, overnight camp is run by the Detroit Public School district. Each Sunday a new set of campers arrives by bus. There's tons to do here – everything from boating and swimming to arts and crafts, nature hikes and archery. And because the camp is run by a school district, the campers have to take math and English classes, too, to help combat the "summer slide" many kids face.

Camp is paid for with Title 1 funds, so it's free for DPS students, many of whom might not be able to afford camp otherwise. 

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Education
11:00 am
Fri July 18, 2014

The Boggs School's message to kids is, 'I'm so glad you're here'

Credit Andrea Claire Maio

Over the last year, Zak Rosen and Andrea Claire Maio have been following students and educators at the James and Grace Lee Boggs School. 

Maio and Rosen have done pieces in the series about control in the classroom, two young students at the Boggs School who are best friends, and about making school more human

For the series' last piece, Maio focused on the Principal of the Boggs School, Julia Putnam -- a cornerstone of the school.

Julia from andrea claire maio on Vimeo.

Putnam met Grace Lee Boggs, the school's namesake, when Putnam was 16 years old.

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