8:23 am
Wed April 9, 2014

What kids with disabilities bring to the classroom

"He would bless our school."
Zak Rosen


Bentley loves people. He’s usually wearing a big smile.  He’s a joy. But his mother, Adrienne Crawford, admits he’s a lot of work, too.

“I took a three-minute shower" the other day,  says Crawford. "And I came back and his bedroom was covered in baby powder. I don’t know why he did it.  I guess it looks fun, just pouring white powder on the floor.”

Bentley has Down syndrome.

Shortly after he was born, Crawford remembers reading a book that forecast everything that could possibly go wrong in her young son’s life.

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2:07 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

Tennessee once lagged Michigan in education. Now it's a national leader, while Michigan falls behind

Credit flickr/Brad Montgomery

Going to college may soon get a lot easier – if you live in Tennessee. 

The Tennessee Legislature is moving forward on a proposal that would offer two free years of community college enrollment to any high school graduate in the state. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam first introduced the idea during his state of the state speech in February. Haslam calls the plan the "Tennessee Promise" (sound familiar?). According to a fact sheet released by Haslam's office, about 25,000 students are expected to apply, at an annual cost to the state of about $34 million. Haslam proposes paying for the Tennessee Promise through an endowment created with state lottery funds. 

"Tennessee will be the only state in the country to offer our high school graduates two years of community college with no tuition or fees along with the support of dedicated mentors," Haslam said in his state of the state address. "Net cost to the state, zero. Next impact on our future, priceless." 

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8:02 am
Thu April 3, 2014

Ideas & Stuff: Does parental involvement in schools make a difference?

Role modeling and tutoring: Ulric Carter, left, Terrence Phillips, and Shevete Johnson help tutor students with their homework at the Finnigan Park Boys and Girls Club Power Hour after-school program during a U.S. Navy community relations project as part of the Houston Navy Week.
Credit U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons

A new study on parental involvement with their kids' schooling is making the rounds. Keith Robinson (University of Texas at Austin) and Angel L. Harris (Duke University) wanted to find out whether parent involvement impacted academic achievement.

Here are the factors they looked at, according to Dana Goldstein, from The Atlantic:

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6:00 am
Wed March 5, 2014

Five months after students take MEAP, rest of Michigan learns what many teachers knew all along

Renee Howard, third-grade teacher at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids, coaches her students on writing.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Today we have an update from a story we brought you in January. For that story, a documentary we called "The Big Test," I spent six weeks following a third-grade class at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids. I watched as students got ready to take the state-mandated MEAP test for the first time. Students took the test in October. But the results of the test didn’t become public until last week.

So now, we're going back to Congress to see how students did.

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11:48 am
Thu February 27, 2014

Outtakes: Why one education expert believes video may be best tool to improve teacher performance

Credit flickr/jsawkins

Yesterday we had a story about teacher evaluations, and how the process might be changed to make evaluations less about punishing bad teachers and more about giving feedback so all teachers can have ideas for how to improve.

For that story, I interviewed Thomas Kane, a researcher at Harvard who's been one of the driving forces behind the teacher evaluation movement in the U.S. – though he hasn’t been entirely pleased with how evaluations have been implemented in most places.

As part of his research, Kane led a $45 million study called Measures of Effective Teaching. The study looked at not just how to set up good evaluation measures, but how to use that information to drive teacher improvement.

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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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2:19 pm
Mon February 17, 2014

Think Again: Surprised that Oklahoma is way ahead in preschool access? We're not.

Credit lightsurgery / Flickr

The New York Times has caught up to the fact that politically conservative states, namely Georgia and Oklahoma, are way ahead of the rest of the nation in providing wide access and quality preschool to its youngest citizens. At State of Opportunity we weren't surprised at all because we, and This American Life, have covered the gains made in Oklahoma since we started reporting on Michigan children's well-being.

We hate to say, "I told you so," so instead we invite you to Think Again and review our reporting on Oklahoma's influence, as well as that of a 1960s experiment in Ypsilanti.

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8:03 am
Thu February 13, 2014

Another issue with count day in Detroit Public Schools? "Predatory" enrollment

Credit Leo Riskin / Flickr

Jack Lessenberry notes in Week in Michigan Politics Detroit's infrastructure is failing its youngest citizens. Frequent power outages to schools this winter means students have lost 160 days. Power returned Wednesday in time for the day when students in attendance count toward federal funds. As Kate Wells said about last autumn's count day, "The more students a school has in attendance on count day, the more money they get from the state."

But the outages have provided a distraction from a continuing issue with DPS count days: they can be overrun with excessive marketing. And now, according to commentary in this week's Bridge Magazine, predatory enrollment campaigns are an epidemic. Marketing and student poaching are two sides of the same coin to lure students to poorly rated schools in a crowded charter marketplace.  

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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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