Education Gap

Jalin, Valencia and Irmitha Pitchford in front of their new home in Wyandotte.
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

For a long time, parents were seen as the key factor to a child’s success, and longtime State of Opportunity listeners know there are a number of things parents can do to help their children get ahead. But even the most well-intentioned parent will tell you: It's hard to parent when you live in a neighborhood that's not safe.


Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The Washington Post ran a story this week, highlighting disparities in public education funding and calling it "one of the sleeper civil rights issues of our time."

The article points to two new studies that show how disparities in school funding harm students in poverty and the country as a whole.  Here's an excerpt:

user Frank Juarez / flickr

We've talked about it before, but it's worth repeating: There is a major gap in the way we discipline children in schools.

This New York Times piece highlights not only the race gap but the gender gap as well, citing federal data that shows "black girls in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide were suspended at a rate of 12 percent, compared with a rate of just 2 percent for white girls, and more than girls of any other race or ethnicity" from 2011 to 2012.

Oh but it doesn't end there. Keep reading.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

There are principals, and then there's Diedre Zockheem.

She's the principal at Myers Elementary, the low-income school featured in our State of Opportunity documentary The Education Gap

I've interviewed Zockheem dozens of times over the last nine months and every time she tells me some story that reminds me a) how tough these kids have it, and b) how dedicated Zockheem is to helping them.

She's been principal at Myers for eight years. She’s just about the most stable thing this school has going for it. There's an incredibly high teacher turnover rate at Myers, and issues of domestic violence, mental illness, and drug abuse plague the families at her school.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio


Last fall, I spent a ton of time in two different fifth-grade classrooms: one made up of poor kids, the other made up of kids whose families are mostly well-off. I wanted to see how the two classroom experiences differed, and boy did they ever. We're talking night-and-day differences here. 

Don't believe me? Take a listen for yourself

I decided to revisit the poor school to see what – if anything – had changed. 

At the beginning of the school year, the students at Myers Elementary in Taylor struggled with math, reading and discipline issues. Here's what the classroom sounded like back in September:  


And here's what the classroom sounded like when I returned to the school in May:

This is a follow-up on the conversation about reparations, started by an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic a few weeks back. Many of us see educational opportunity as one of the ways to undo the ongoing economic injustice created by racist policies against African Americans in this country. But in this piece, sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom argues that even a college diploma isn't enough to equal the playing field.

This is a must read article for anyone who thinks turning around a troubled school district is as easy as throwing $100 million at the problem. Reporter Dale Russakoff walks us through the reform efforts happening in New Jersey's Newark public schools, a district with a "history of abandonment and failed promises." The New Yorker article highlights how difficult it is to fix a failing school system without addressing the even more systemic problems of poverty.

The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, has a new analysis looking at whether teacher diversity matches the growing student diversity in American public schools. Spoiler alert: it does not. The report says while minorities now make up nearly half of the student population in America's schools, only 18 percent of teachers are minorities. In the report, Michigan scores a little better than average, but that's not saying a whole lot. The report's recommendations come from a left-of-center policy perspective, but the problems the report identifies should resonate regardless of your political persuasion.

Annie E. Casey Foundation, Race for Results report


This week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a national report that caught our eye. 

The report is part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count series. Kids Count tracks a number of indicators – things like birthweight, school test scores, poverty level, and college attendance.

This new report includes 12 indicators in all, and they’ve been combined to come up with an index score for overall child outcomes. Those scores were then broken down by race, and each state was ranked.

For Michigan, there was a surprise. 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The vast majority of Michigan K-12 schools get between $7,000 - $8,000 per pupil every year. But there are some schools that get more…a lot more. We're talking about roughly a $5,000 difference between the richest schools in the state and the poorest schools.

When it comes to per pupil funding, is there a magic number?

When it comes to per pupil funding, we've got about a $5,000 spread between the richest and poorest schools in Michigan. So I called up Craig Thiel at the Citizens Research Council of Michigan to ask him if there's a "magic number" for how much it takes to educate a child in Michigan.

"The quick answer is no," says Thiel.