WUOMFM

the education gap

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Brian Whiston is the new guy in town at the Michigan Department of Education, and it looks like he's got poverty on the brain. Whiston and the state Board of Ed early this week convened a group of folks from around the state to share their ideas for how to improve academic outcomes for all students, especially those in poverty.

user: Bart Everson / flickr

The type of education a child in Michigan gets depends in large part on where he or she lives. That's because Michigan is under no legal obligation to provide an "equitable" or "adequate" education for all its citizens. The only thing Michigan is legally required to do in terms of schools is provide a "free" education. And we all know that free does not necessarily equal quality. 

Here is what our state constitution says about education: 

Sec. 2. The Legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. Every school district shall provide for the education of its pupils without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin. 

So, we've promised our children a free education, but is it equitable and adequate? That's the question we posed in our documentary, The Education Gap. (If you haven't heard it, click on the link and take a listen. You may be surprised at how much of a difference your zip code makes in terms of educational opportunities.)

The equitable and adequate question is also at the heart of a recent lawsuit against the Highland Park school district. As my colleague, Kate Wells, reported last week, the ACLU sued the district and the state of Michigan, saying students were not taught basic literacy skills. Here's an excerpt:

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.

KT KING (flickr.com/xtrah)

If you’re like me and you know just a little bit about the history of education in Michigan, you might already know that a lot of what we see in our schools can be traced back to reforms made in the 1990s under then-governor John Engler.

But what you may not know is that these education policies can actually be traced to events that happened in a single 24-hour period in the summer of 1993.

The story of how it happened is an example of how change – even momentous, tectonic change that affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people – can seem totally impossible right up until the moment it becomes inevitable.