STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Which schools do the best job of teaching kids from low-income families?

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Chris Devers

 Last week, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy released its latest "Context and Performance" report card for Michigan schools. We mentioned the Center's CAP study once before, back when the study only included Michigan high schools. The latest release covers elementary and middle schools to provide a searchable database of every school in the state. 

What makes the CAP study unique, among all the many school ranking studies out there, is that the Center makes an attempt to statistically correct for the income levels of the students at the school. One of the problems of just ranking each school on raw test scores (as the official state website does) is that schools in well-off communities always come out on top. It can be difficult to tell if schools in low-income areas are bad schools, or if they just have more disadvantaged students. 

The Mackinac Center says its ranking system provides more of an "apples to apples" comparison for Michigan schools: 

Four years' worth of MEAP test scores in all subjects and for grades 3 through 8 were adjusted based on the percentage of students in an elementary or middle school who qualified for a free lunch. A school's "CAP Score" indicates how far above or below projections an elementary or middle school performed given its student population's socioeconomic status, with 100 set as the average.

So which schools come out on top when you use this measure?

According to the Mackinac Center, the top school in the state is Detroit Public Schools' Thirkell Elementary.

Although about 90 percent of Thirkell's students are from low-income households, 84 percent of fifth-graders scored proficient on the MEAP mathematics and reading tests in 2012. Thirkell students, on average, did far better on the MEAP than the state average. Adjusting for student background makes Thirkell's success even clearer.

But the rest of DPS schools don't do as well in the new study. Only about 22 percent of DPS' elementary and middle schools earn an "A" or "B" in the study. 

One district that performs much better is Dearborn Public Schools. The Mackinac Center says 68 percent of Dearborn schools earned an "A" or "B" in the study.

To see the full results, click here.  

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.
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