STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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Whiteboard: What ideas do you have to fix Michigan's education gap?

Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

In our latest documentary, The Education Gap, we talk about the disparities between high-poverty schools and low-poverty schools. I urge you to listen to the full documentary if you haven' t yet because there's a lot to unpack there. Meantime here's a quick description of the two schools we featured during the hour:

Meadows is a 5th grade elementary school in Novi. The student population is solidly middle class or higher, test scores are among the highest in the state, the teachers have taught 5th grade for pretty much their entire careers, and the classrooms are well-stocked and spacious.

The other school didn't want us to use their name or district, so we call them School X. The school has a high poverty population with chronically low test scores, a high teacher turnover rate, and a new 5th grade teacher in an overcrowded classroom.

Throughout the documentary we talk with education policy experts, researchers, teachers and principals about what can be done to level the playing field so that all children, no matter where they live, can get a decent education.

Needless to say, there is no one silver bullet solution to close Michigan's education gap. Some experts say poor schools need more money, others say schools get enough money, they just need to figure out how to better use it; some say we need to re-think the way schools are used so that they stay open late to provide health and human services for kids and their families. Others say that economic integration in schools could go a long way towards closing the gap.

Dr. Steve Matthews is superintendent of Novi Public Schools. In an email correspondence with me, he called school funding "a complicated puzzle" with no easy solution. With his permission, here's an excerpt from his email:

In Novi we have gone from 0.5% free and reduced lunch to almost 10% in the past decade. Our district has become increasingly diverse. We are right now at the turning point on finances. Several years ago we had an 18% fund balance. We are now at 10%. We are trying to hold the line there. That means sacrifices for our staff which they are not happy with. Yet Novi has so much when we are compared to “district X”. How to create a level playing field and have that field be at our level and not take us down a path that would require us to give up the things we have is a difficult question to answer.

Like he said, it's a complicated puzzle.

What ideas do you have to fix Michigan's education gap? Would you change the state's school funding model? If yes, how so? Are there low-income schools you know of that are having success in improving student achievement? Can schools offset the effects of poverty?

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.
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