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From school closings to neighborhood building: What we're reading this week

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Summer Mondays can be hard.

Maybe you spent all weekend on the beach at Lake Michigan or you're already thinking about your upcoming vacation. Either way, it takes a little while to get back in the groove of the work week.

I find the best way to cut through the summer brain fog is by learning something new. Think of it as warm-up exercises for your brain.

I compiled a few of the most interesting reads the State of Opportunity team came across this past week. So pour yourself another cup of coffee and do a few mental jumping jacks to get the week started. 

State could close more than 100 Michigan schools

More than 100 schools across Michigan could shut down at the end of the 2016-17 school year, according to Chalkbeat Detroit. Which schools will be shuttered depends on how poorly they scored on the statewide assessment tests over the past three years. Any schools that have landed in the bottom 5% of test scores three years in a row would be closed by the state's School Reform Office, which operates under Governor Snyder. That's despite the fact that the Michigan Department of Education told schools they wouldn't be punished for low scores on the new, more difficult M-STEP test that replaced the MEAP two years ago. If the SRO includes those scores (and officials indicate they will), there will be a lot of Michigan families looking for new schools come June.

Moving on, but not up 

Speaking of new schools, Education Weekly recently looked into the impact that switching schools has on a student. If you've ever moved schools during the middle of the year, you've probably experienced the awkwardness of being the new kid in class. But reporter Sarah Sparks says the impact can be much bigger than that. Research shows students lose around three months of learning every time they switch schools. That can add up quickly for low-income and minority students, who move more often than their white peers. And schools that have lots of "highly mobile" students can have a hard time improving outcomes for their students, no matter how many reforms they put in place. 

How legal housing discrimination keeps families in concentrated poverty 

One reason that low-income people move so often is that it's hard to find decent affordable housing. That's true even when a family qualifies for a rental voucher from the federal government, according to a recent Washington Post article. While it's illegal for landlords to turn away prospective tenants based on things like race or religion, they are allowed to consider how a family plans on paying rent. If they're using a Section 8 voucher, landlords are free to say no. And those in higher income areas often do.

So, why does this matter?

As we've reported here at State of Opportunity, where you live has a huge impact on your success in life. Kids who move from areas of concentrated poverty to higher income neighborhoods do better in school and make more money as adults. But if low-income families can't find a landlord that accepts Section 8 in a well-off neighborhood, chances are they'll end up in the same concentrated poverty they started out in. 

How tragedy inspired one Detroit woman to transform her neighborhood 

It's easy to get a little down when you're thinking about all the things going wrong in the world. But it's important to remember that there are a lot of people who are working hard to do great things in their communities, too.  Last week, State of Opportunity's Paulette Parker profiled one of them. Shamayim "Shu" Harris has spent six years working to transform houses in her blighted Highland Park neighborhood into community gathering places. 

What are your reading and listening suggestions for this week? 

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