African-American student and teacher
U.S. Department of Education / Flickr CC / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Who did you most admire when you were a kid? Maybe it was your parent. Or a teacher. Or your favorite TV or movie star.

Role models, both positive and negative, help shape how children behave in school, relationships, and when making decisions.

Mike Blank / Michigan Radio


When we talk about segregated schools, we need to look no further than Detroit. Census figures from the Michigan Department of Education tell us Detroit is a city where more than 82% of its students are African-American, just 2% are white and only 0.24% are multi-racial.

A new charter school on Detroit's east side, in the Indian Village neighborhood, is working hard to change that.

Detroit Prep is a free public charter school authorized by Grand Valley State University. Right now, it's got kindergarten and first grade students. 

Its founders were determined that Detroit Prep would be the city's first intentionally diverse charter school. So they set out by casting a wide net in recruiting students and in offering strong academics.

students on stage
April Van Buren / Michigan Radio

Education in America remains deeply segregated.

But at the same time, there are more students of color than ever before. In 2014, for the first time, minority students made up over 50% of public school enrollment.

One district that’s seen those shifting demographics first-hand is Plymouth-Canton Community Schools.

And it's been intentional about creating an environment where students and families from all backgrounds feel welcome.

Ilmicrofono Oggiono / Flickr Creative Commons / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Johns Hopkins University released a study this week that shows why the lack of diversity in teaching is a pretty big deal.

Sarah Alvarez

Teacher Josh Nichols is corralling a group of fifth-grade students into a classroom where there are PVC pipe, five-gallon buckets and ropes piled on tables, all arranged around two large cow troughs full of water. It's a makeshift laboratory, where the kids from this Stockbridge, Michigan elementary school make robots that function underwater. 

The students are getting their remotely operated underwater vehicles, or ROVs, ready for a Saturday trip to Albion, Michigan, a town about 35 miles away. "The ROVs will travel in the buckets," Nichols reminds them. "We need every piece." 

Nichols has been planning what some of the kids call a "geekend," for several months. He and Albion teacher Jason Raddatz met and connected over the ways they try to provide high-quality STEM (science, technology, education and math) education on a shoestring budget. 

They also want to combat the geographic, and in many ways demographic, isolation of the two rural mid-Michigan schools.

"A student could stay in a school system like this, and if they aren't involved in sports, they could go for six, eight, nine years without really leaving the town and having interaction with other students from other schools," Nichols explains.

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.

Does racial diversity equal better schools?

Nov 13, 2013
clipping courtesy of Ray Litt / via Detroit Free Press

In 1973, when the NAACP challenged school segregation in Detroit, schools were more diverse than they are today. Back then, about a third of Detroit school children were white. Now, only 4% of kids in the city are white.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Classrooms are becoming more diverse, with Black and Latino students filling up more seats than ever before.  But across the country, for the most part, teachers are still white, middle class and female. So how do teachers navigate that divide?