Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

A little before 9 a.m. Monday, it’s time to clean up the morning work in the KinderCamp classroom at MLK Leadership Academy in Grand Rapids.

The free, week-long program is happening at four schools in low-income neighborhoods around Grand Rapids.

At MLK, nine children showed up on the first day.  The idea of KinderCamp is to ease kids into the experience of entering kindergarten.

Sitting on a blue carpet, kindergarten teacher Tina Watson leads a discussion with her KinderCampers.

"Can you say, expectations?" she asks them.

Derek Bridges / flickr

The death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown and the resulting chaos in Ferguson, Missouri is an extreme example of the long tail of a racial power imbalance. 

Racial power dynamics between police and the communities they patrol have historically been, and still are, important for communities in Michigan and across the country to address. But, a less explosive version of this racial power imbalance plays out elsewhere every day.

courtesy of Dan Varner

Dan Varner went to law school, dreaming he could change the world. When he got out, he got a job at a firm that handled class-action discrimination lawsuits. 

"Got what I thought was a great job at a great firm," he says. "And became one of many unhappy attorneys."

He was unhappy because he realized the work wasn’t having any impact. So he got another job. He worked as a public defender for people accused of committing federal crimes.

"And I had this sense of this parade of largely black young men coming through my office," Varner says of his experience there. He says these men were "accused of committing crimes that most of them had committed, and who were going away to prison, for whom I couldn’t do much – A – and then B – for whom the education system had failed ... So at that point, I really began this journey back upstream."

He stopped being a lawyer, and ended up in education.

Downtown Detroit

Today is a big day in the bankruptcy proceedings for the city of Detroit.

Votes are due from creditors on whether to approve the city's restructuring plan. The Detroit Free Press reports the results of those votes should be made public in about 10 days. 

In the meantime, you can expect plenty of think-pieces reflecting on the anniversary of the bankruptcy filing, and what it all means. 

Aaron Foley, of Gawker Media, officially fired the starting pistol yesterday, with a piece that began: 

Get ready, folks! It's time for another progress report on America's most forlorn and depressed city, now even deeper in the throes of bankruptcy than ever before.

July 18 marks the day Detroit filed for bankruptcy, which means you'll likely be inundated with one-year anniversaries on the topic in the next week. The Freep's going to do it. The News is going to do it. Rumor has it you're going to read about it in The New York Times Sunday magazine this weekend. So we decided to get our analysis out a little early.

Foley's take is worth a read, if for no other reason than that he actually lives in Detroit, which is often not the case with other journalists writing about the city (ahem).

Boggs School


(This story originally appeared on Michigan Radio on Sept. 6, 2013.) 

What if something other than jobs could rebuild Detroit?

What if the purpose of education was to help children reach their highest human potential?

What if we had a conversation about the meaning of service to our community?

These are just a few of the many questions being raised at a new charter school in Detroit. It’s called the James and Grace Lee Boggs School. They opened their doors this week.

There’s a war raging in Lansing over the future of academic testing in Michigan.

Last fall, Michigan school kids took what was supposed to be their last MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) test, ever. The state was pushing forward with a new kind of assessment, based on a set of standards called Common Core.

State Republicans weren’t so thrilled, for lots of reasons. We’ll get to those in a minute.

Christopher Reynolds

 Last week I finally got to meet up with some students I've been in touch with over email for a long time. Chris Reynolds first told me about his experience as a first generation college student last May. At the time, he had just finished his first year of college at the University of Michigan and was on his way to Ohio for a prestigious internship.

Reynolds is part of the First Gens at Michigan. There are 3,000 first generation college students at Michigan, about 13% of the student population. 

Only a few hundred are involved in First Gens. The group functions an advocacy organization, social space, and support group. At this meeting, students opened up about how the tough parts about the transition to college can be heightened for those who are trailblazers for the families. 

Gap watch logo
Chris Devers / Flickr

 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?

Bridge Magazine compares the rates of kids in Michigan taking Advanced Placement classes to the rest of the country, and it's not good. Many fewer kids in Michigan are enrolled in AP classes than the rest of the nation. And the numbers for low-income kids and African American kids are pretty dismal. It's a problem that has implications for getting into college and the cost of college, not to mention offering all students a challenging curriculum.

Turns out kids from lower-income homes have a harder time learning reading than math. This piece in the New York Times sheds light on how school districts across the country are struggling to bring up reading comprehension. “It’s a three-dimensional problem that you have to attack. And it just takes time," says Brett Peiser, head of the Uncommon Schools network of charters. Although at first glance I was surprised by the news, it makes sense if you think about it. The Hart & Risley study we've talked about so often here at State of Opportunity shows that kids from poor families start school with a 30 million word gap compared to their higher-income peers. Whereas math, as the Times article points out, is largely taught in schools.