Speaking for Kids

Extending Educational Accountability Beyond the School Doors

We have high expectations of our education system, and rightly so.  Educators have one of the most important jobs with the greatest ability to impact Michigan’s economic recovery.  Do we want and need effective teaching and learning?  Of course.  Do we want and need accountability for educational outcomes?  Of course.  Do we want all schools to be of the highest quality?  Of course.  The need and impact are too great and we certainly don’t have public funds to spare.  The Legislature is currently debating the best way to communicate our schools’ effectiveness, but the question that we should be grappling with is how do we support and evaluate our education system to be best able to promote that effective learning.

Effective learning demands a great deal of things.  I like the ASCD’s Whole Child language, which I’m paraphrasing here.  Michigan children and youth need to:

  1. enter school healthy and learn about healthy practices as they progress;
  2. learn in physical and emotional safety;
  3. be connected to the broader community through their learning;
  4. have access to learning tailored to their challenges and strengths;
  5. have access to caring and competent adults involved in their learning; and
  6. be challenged throughout their educational careers so that they can be prepared for college and career.

Much of this is obvious, and all is well documented in research.  When kids are hungry, when they haven’t slept, when they aren’t feeling safe at home or at school, as just three of many possible examples, their ability to engage with even the highest skilled teaching in the best run school is challenged.

The responsibility that falls on classroom teachers and other school and district staff for effective teaching and learning has been and continues to be discussed, and the best way to measure its effectiveness hotly debated.  What is perhaps less obvious and certainly not discussed enough, is the responsibility that falls on other systems that impact students for the rest of their learning, beginning well before kindergarten and continuing outside of the classroom through their educational careers.

The question has always been, and rightly so, how do we ensure the best use of public dollar for education – how are we using what we know, in this case what we know about effective teaching and learning, to assess the best use of the resources that we spend within the education system, and within other systems that impact learning as well.

Can we assess and support and reward educators, schools and communities in addition to skill in subject area and teaching and learning pedagogy, and also in their prowess in those practices that serve to close achievement gaps?  In the ability to connect early and often with children, youth and their families?  In the ability to consistently engage each student?  In the ability to move students individually on their own trajectory? In the ability to provide 2nd and 3rd chances for the most challenged students to succeed?  Can we assess and support and reward the ability of educators and schools to collaborate together and connect with outside supports – parents and community resources?

Can we not punish educators and schools for structures and impacts beyond their control, BUT not end the conversation there?  Can we expand responsibility for educational success a little to rest with us all, and support that responsibility accordingly?  At this point, the Michigan Legislature is discussing yet another school accountability system.  We urge them to expand this conversation to evaluate how all of the components of our teaching and learning system are doing and invest support and resources accordingly.

-Michele Corey

Shining a Spotlight on Third Grade Reading

Last month, House Bill (HB) 5111 was introduced to address the significant challenges Michigan students face regarding third grade reading proficiency.  The 2012 Michigan Kids Count Data Book reported that 69 percent of Michigan fourth-graders had reading skills below the proficiency level according to national standardized tests, and significant disparities were prevalent by race and income.  Specifically, nine out of ten African American students, eight of every ten Hispanic/Latino, and eight of every ten low-income students could not demonstrate reading proficiency, rates that are significantly worse than for white and higher-income students.  Clearly, the Legislature must shine a spotlight on this critical benchmark, which can negatively impact students’ future educational careers beyond fourth grade if students fail to master needed literacy skills.

HB 5111 would ensure that students could not enroll in the fourth grade until they demonstrate third grade literacy standards.  However, merely retaining students to repeat the third grade will prove to be insufficient if the goal is to increase third grade reading proficiency.  Other evidenced measures to support children’s literacy development must be in place to ensure more students can reach this critical benchmark.  In response, HB 5144 was introduced this week and would require the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) to adopt policies and programs that would enable more Michigan children to attain reading proficiency by the end of third grade.  This bill is tie-barred to HB 5111, meaning that neither bill would be implemented unless both bills are passed into law.

HB 5114 makes the critical first step of working to identify some strategies, led by MDE, to move more children towards reading proficiency.  However, we already know what it takes to ensure that children are meeting this critical benchmark.  Michigan took the first step by significantly expanding the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) – the state’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of being underprepared for kindergarten – to ensure that thousands of additional children could access this program.  GSRP has proven to not only better prepare youngsters for kindergarten but also increase third grade reading levels.

But access to high quality preschool is only one piece of the puzzle.  Last week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a Kids Count policy report on the first eight years of life, which I blogged about, that also addresses third grade reading.  As laid out in that report and as we know to be true from research, creating a high quality birth through third grade (B-3rd) system would support seamless transitions between early childhood and the early elementary years by merging the best and most critical components of early childhood and K-3/K-12 that result in better outcomes for kids, and ultimately eliminate achievement gaps.  A B-3rd system will ensure that children develop strong foundational skills in literacy/communication and math well before kindergarten and develop social and emotional competence that begins early – all of which will be sustained once children are in school.  Children and their families will establish patterns of engagement in school and learning while having the supports they need at home and in their communities – supports that can mitigate the challenges that are often associated with racial and economic disparities.  Brain development is at its peak in the first three years and cognitive gaps can be seen in infants as young as 9 months of age.  Thus, early, continued and coordinated supports are essential.

Beginning with early supports and creating a seamless transition between early childhood and elementary school is essential to making substantial strides in third grade reading proficiency.  As the Michigan Legislature continues the dialogue on what it takes to ensure more students are successfully reaching this critical benchmark, policymakers must look holistically at what challenges young children face to read proficiently and knock-down the systemic barriers that stand in their way.

Learn more about the birth to third grade system in Michigan’s Children’s Issues report.

-Mina Hong

Cross-Sector Coordination Essential in the First Eight Years of Life

Today, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a Kids Count Policy Report titled The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success.  This report takes a close look at how young children are faring and makes some public policy recommendations that could improve their first eight years of life.  As we’ve said many times at Michigan’s Children, we know that our next workforce will be the most diverse yet, so improving educational outcomes for all children – particularly children of color and children from low-income communities – is critical to Michigan’s future economic vitality.  This means setting the right foundation in those first critical years and continuing to build upon that solid foundation in the K-12 setting to ensure lifelong success.

We know that by the time children reach third grade, they must be successful readers in order to continue to succeed in school.  As they say, until third grade, children are learning to read; and beginning in fourth grade, they are reading to learn, with proficiency in every other subject – math, science, social studies, art – dependent on reading ability.  We know that too many Michigan children fail to achieve this critical benchmark indicator and children of color and children from low-income families struggle even more so.  Unfortunately, a focus simply at reading improvement at the school building and within the school day once children enter kindergarten is not sufficient.  Reading proficiently by the third grade is a symptom of system successes and failures up to that point in the life of a child.  Only when we look at this system holistically will we be able to ensure more children can successfully achieve this crucial benchmark.

As the Kids Count policy report shows, our nation – including Michigan – must do better when it comes to child well-being in the first eight years of life as this will impact third grade reading outcomes as well as future life success.  As today’s report lays out, an effective system serving children from birth through age eight would:

  1. support parents as they care for their children;
  2. improve access to quality early care and education, health care, and other services; and
  3. ensure that care is comprehensive and coordinated for all children from birth through age 8.

Keeping a focused goal on reading proficiency, the Kids Count report reiterates the myth that classroom learning is isolated from other aspects of child development and that in fact, cross-sector collaboration that reaches outside the classroom doors is necessary to ensure that Michigan’s most challenged children can read proficiently.  These early years of a child’s life provide a perfect opportunity to illustrate how health, human services, workforce, and other sectors can work closely with the education community to foster children’s success.  Public policies can support and incentivize cross-sector and inter-agency coordination.

One example already in existence is Early On, which identifies infants and toddlers with developmental delays and works with families and their young children to provide appropriate interventions.  Early On oversight lies within the Michigan Department of Education but works closely with health and human services to ensure that families can support their young children.  Early On providers teach parents how to foster and support their child’s growth and development, connects children to appropriate interventions such as speech or physical therapy, and can connect families to other needed services as they relate to socio-emotional services, home visiting needs, and the like. Early identification of developmental delays can ensure that appropriate interventions can be administered and that children can get back on track to succeed in school.  While Early On provides a critical service for Michigan’s most challenged infants, toddlers, and their families, this program is woefully underfunded and too many families can’t access the wraparound services their children need.

Additionally, there are innovative practices happening around the state and nation that facilitate connections between schools and other public and private service providers.  Communities in Schools is a well-researched national model currently utilized in several Michigan communities.  Another relatively newer program that targets children in elementary schools is Pathways to Potential, which was modeled after the Kent School Services Network – a well-established county-based strategy that has demonstrated student outcomes.  These programs formally coordinate needed family supports through the Department of Human Services – supports like food assistance, child care assistance, and housing assistance – in a school setting, which is significantly less intimidating than a DHS office.  Pathways to Potential Success Coaches also integrate child and family health needs, parental needs, and other critical pieces that support struggling children with the ultimate goal focused on school attendance.  The work remaining is to ensure that Pathways to Potential results in the outcomes that we want and that it can be replicated in communities across our state while catering to individual community needs.

These types of holistic programs focus on the individual child’s success while also providing the needed services to ensure that other challenging factors in a child’s life can be addressed.  We know that these types of services can ensure that more Michigan young children from particularly challenging circumstances can reach the third grade reading benchmark.  Thus,  more coordinated programs and services are needed to ensure that Michigan can better support our young children from birth through age eight.

-Mina Hong

See the Michigan League for Public Policy’s blog on the Kids Count policy report and their corresponding news release.

Michigan’s Child Care System Continues to Struggle

Today, the National Women’s Law Center released its annual state-by-state report on the status of child care. This year’s report, Pivot Point: State Child Care Assistance Policies 2013, examines five critical factors that determine the affordability, accessibility, and quality of assistance in each state: income eligibility, waiting lists for assistance, co-payments required of parents receiving assistance, reimbursement rates for child care providers, and eligibility for parents searching for a job. What the report shows us is that Michigan continues to fall behind other states in these critical areas and must make policy changes to bolster its child care system to truly embed it within our P-20 education system. Here are a few critical pieces of the report.

One area where Michigan has gotten progressively worse is in the area of eligibility. The original intent of the child care subsidy is to support low-income working parents who struggle to afford child care while maintaining their employment. Between 2012 and 2013, nearly half of the states increased their income eligibility limits to keep pace with or exceed inflation; and forty-six states increased their income eligibility limits as a dollar amount between 2001 and 2013. However, Michigan did none of these.  Between 2012 and 2013, our state did not adjust its income eligibility limits for families to access the child care subsidy, maintaining eligibility at an annual income of $23,380 for a family of three. Since no adjustments were made for inflation, this means that families now living at 122% of the federal poverty level (FPL) could access the subsidy. Moreover in 2001, Michigan allowed families of three making $26,064 annually (178% FPL) to access the subsidy. In essence, Michigan has shifted its eligibility such that working families need to be poorer to access this critical support.

Beyond the fact that the subsidy is supposed to help parents maintain family-supporting employment, the reimbursement rates in Michigan make it extremely challenging for parents to afford quality care. Federal regulations recommend that rates be set at the 75th percentile of current market rates – a rate that is designed to allow families access to 75 percent of the providers in their communities. However, Michigan does not come close to meeting this recommendation. In fact, for a four-year-old in center-based child care, a family can receive up to $433 in subsidy per month, though the 75th percentile averages $974 per month. For a one-year-old in center-based care, families can receive up to $650 in subsidy though the 75th percentile of the market rate is $1,000 per month. Clearly, the reimbursement provided is insufficient to ensure families can access high quality care, and families can be charged co-pays to make-up the difference between the true cost of care and the subsidy amount. This is a significant financial stretch for Michigan’s poorest working families who are served by the child care subsidy system.

Beyond the low reimbursement rate, Michigan is one of three states that provides child care subsidies on an hourly basis that’s dependent on a child’s attendance. Most other states provide child care subsidies on a daily, weekly, or monthly rate, which we know is aligned with what high quality child care programs need and charge private-paying families. This consistency in payment, that’s not dependent on attendance, is critical for programs to maintain their business model to provide high quality care and is the way that the child care market operates. Providing an hourly reimbursement makes it challenging for providers to anticipate continued revenue from subsidized families, making it difficult for providers to support quality improvement efforts – efforts that are critical to ensure the best outcomes for children.

Finally, Michigan fails to promote continuity of care, which we know to be critical to the healthy development and learning of young children. Michigan is one of only five states that does not allow families to maintain their child care assistance while looking for a job if they become unemployed while receiving the subsidy. We know this to be problematic not only because families need to be able to access child care to attend job interviews but it also allows parents to start working sooner if they already have child care available when they secure a new job. For children, having consistent care from a high quality provider ensures the best outcomes for their learning and development.

Michigan has a long way to go towards ensuring a robust child care subsidy system that truly supports working parents while promoting the learning and developmental needs of our most challenged children. Other states have shifted their child care subsidy systems to promote school readiness for young children through high quality early childhood settings, promote school success for school-aged children through high quality after-school programming, and support low-income working families to access these quality programs. As a state, we must ask ourselves what is our ultimate vision for children and families served by our child care subsidy system and how can we transform our policies and procedures to achieve that?

-Mina Hong

Starting Off with a Shutdown

October 1st marks the beginning of the new fiscal year for both the State of Michigan and the United States.  And boy are they starting off in two completely different but intricately intertwined ways.

Nationally, we’re obviously operating under a partial government shutdown as a result of Congress’ inability to identify a short-term spending plan to maintain operations.  Congress continues to negotiate a short-term plan to fund the federal government and will likely come to some resolution that will maintain fiscal year 2013 funding levels for a little while longer to give them more time to identify a fiscal year 2014 budget.  Of course, the longer this partial shutdown lasts, the greater likelihood of Michigan’s already struggling children and families to feel the effects of the shutdown.  For example, basic needs programs that children and families rely on such as nutrition assistance through WIC and the school lunch program could be in jeopardy if Congress doesn’t agree to a spending plan quickly.

At the state level, today marks the first day of the fiscal year with a budget that includes some significant enhancements (as well as disinvestments) to programs serving Michigan’s most challenged children and families.  What we can’t forget, however, is that our state budget is reliant on federal funding, so a continued government shutdown will impact our state operations, and whatever ultimate budget decisions that Congress makes will impact the way our fiscal year 2014 budget is rolled out.  I’ve said this many times before but it bears repeating.  Over 40 percent of our state budget comes from federal sources, but what’s even more important is that the departments that serve Michigan’s most challenged children and families have even greater reliance on federal dollars.  Nearly two-thirds of the Department of Community Health budget is made-up of federal dollars, three-quarters of the Department of Education budget comes from federal sources, and four-fifths of the Department of Human Services budget comes from the feds.  The departments that work to reduce disparities in child outcomes by ensuring that our most struggling children are fed, housed, safe, healthy, and educated are the departments that will feel the brunt of this government shutdown.

So as we mark the beginning of the fiscal year 2014 budget with some state-level wins like the historic expansion of the Great Start Readiness Preschool Program, expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental Program, and some additional supports to address infant mortality; we can’t forget how programs that rely on federal dollars will negatively impact the same families who would be benefiting from these wins.  The same children who will have greater access to preschool and oral health care are also the ones who will be impacted by cuts to cash assistance, food assistance, and child care assistance if Congress can’t come to a resolution.

In all likelihood, Congress will come to a resolution in the very near future through the passage of a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to maintain federal government operations at the fiscal year 2013 levels for multiple weeks.  However, Congress will need to agree on a spending plan for the entire federal fiscal year and this is where your voice can make a difference.  While the sequester seems like ages ago, the impacts are being felt across our state now, and our members of Congress need to hear about them.  If your child is no longer able to access Head Start or adequate special education services as a result of the sequester, please talk to your members of Congress and urge them to reinstate the harmful sequester cuts in the fiscal year 2014 budget that they are debating.  Or, if programs like food assistance or after-school supports are helping your family or your community, Congress needs to hear about those too.

To learn more about the importance of the federal budget here in Michigan, visit our website.

-Mina Hong

Beyond the Bickering to What Matters

I was so proud today to see the culmination of hard work from two members of our Congressional Delegation – yes, our Congressional Delegation, those guys in DC who are responsible for either coming to some budget conclusion today or partially shutting down the federal government.  In Michigan, we have some pretty important folks who represent us in DC.  Congressman Dave Camp, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee – you know, that committee responsible for coming up with government spending priorities – and Congressman Sander Levin, who is the ranking Democrat on that very same Committee.  While more often than not, the ideological gridlock in the U.S. House of Representatives seems unbearable, every now and then, there is a glimmer of bi-partisan leadership about something that really matters to the most challenged children and families in our state and nation.  This is one of those glimmers, and the leaders responsible need to have that work acknowledged and celebrated, even in the midst of larger and more polarizing conversations about how we will be spending our public resources in this nation.

Two Democrats and two Republicans, including our two delegation members mentioned above, today introduced the Promoting Adoption and Legal Guardianship for Children in Foster Care Act, which reauthorizes the federal Adoption Incentives program through 2016 and makes improvements in how the program works to help some of the kids who tend to stay in foster care longer than others – those who are older, who are over-represented by children of color.  This program was originally created by the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 to help states increase adoptions by giving them some additional resource to do so.  (I shouldn’t forget the two other bill sponsors – a Democrat from Texas and a Republican from Washington state.)

In Michigan, we are again looking at the over-representation of children of color throughout our child protective services system.  This disparity begins at the time that complaints are investigated and continues to increase through removal of children from their families through permanent placements with guardians and adoptive parents or aging out of foster care with no placement option.  Incentives to target adoption and guardianship supports so that they benefit the kids who need them the most are critical.  The fact that two members of our delegation were able to overcome their disagreements on a host of issues, to work together on this critical issue, is worthy of celebration.  Now, they start working on all of their colleagues on the Hill and we are poised to assist.

Michigan’s Children is part of a national network called SPARC – the State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center – that brings advocates from around the country together to insist on better public policy for children, youth and families in a variety of areas including protecting our most vulnerable.  As Congressmen Camp and Levin work across the partisan aisle to build support for this reauthorization, we will be working with our colleagues in other states to encourage constituent pressure and support to assist.

Please, acknowledge this good behavior – too often our elected officials only hear from us when we are expressing disappointment for what we see as poor decision-making on their parts.  Right now, we think that Congressmen Camp and Levin need to know that their constituents appreciate their efforts, and the rest of our delegation needs to understand that we expect similar bi-partisan work to be done on behalf of the most challenged children, youth and families in our state – today, tomorrow and every day.

-Michele Corey

Building Successful 21st Century Learners – the Common Core and Beyond

I spent the week last week with colleagues from around the country as part of the C.S. Mott Foundation-funded White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellowship, strategizing individual and collective action necessary to garner the support necessary to fully fund one of the most important and effective achievement gap closure strategies we have at our disposal – extended learning opportunities.  These opportunities reach beyond the school day and often the school walls to provide additional space for quality teaching and learning to occur.  The research clearly illustrates that quality extended learning opportunities can help with achievement, behavior and graduation.

Bill White at the Mott Foundation said it better than most – extended learning is not a silver bullet for all of our educational system woes, but it does represent a silver lining in our education reform conversation.  This is particularly true when we look at the best strategies for gaps that start early and layer through a child’s educational career.  We keep hammering on the fact that literacy gaps emerge by 9 months.  There is research indicating that even when gains are equal through the school year (which they too often are not), gaps in literacy and math skills increase by nearly 2 ½ years of schooling by the 5th grade due to academic ground lost over the summer for children who cannot access quality programs during that time.  We know that once you are behind by the 4th grade, particularly in reading and math, you are fighting an uphill battle in the higher grades, and kids who repeat a grade before high school have only a 20 percent chance of graduating with a diploma.  Struggling kids clearly need more time to graduate and more support to catch up than most communities currently provide.

Our Michigan Legislature is currently focused on a couple of specific topics of education-reform conversation – both critical, both extremely impactful in the educational success of our young people, and both connected to the silver lining of extended learning in ways that you might not expect.   The first, known nationally as the Common Core, is about the need for a tough, universal, consistent curriculum in our schools that reflects the skill-base necessary for success in the world today.  Whether or not we think that Michigan students should master similar skills as students in the rest of the country or the rest of the world (the “common” debate), we can certainly agree that they are at a disadvantage if they fail to master a wide skill base – a wider skill base, perhaps, than we have needed in the past, to be college and career ready and to be well positioned to assist Michigan in our economic recovery.

It is completely rational and realistic to allow Michigan’s education system to continue on its path to implement the Common Core and support that implementation with adequate preparation, training and evaluation structures in place for the staff who are responsible for teaching and learning through the school day.  Thankfully, the Michigan House is acting today to again allow that to happen, and we have terrific research and advocacy involved from the Michigan Coalition for High Student Standards suggesting necessary components to do that effectively.

However, it is not rational or realistic to suggest that all of those skills should or even could be adequately gained during the 20% of a student’s time that they are spending in school.  Where else can they gain these skills that we can’t argue are essential?  In their homes and communities – extended learning opportunities are connected to the K-12 learning day, but can expand on that learning, can help students get motivated and engaged, and can help them catch up.  Supporting partnerships between schools, community colleges, workforce partners, youth serving agencies, parents and many others can serve to bolster educational and life success.

Michigan has a structure in place to connect the dots between state departments and other partners to take full advantage of this silver lining, but now we are relying entirely on federal 21st Century Learning Center funding to do that, despite some history of state support that has faltered in recent years.  Our State Superintendent has bravely taken on racial equity gaps as a focus for the Department of Education, and resources in that Department are being devoted to gap-closure strategies.  We need to think about how we are going to prioritize public dollar in Michigan to make sure more students are successfully mastering the wide range of skills necessary for career and college success.

So, we must support school staff and administrators in doing all that they can within the timeframe they have to support tough, universal, consistent learning standards in our schools that reflects the skill-base necessary for success in the world today.  And, we must consider what else is needed to make sure that all of our young people are ready for the challenges ahead of them.

Stay tuned for the 2nd big Legislative conversation – teacher evaluation, which is also clearly connected to all of this discussion.

-Michele Corey

Supporting Michigan’s Poorest Families with Young Children from Birth to Age Three

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2012 data on poverty rates across the country and the data was bleak for Michigan.  While our child poverty rate did not increase from the previous year, it remained stagnant, demonstrating that children and families continue to struggle during Michigan’s economic “recovery”.  One out of four Michigan children continue to live in poverty and we know that even higher shares of our young children from birth to age three are more likely to be living in poverty than older children.  What’s even more dire are that young children of color are still more likely to be living in poverty than white children.  The consequences of childhood poverty – particularly in the first few years of life – have long been established and we know that the outcomes are not acceptable.  With racial and economic disparities in cognitive achievement (aka the beginnings of the achievement gap) emerging as young as nine months of age, focusing on prevention efforts that mitigate the harmful effects of poverty are essential to ensuring that children are ready for school and life.

Business leaders and economists have become particularly effective advocates for high quality early childhood programming.  The Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan played a vital role in securing Michigan’s $65 million expansion of the Great Start Readiness preschool program (GSRP).  Nationally, a group of business leaders organized by ReadyNation is carrying a similar message in Washington, DC.  And earlier this week at the ReadyNation Summit, Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman presented on the return on investment from high quality early childhood programming and reiterated that the greatest returns are seen from programs that start the earliest – programs that are targeted prenatally and during the infant and toddler stages.

Michigan is well poised to support its lowest-income young learners.  We can do so by maximizing our GSRP investment to reap the greatest return by bolstering our efforts that begin before four years of age.  We already have the infrastructure in place to expand voluntary home visiting services, thanks to the federal Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visiting program and Public Act 291 which requires the state to only support evidence-based or promising home visiting programs that are backed by research.  Now, we must focus on expanding home visiting services to reach more of Michigan’s very challenged families, since we know that home visiting programs not only provide significant benefits for young children in terms of their healthy development and learning but also supports parents on a path towards economic stability.  Furthermore, we have the infrastructure to bolster our child care program through Great Start to Quality – the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System.  Continued efforts to strengthen the child care subsidy system can ensure that parents can maintain stable employment to support their families while supporting children’s learning and development in high quality child care settings.  These are two clear tools that Michigan can better utilize to mitigate the harmful consequences of poverty that, as James Heckman has said, provide the greatest return on taxpayer dollar.  So what are we waiting for?

-Mina Hong

Supporting Effective, Equitable Investments in Education

Earlier this month, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report reflecting what we’ve known and felt all over the state – that we in Michigan, similar to many states around the country, continue to disinvest in K-12 education.  Since our ability to successfully educate all of our children through K-12 and beyond is what our future economic status rests on, this is not good news for kids, communities or Michigan’s economic recovery.  We have definitely recommended an end to this trend, and will continue to do so.  However, let’s talk about how and where we need to invest to provide our best chance to close our growing gaps in educational success.

I’ve begun to hear economists pointing out that the achievement gap is the largest threat to our already struggling economy.  We are so glad that Michigan leaders have listened to the economists who have talked about the real economic gains that result from preschool investments.  Fortunately, this is also a key gap-closure strategy, and while there are still gains to be made there, progress is happening and investment is growing.

What other investments matter in gap closure?  Yes, I’ll say them again:

  • Year round extended learning opportunities that intentionally include resources dedicated to mitigating summer learning loss and engage young people of all ages through the school year.  Michigan has in the past dedicated state appropriation for these critical programs, but has not invested consistently despite the infrastructure that exists to support quality programs.
  • Better, more consistent use of the existing per pupil funding available to support young people who need a 5th and 6th year of high school to reach graduation, and better paths that connect GED success to postsecondary for the young people who fall so far behind even the 5th and 6th year will not get them toward a traditional diploma.

One that I haven’t talked quite as much about in recent blogs, but is equally important:

  • Direct supports for the most challenged students and families.  Michigan has a long history of acknowledging the need to use state funding to try to level the financial playing field between schools that serve smaller numbers of challenged young people and those who serve more than their share.  Michigan’s At-Risk funding supports supplemental programming within the school day – school breakfast programs, extra academic help, health and safety initiatives and many others.  This resource has never been “fully funded,” that is, it has never had the level of resource necessary to support the number of challenged students on whose behalf school districts receive the funding at the level intended.

As we suggest reinvestment in education, which we encourage everyone to do, let’s also think about smarter investment toward programs proven to improve equity.  As we move further down the path of tying school funding to certain priority practices, which is going to happen whether we recommend it or not, let’s use those incentives to promote more achievement gap closing strategies.

-Michele Corey

Post-Secondary Paths for More Young People

We’ve all agreed that the path to a self- and family-supporting job and career requires not only graduating from high school, but successfully starting AND completing some kind of post-secondary path.  We are so proud of all of the kids who finished high school last spring and are now on what we consider a traditional path to a four-year institution, though we certainly need to continue to pay attention to their successful completion and ensure affordability.  But, what I’m more concerned about are the most challenged young people in Michigan, who we also need to get on that post-secondary path.

We recently heard from a group of young people at a KidSpeak® event at Wayne State University, targeting kids aging out of the state’s foster care system.  They talked so eloquently about their unique needs, and our unique responsibility to them that we so often fail to provide.  They talked about how long it often took them to get through high school – getting behind because of frequent moves, credits failing to transfer and other life circumstances making it difficult to make their way through in four consecutive years of school.  We heard about how critically important transitioning services are to them, financial and otherwise, when they do make it on that post-secondary path – the importance of financial and other supports to help them make it all the way through to a degree.  This too can take longer than the time frames allowed by those programs.

For young people who need more time in high school, we are thankful for our system that finances the 5th and 6th year of high school.  We need to provide more support to those options that utilize post-secondary and workforce partnerships to successfully graduate challenged young people and smooth their transition.

For some, circumstances are so challenging or they just get so far behind that they need a GED option that ties directly to a post-secondary path.  We know that a GED alone doesn’t move you much beyond where you’d be without a high school diploma, but a GED can and should be used intentionally as a pathway to something beyond that credential.  There are programs around the state that utilize this path. When combined with real work experience, like through Youth Build programs in some of our most challenged communities, this different kind of support moves young people into the post-secondary trajectory that promotes success.

For everyone, we need to remove time from the equation of high school and post-secondary completion.

We agree with the Governor’s focus on education at Any Pace.  The benefits of supports at a variety of paces was clear in KidSpeak®, as was the need to build more consistent and appropriate opportunities available to more challenged young people in our state.  Budget conversations are beginning now in Lansing and critical decisions are being made in Washington, DC as well – decisions that can promote or impede opportunities to post-secondary success.  Michigan young people are reinforcing the Governor’s rhetoric.  If we focus on the goal, rather than putting parameters around the time it takes to get there, we’ll move more quickly toward a more economically secure state.

-Michele Corey

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