education

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 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

Early Childhood Education a Top Priority for Voters

On Wednesday, the First Five Years Fund and the Grow America Stronger coalition released findings from a national survey of registered voters to gauge public reception on early childhood education in the U.S. and the results should leave early childhood advocates shouting from rooftops.  The poll was done by a bipartisan research team – Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies – resulting in a high validity of poll results due to the spectrum of political viewpoints polled as well as the objective framing of the questions.  When asked about their top national priorities, 86 percent of voters polled identified children getting a strong start in life, coming in second only to increasing jobs and economic growth.  Coming in a close third was improving the quality of our public schools at 85 percent – demonstrating that a strong start coupled with high quality K-12 education is what voters want our nation to prioritize.  These all came in above reducing the tax burden on families, which is important to remember when discussing funding priorities with elected officials.

Additionally, more than two-thirds of the polled voters say that half or fewer children start kindergarten with the needed skills.  We know this translates to teachers spending more classroom time with children who start kindergarten under-prepared, which affects all children in the classroom not just the children who are behind.  This is particularly important to remember when we talk about providing high quality early childhood programming to the lowest-income children or children with the greatest risk factors – this is actually beneficial to all young children when they enter kindergarten together.

Seven-in-ten voters (including 60% of Republicans, 64% of Independents and 84% of Democrats) voiced their support of federal efforts to help states expand access to high quality early childhood education programs.  When reiterated that these same efforts would not add to the national deficit, support increased further, with 72% Republicans, 71% Independents, and 88% Democrats in support.

In Michigan, we know that there’s broad support among our state legislators for high quality early childhood education as evidenced by the historic expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program. And, an opportunity to build off of our preschool efforts to expand quality early childhood education is possible through a deficit neutral early childhood education plan that is gaining momentum in Washington, D.C. and across the country.  This state-federal partnership would further leverage Michigan’s own efforts to expand four-year-old preschool and support additional efforts to build a more comprehensive early childhood system beginning at birth.  And with 63 percent of voters wanting Congress to act now on this issue, what are we waiting for?

Learn more about the poll results and the state-federal early childhood plan at the Grow America Stronger website.

-Mina Hong

A Mixed Budget for Equity

Last month, Governor Snyder signed the fiscal year 2014 (FY2014) budget into law.  The state budget is the single most powerful expression of the state’s priorities and can be used as a tool to improve opportunities for children and families or worsen disparities.  The FY2014 budget proves to be a mixed bag with some significant steps forward and some hugely missed opportunities.

A  big win for children is the $65 million expansion for the Great Start Readiness program.  This 60 percent increase will ensure that thousands of additional children will have access to a high quality preschool program and be better prepared to succeed in school, reducing the achievement gap.  We can also applaud the $11.6 million expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental Program, which will ensure that 70,500 Medicaid-eligible children in Ingham, Ottawa, and Washtenaw Counties will have access to high quality dental care.  Dental disease is the most common chronic illness for children – more so than asthma or hay fever – and disproportionately affects children of color and children from low-income families.

There were some mixed results in the final budget.  For example, the final budget included $2.5 million to support the state’s Infant Mortality Reduction Plan.  This level of funding to support the state’s plan is a step in the right direction, but falls short of the $11 million needed to fully implement the plan.  In a state where African American infants continue to be three times more likely than white infants to die during the first year of life, fully implementing the state’s Infant Mortality Reduction Plan while ensuring that other supports that promote healthy pregnancy and birth are essential to mitigate this unacceptable disparity.

And there were some missed opportunities.  Efforts were made to increase support for school-community partnerships through the Communities in Schools program; and we know that incentives for schools to create community links aimed at strengthening schools, increasing parent involvement, and meeting children’s needs can improve student outcomes and reduce the achievement gap.  Unfortunately, support for CIS did not come to fruition in the final budget.  Also, the final budget provided no additional resource for before- and after-school programming which improve educational success for all students and demonstrate the greatest benefit for students who face the most extraordinary educational challenges; and no funding increases for opportunities for the 5th and 6th year of high school – additional years that have proven to increase graduation rates for students who struggle the most in school.

And of course, the battle to expand Medicaid still rages on.  While more children would not be insured, Medicaid expansion would benefit children in significant ways.  More than one out of four individuals covered by the expansion would be women of child-bearing age, one out of four would be young adults who might not otherwise have health insurance, and 91,000 additional parents would have health care coverage.  However, Medicaid expansion is not a lost battle.  The House has already passed a Medicaid reform package separate from the budget bill, which includes the expansion, and the Senate continues to debate this bill.  The Senate Government Operations committee met today to provide a brief overview of the Senate workgroup that will be working over the summer in the hopes that Medicaid reform and expansion can be approved by the Senate in the fall.  We encourage you to continue talking to you State Senators about the importance of Medicaid expansion for your family and your communities.

Learn more about the FY2014 budget and Medicaid Expansion by visiting our Budget Basics library.

-Mina Hong

Conquering the Achievement Gap Is Worthy Goal: Take Steps to Make it Happen

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) hosted a summit yesterday, “Conquering the Achievement Gap:  The Promise of African American Males.”  The summit was an opportunity for the Department to discuss the work it has undertaken since the State Board of Education identified the reduction of the achievement gap as a priority in 2012. At the summit were national partners, state partners, and local partners all standing ready to address achievement gaps in new ways.

Michigan’s Children was asked to help MDE with one of the most critical pieces of this effort:  to make sure that the voices of young people themselves – their challenges, suggestions, perspectives and candor – are incorporated into any strategy development or implementation.  Two focus groups were held in Ingham County, which led to a commitment to facilitation of 30 more focus groups around the state.

While the bulk of the summit focused on work that has been done internally at MDE – a necessity to demonstrate that you are practicing what you preach – movement to end opportunity gaps in this state will require more intentionally coordinated efforts through state departments beyond education, and other private sector partners as well.  There is obviously plenty of work and responsibility to go around.  Clearly the educational system has to change – what we’ve been doing, prioritizing, investing in has contributed to the gaps in achievement, high school completion, and elsewhere for African American students and other challenged groups.  And what we’ve been doing, prioritizing and investing in elsewhere like health, human services, and other sectors, from cradle to career, has also contributed to these gaps, intentionally or unintentionally.

Equity gaps begin before birth and persist.  You’ve all heard me say it and I’ll say it again – by nine months of age we can see cognitive gaps forming, and without investments in initiatives targeting that gap, they persist and expand by the time that child reaches school, and continue to persist and expand through that child’s k-12 education and beyond.

Despite our good intentions, these gaps remain.  The voices of parents and young people can help us prioritize investment and better implement the strategies we pursue.

Lots of data was presented at this summit.  While the disparity data is always stark, the outcomes remain strikingly similar to those in place when I began in this field in 1990.  Beginning with a data and research base is important, but what we learn from the data and research needs to drive what we do next.  I’ll say this again as well.  There are clear research-backed strategies for investment that close opportunity gaps:  programs that support better economic and health security for the poorest among us; early learning supports; and supports for the most challenged students throughout their educational career to name just a few.  We passed a state budget this week that reflected very few of these things.  We need to make sure that we are matching our investment priorities with our good intentions.

We have another chance to provide resource to the kind of multi-sector approach necessary for reducing the achievement gap as we move forward, most importantly in the next fiscal year budget, and that work starts now.

-Michele Corey

Will Michigan Leaders Rise to the Sequestration Challenge?

I know, I know.  We are all a bit fatigued by the Sequestration conversation.  The word itself is too complicated and irritating, and the public is so fed up with reports of partisan bickering and inactivity in Washington, DC that they just expect that our elected officials won’t reach any solution to yet another stage of our country’s ongoing fiscal crisis.  However, on the day that without further action, the federal government will remove millions of dollars directly from Michigan coffers, I felt the need to talk about it one more time.

We rely so heavily in Michigan on federal funding, particularly for the programs that do the most to promote equity in our state – those that directly target disparities present by race and ethnicity, by income, or by other characteristics like speaking English as a second language or needing Special Education services; and others that don’t specifically target particular populations but still successfully reduce the equity gap.  In the face of a future workforce set to be its most diverse yet, Michigan leaders have spent the last decade or so disinvesting state resource in the kinds of programs that are proven effective in closing equity gaps – resulting in deeper and deeper reliance on federal funding.

The State Budget Director reflected his concerns about the potential cuts in assistance to poor families, low-income pregnant women, young children – really the most vulnerable among us.  He also reflected that the state is in no position to offset federal reductions to these and other engines of economic recovery, like education, job training and college scholarships, which we all would have surmised.

As the Legislature discusses the Governor’s proposal for how we finance operations in the state of Michigan, they aren’t basing their priorities on the changing Federal playing field, but they really need to start.  I can point to several places where we will need to rise to this unprecedented budgeting challenge that will be faced by everyone, but faced more acutely by the children and families who experience the greatest challenges themselves.  You’ve heard all of these from Michigan’s Children before:

  • reinstating the Earned Income Tax Credit to fiscal year 2012 levels;
  • increasing investment for family support services that reach struggling families with infants and toddlers; and
  • include equity building strategies of preschool, after-school and more time for high school graduation in any education reform and financing decisions.

Unfortunately, I can point to only one strategy where they are discussing the kind of investment necessary – the proposed increase in the state’s proven effective preschool program.  This increased funding is more important today than it was even yesterday, but it is certainly not enough.

Now is not the time to bury our heads in the sand.  The impact of sequestration cuts will have devastating effects on our state’s budget and on the state’s ability to close equity gaps in income, health and educational success.  We have to keep talking to our Congressional Delegation about the impact of federal funding in this state, and remind them that they still have an opportunity to reverse the sequester cuts in budget discussions for the remainder of the federal fiscal year.

We also have to demand that our Governor and State Legislature step to the plate to increase investment in the programs that matter to the future of Michigan.

-Michele Corey

Investing to Expand Minds and Opportunities in Michigan

Despite the crushing pressure of the fiscal cliff and the federal economy, I came back from Washington, DC last Thursday after spending several days with some Michigan colleagues and colleagues from around the country at the Afterschool Alliance National Network meeting feeling quite proud of my Michigan Congressional Delegation.

Some members of our delegation have been, of course, champions building extended learning opportunity (before- and after-school, summer learning, other opportunities outside the traditional school day) over their entire political careers.  Some are just beginning their careers in Washington and are thinking strategically about how support of extended learning may fit into their own political legacies.  And some, who are not always supportive of public spending, were indeed intrigued by the way that the largest federal investment in afterschool, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, maximizes federal investment by encouraging innovative and targeted partnerships geared toward the needs and strengths of each local community. These partnerships have demonstrated impact on the educational and life success of young people; provide support for families; and build stronger communities.

The evidence is crystal clear that high quality afterschool and summer programs accelerate student achievement, particularly for those most at risk of school failure – closing the achievement gap.  In case there was any doubt, the Afterschool Alliance has brought together literally decades of research that brings together best practices and the impact of those practices in a new compendium, Expanding Minds and Opportunities:  Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success.

Unfortunately, upon my return to Lansing, I was not so proud of the way that the Governor has again left off his priority list, as evidenced by the FY14 budget release last week, investment in one of the most powerful tools toward increased educational achievement and equity at his disposal – afterschool.  While I am extremely excited about the impact of the kinds of investments to our early childhood system he is proposing, these investments early will fail to reap all of the successes that they could without continued, targeted investment intended to build equity in outcomes throughout children’s educational careers.

Michigan’s Children will once again be working hard over the next months to ensure that we reinstate funding for extended learning opportunities – once funded at $16 million through the state budget.  Federal investment is not enough; we need to make this equity strategy a priority in our own budget as well, serving to make a dent in the kind of investment necessary to provide opportunities for all who need them.  In addition, any cuts to the Child Care subsidy Program, 40% of which supports elementary school participation in before- and after-school opportunities, should be taken with caution.

Now the Legislature has their chance to build Michigan’s investment in extended learning opportunities.  Join us in making sure that they do just that.

-Michele Corey

Work and Education – Inextricably Linked

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released a new report last week that illustrates the impact of economic decline in Michigan and the nation on young people.  Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity, indicates that employment among young people, ages 16-24, is at the lowest point since the 1950s.  And, not surprisingly, young people least likely to be in the workforce are without a high school diploma, from low-income families, and racial or ethnic minorities.  This opportunity gap begins early and persists.  As our young people who have fallen behind become parents themselves, their children face additional obstacles.

We know the inextricable connection between work and education, and there is ample evidence of the impact of higher education levels on employment and earnings.  It is impossible to deny that the higher education credential that you earn, the more consistent, stable and lucrative your employment will be.  As a state, we can better utilize youth employment resources and strategies beyond a path to workforce experience and a paycheck (both of which are, of course, important), but also as a path back to an education credential.  And Michigan lawmakers in Washington, DC are championing this issue through the RAISE UP Act.  RAISE UP would provide incentives to communities to blend workforce and education funding in order to connect very disenfranchised young people with workforce and educational pathways.  U.S. Representative Dale Kildee leaves a legacy of support for this legislation and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow will be supporting its reintroduction in 2013.

And in Michigan, as we despair over our economic woes and the ever diminishing economic opportunity for our young people, we are also evaluating yet another round of education reform proposals intended to improve achievement and graduation rates.  The missed opportunity in the current proposals is to provide extra support to the young people who are out of school and out of work.  If young people leave school, work a bit and due to the lack of employment opportunity find increased motivation to return on a diploma path, they need a system that will serve them.  Michigan currently provides resources for up to six years of high school, but programming for this population that is connected to work opportunity and career-based skill building is inconsistent.  Education reform must provide supports to young people who need additional time to obtain a high school credential through alternative options that connect to college or the workforce.

Michigan’s Children has highlighted several great Michigan program examples where communities blend education and workforce resources as a dropout prevention or recovery strategy.  Let’s make sure that the most recent incarnation of education reform expands those efforts.

-Michele Corey

Does the Latest Education Reform Proposal Promote Educational Equity or Will We Miss the Mark Again?

Last month, a proposed rewrite of Michigan’s School Aid Act – the Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013 – was released for public comment.   The Public Education Finance Project team was asked to operationalize Governor Snyder’s concept of education at “any time, any place, any way, any pace”.  While many have come out strongly for or against the draft proposal, the top priority when assessing any reform proposal should be on how it’s ensuring that ALL students have equitable opportunities to succeed in school since we know that the current education system does not work for many students – particularly low-income students and students of color.

So how does “any time, any place, any way, any pace” promote educational equity or miss the mark as written into the current proposal?

  • Any time: While the proposal offers opportunities for schools to shift to a year-round school calendar and extended learning opportunities available 24/7 – both which promote educational equity – unless all schools move to year-round schooling, it is unknown whether students who would benefit from this would opt-in to schools that offer this schedule.
  • Any place: The rewritten funding formula “follows the student” which may leave schools serving a high proportion of challenged students in serious financial risk.  Families who can “opt-out” of schools serving the most challenged communities may do so, resulting in less funding and resource for those schools.  This is counter-intuitive to “any place” since it promotes higher quality options that many students may be unable to access.  “Any place” should instead increase the level of quality for all schools and learning programs so that regardless of geography, students can access an education at “any place” that will ensure that they are college and career ready.
  • Any way: The proposal recognizes the fact that a traditional classroom setting doesn’t work for all students, which is applauded. However, education reform should bolster supports to education options that have evidence or promise toward closing gaps rather than creating an open market for education programs without minimum quality standards or evidence-base.
  • Any pace: The current draft provides incentives for students to complete high school in less than four years.  Rather than providing a financial incentive to accelerated students, those resources should be utilized to bolster strategies that get ALL students to a high school diploma through re-engagement and college or workforce connection.

Our latest Issues for Michigan’s Children publication has much more detail on the Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013.  The brief identifies students challenged by the current education system; how “any time, any place, any way, any pace” can work to improve educational outcomes for all students; how the current draft of the Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013 works to promote or hinder educational equity; and missed opportunities in the draft proposal.

-Mina Hong

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