expanded learning

What Children, Youth and Families Need in the New State Superintendent

March 10, 2015 – The search for the new Superintendent of Schools is in the homestretch. Six candidates have been identified.  All but one have led local and intermediate school district work in Michigan, the other is a deputy in Massachusetts’s education department.

This choice has enormous implications for Michigan, particularly in how we build educational success with the most challenged among us. Clearly, we can assume that the candidates are steeped in education pedagogy expertise, and know what they are doing running a classroom and a school building during the school day. The job requires that expertise and more as they face Michigan’s big challenges – some of the largest achievement gaps in the nation; consistently poor showing compared to other states on education measures; and limited improvement on state assessments.

Current Superintendent Flanagan is certainly leaving a legacy. He helped to facilitate the enormous expansion of 4-year old preschool, and has been an outspoken advocate for the importance of the early years for later educational success. Under his watch, the state committed to closing gaps in educational outcomes for African American boys, resulting in shifts in Department practice, and support for local system efforts. In addition, he helped to facilitate several public/private task forces that looked closely at some of the critical issues feeding these gaps including truancy and school discipline practices.

There also have been enormous strides to broaden our methods of attaining, measuring and documenting college and career readiness skills. Partnerships have begun to form with employers, post-secondary institutions and community partners who provide learning opportunities outside the school day. This work points to the need for significant changes in our system that will not only benefit all kids in K-12 schools, but would be a game changer in skill building and credit accumulation for the most challenged young people in this state.

The new Superintendent will need to redouble all of that work. And to be successful, they will need to skillfully collaborate – not only with the Governor and the Legislature (both of whom hold the purse strings), but with the leaders of other state departments, with the rest of the education and workforce continuum, and with other community resources. They will need to capitalize on the broad recognition that what happens beyond the school doors impacts educational success, and call on resources beyond their own purview to help.

Beyond continuing support for current initiatives, what are some specifics priorities for the new Superintendent?

  1. Better address the educational needs of parents. The most consistent predictor of educational success for children remains the educational success of their parents – the research couldn’t be clearer on that. If we want to improve 3rd grade reading and college and career readiness, we not only have to look earlier than kindergarten and bolster children’s experiences beyond the school doors, we also have to look at our support of adult literacy through our adult education system. This system has not successfully served the most challenged adults for quite a while, many of whom are the parents of the most struggling learners.
  2. Focus investment on expanding learning options for children, youth and families beyond the traditional school day. At this point, Michigan relies almost entirely on uncertain federal funds to support before- and after-school and summer programming evidenced to cut equity gaps. In addition, fully coordinating community services through evidenced integrated student services models needs to be given priority.
  3. Extend leadership in improving care for young children beyond pre-school. While Michigan has taken and made strides in improving the quality of our child care system, we’ve done that with fixed federal rather than state investment, limiting our ability to drastically improve access to high quality care. Our subsidy system for the poorest working families consistently ranks us at the very bottom in the nation.  A few years ago, Michigan brought the state’s child care system under the auspices of the Office of Great Start, and additional strides to improve that system are needed.
  4. Develop consistent ways to engage young people in reform strategies and priority development – particularly those experiencing the most challenging educational and life circumstances. This is not easy, but could be done with the help of partners, including Michigan’s Children.
  5. Lead cross-department efforts.  Early on in his 1st term in office, the Governor developed a strategy to connect the dots between state departments by establishing what he termed, the “People Group.” This group is comprised of the directors of the Departments of Human Services, Community Health, Civil Rights and Education. The new State Superintendent is ideally suited to lead that group, in light of the transitions occurring with the merger of DHS and DCH, and the space to focus the group’s work on building college and career success.

Whew!  They have their work cut out for them and we have our work cut out for us.  We realize that this is a lot to ask of the next state Superintendent, but there are a lot of public and private partners available to help, if they can take advantage of them.

– Michele Corey

Lights On Afterschool Advocacy

The following blog was originally posted by the Michigan After-School Partnership.

10/10/14 – Lights on Afterschool is a nationwide event on October 23rd to celebrate afterschool programs and all of the benefits they bring to the lives of children, particularly children who struggle the most in school. But it also offers another opportunity – an opportunity to elevate the importance of all high quality expanded learning options – before- and after-school programs, summer learning programs, credit recovery programs and other options to expand learning beyond the school day and year with our elected officials.

Why does it matter that we talk to policymakers about expanded learning? Our elected officials are charged with making decisions about a range of topics – many which they know little to nothing about. It’s impossible for one person to be well-versed on education, health, energy, insurance, the justice system, tax code, veteran’s affairs, natural resources, transportation, and all of the other domains under which our elected officials make decisions. As a former state legislator, I know this to be true. Elected officials need you to help them stay informed on the issues that are important to Michigan’s children, youth and families.

So, how do we help them make the best decisions that they can? How can we get involved in policymaking?

  • It can be something that you occasionally dabble in – like contacting your legislator when there’s a timely issue that the Legislature is debating. You can stay informed on timely issues related to children, youth and families by signing up for Michigan’s Children’s electronic communications.
  • You can become a stronger advocate by getting to know the people that represent you and building and maintaining a good relationship with them. Attend your legislators’ coffee hours in your communities, sign-up for their e-bulletins, and communicate with them regularly to keep them informed on topics that you care about.
  • Or you can take it even a step further and invite them to you – to your programs in your community. If you run an afterschool program, invite them to take a tour and visit with the children. If you are a member of your PTA, invite your legislator to come to a meeting and hear the concerns of fellow parents.

Ensuring that policymakers are educated so that they can make informed decisions about afterschool – particularly when it comes to decisions on funding high quality expanded learning opportunities – is critical. I don’t need to tell you about the benefits of high quality expanded learning – you already know that these programs can help students stay academically on-track and can help those who are already behind to catch-up. But your elected officials may not know that. And it’s our jobs to make sure they do.

– Matt Gillard

Starting School and Staying There

September 2, 2014 – Here we are, the day after Labor Day, with all eyes toward young people returning to school.  Now that they are back, we need to keep them there – making sure that they aren’t losing opportunity because of multiple absences, and making sure that they stick it out until high school graduation and beyond.

September is national Attendance Awareness Month and the noteworthy Attendance Works national organization released today a study about the impact of attendance, or lack of attendance, on educational success in Michigan and around the country, titled Absences Add Up: How Attendance Influences Student Success.  As the report authors discuss, and Michigan’s Children has discussed many times in our blogs and elsewhere, it has never before been so essential that we move all of our young people to educational success.  One of the barriers to doing this is when young people aren’t getting all of the learning opportunities that they could.  This happens during the summer, it happens during the 80 percent of waking hours that children and youth aren’t in school and it happens when they are absent.  Bottom line:  they miss out and have limited opportunity to catch up.

So, not surprisingly, what Absences Add Up reports is that in Michigan and around the country, your assessment scores have EVERYTHING to do with how often you are absent.  Being present in school matters to academic performance for each grade and subject studied, for every group of children and in every locality.  The report states that “in many cases, the students with more absences have skill levels one to two years below their peers. While students from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent, the ill effects of missing too much school hold true for all socioeconomic groups.”

In Michigan, there was a 15 point difference in average math assessment scores between 4th graders with no absences in the past month and those who missed at 3 or more days.  Similar gaps are seen in 4th and 8th grade reading.  The largest gap in Michigan is the 23 point difference for 8th grade math.  I see the impact of the cumulative nature of math instruction with my own kids, which is clearly hampered by multiple absence.

What are the keys to keeping kids in school?  Ah, that is the complication.  There are many reasons why children and youth are absent from school, some of which are under the control of the school system and some that are not.  The State Board of Education and the Michigan Department of Human Services recently staffed a Truancy Task Force with the purpose of building a common definition for truancy that could be utilized across the state.  In the course of that discussion, what was also apparent is that there are as many reasons for absence as there are absences themselves and a myriad of ways that local school systems both report and deal with absence.  So if it is this complicated, what can be done?

  1. Support integrated services in schools.  When schools are able to connect families with other community resources, there are more chances to find and address the causes of school absence – be they related to physical and behavioral health issues, unstable housing, bullying or disengagement by parents or students.
  2. Support expanded learning opportunities.  There is ample evidence documenting the impact of quality afterschool and summer learning programs on in-school attendance.  When expanded learning opportunities are utilized to engage and re-engage young people in their learning, they are more likely to engage and re-engage with school as well.

As we’ve been saying over and over again, this election season gives all of us a platform to see what the candidates for office suggest we do to keep kids in school and learning.  When kids miss school, they miss opportunity.  They can’t afford it and neither can we.

Summer Learning Matters for Students and Policymakers

July 11, 2013 – The Michigan Department of Education recently released assessment test scores documenting that fewer than one in five Michigan high school students are prepared in all subjects for college and career as evidenced by scores on the ACT College Readiness Assessment. In addition, when we look at this spring’s Michigan Merit Exam (the high school MEAP tests), there are huge scoring gaps in every subject by race, economics and other challenging student and family circumstances.

So we look to the reasons why, well documented in the research. One of those reasons is the difference in experiences that children and youth have access to in the summer.

There is a pile of research documenting that all kids lose some educational gains over the summer. I see that in my own three kids and try to make sure that they are engaged in activities that keep their minds moving ahead. Okay, that doesn’t always work. Sometimes the activities that I’d love to have them do, or that they are really excited about doing, are just too expensive, or just too far away from our house, or they just don’t work for our complicated schedule with all parents working. Now think about that for more challenged families with less access to transportation and less flexibility in their jobs.

Research suggests that fully two-thirds of the reading achievement gap by the 9th grade is attributable to summer learning loss alone. Each year, we look at MEAP and ACT test results for our young people. Each year, we express disappointment that more of them aren’t doing better and we express particular concern about the gaps between our highest achievers and our lowest. So, let’s do something about that.

In the last budget cycle, as we have for many years, Michigan’s Children joined with others in the Michigan After-School Partnership to call for state investment in expanded learning opportunities – those opportunities that take place outside of the traditional school day: primarily before- and after-school and during the summer. Those same opportunities that research points to as a solution to summer learning loss and that go far to lessen the achievement gap. As you likely know, Legislators in the Michigan House included a small amount of money to support those programs, a start back onto the path of larger, necessary state investment. But that small investment didn’t make it into the final budget passed last month, despite the efforts of our Legislative champions and ourselves.

In this campaign season, we need to remind those vying to represent us that they can commit to make decisions backed by years, often decades, of research that can change the educational odds for kids in Michigan. It does take investment, and we can help them better understand where that investment can really matter by inviting them to see great programming, talking with them about what is needed in our communities and then making sure that they are addressing those needs while they are on the campaign trail.

Our work this summer is to do just that.

– Michele Corey

Appreciating What Works

May 8, 2014 – This week represents a time that we recognize two important groups of people in the lives of children, youth and their families – it is National Nurses Week and Teacher Appreciation Week.  The connection of these two weeks struck me as perfect, since good outcomes for either are completely interdependent.  In addition, we are bemoaning the fact that in Michigan so many of our high schoolers aren’t passing national reading and math tests, a reason to really talk about what works to improve educational outcomes.

So, there is the obvious that we won’t have a skilled nursing workforce if we don’t successfully educate our young people, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.  The research is also clear on what the most challenged kids need to succeed in school and how we can reduce the achievement gap.  We need to provide more and multiple flexible learning options that can accommodate life challenges; build consistent supportive relationships between adults and students inside and outside the classroom; utilize expanded learning opportunities beyond the school day for remediation, and to help young people better see their own strengths in STEM and other areas; and connect schools with services that are typically outside of the classroom to ensure that students are healthy, well-nourished, and can focus on their education.

State Legislators have the opportunity right now in the current budget conversation to better support two specific evidence-based practices that take advantage of the combination of talent that exists within school staff, who we appreciate, and within those who integrate other services for kids and their families resulting in better educational and life outcomes.

  1. Opportunities for learning outside the school day.  The Michigan House of Representatives included $3 million in the Department of Human Services budget to reinstate some support for quality afterschool and summer learning programs.  This is nowhere near the $16 million that the state used to invest in these programs and the children and youth they serve, but it is a move in the right direction.  The Senate didn’t include this resource.
  2. Opportunities to expand access to mental and behavioral health services for children and youth through school-based and school-linked health centers.  While both the House and Senate maintained consistent support for these centers in their budgets, the House included over $37 million to support the recommendations of the Michigan Mental Health and Wellness Commission 2013 report, which specifically outlined the importance of expanding mental health services in school-based and school-linked health centers.  The Senate didn’t include any additional funding for these services.

As we honor professions and professionals working hard to make sure that our children, youth and families succeed, let’s also make sure that we are  investing in the very initiatives that assist them in that work.  Get in touch with your elected officials today and ask them to talk with their colleagues about supporting what we know can make a real difference for our state.

-Michele Corey

Building Champions for Education and Life Success

January 28, 2014 – Bridge Magazine released their ranked list of Academic State Champions – the Michigan schools considered to be over-achievers, that is that their students have better test scores than other schools with similar student and family demographics. We applaud the Bridge and Public Sector Consultants in their efforts to examine student achievement a little bit differently, acknowledging that different schools serve different families and students, and that success for schools with higher educational resources available to them and higher resources available to their families needs to be measured differently from that of schools and families with fewer resources available. And beyond resource and demographics, we also need to listen to young people themselves on the challenges they face and how well their schools and communities assist them in overcoming those challenges.

I just emceed a YouthSpeak event yesterday at the Washtenaw County Chambers. Michigan’s Children, the Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and State Representative David Rutledge brought together State Representatives, County Commissioners, School Board members and administrators from several school systems in the area, and 18 young people from a variety of geographies and circumstances together to talk about building more educational success in their communities. As always, the young people articulately expressed their concerns and recommendations.

Based on this and many other conversations with young people, in addition to the Bridge’s evaluation of success, we would like to see Michigan evaluate and congratulate school systems on several other essential components:

  • On their ability to provide alternatives to disciplinary practices that cause young people to miss educational opportunity and access community resources to assist.
  • On their ability to reconnect with young people who have disconnected – through support of programs for the 5th and 6th year of a diploma path, and through support of GED and other alternatives for students with extremely challenging circumstances to continue on their post-secondary paths.
  • On their ability to individualize educational strategies to accommodate life challenges, and their ability to support real and consistent supportive relationships between adults and students inside the classroom and beyond.
  • On their ability to connect their students with extended learning opportunities beyond the school day that help young people better see their own strengths and build on their own successes and leadership potential.
  • On their ability to assess early issues outside the school walls that impact educational success like mental or behavioral health needs, homelessness and mobility challenges and intervene with the help of community partners.
  • Finally, and maybe most importantly, on their ability to consistently involve the voices of the most challenged young people in policy decisions and priority setting.

None of these suggestions are new. They come up every time we allow young people to tell us about strategies that matter to them and to their success. Let’s listen and act. Policy conversations are happening right now about the state budget, about teacher evaluation, school discipline and “any time, any way, any pace” learning opportunities. Michigan can prioritize resources and options for the most challenged children, youth, families, schools and communities in proven effective ways that can make a difference in our state’s success. We will continue to work with policymakers to help them see those policy options and we need your help to show policymakers that you support those decisions.

-Michele Corey

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

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

Authority and Evidence

Last week, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill to expand the Educational Achievement Authority beyond the city of Detroit.  This is the most recent of a long line of conversations that educators, legislators and others have had over the years trying to build a path for struggling students, schools and communities to success.

Turning around the educational circumstances of our state does require that we focus some attention on the worst performers.  It is important that we do put additional resources, time and attention to those with the farthest to go – that is what it takes to improve equity in outcomes.  It is also important that we make sure that our efforts are steeped in what the research tells us will improve the educational circumstances of young people in our state.

Will shifts in who controls the decision-making for these students, schools and communities make a difference?  Perhaps.  Will shifts in control absent of other investment and strategy make a lasting difference?  Not on your life.  At the same time that the EAA conversation has been going on, we are facing more than a decade of state disinvestment and a failure to compensate for some particularly disastrous disinvestment from the federal government.  While philanthropic investment is certainly a critical piece, there is no consistent community opportunity to raise funds to compensate for lost public sector resource.

As the Senate takes up this legislation, we urge them to consider the following:

We know that young people face barriers to educational success that one system alone can’t solve – not the education system alone, not communities alone, and certainly not individual school buildings alone.  The Senate could include more direction about how resources to support extended learning, school-based health, positive behavior, and other services that have proven to increase student success would be targeted toward all schools facing restructuring demands.

Current actions that have diminished services for at-risk young people through cuts in the state budget are counter-productive to meaningful reform.  Disinvestment in the very communities the EAA legislation is attempting to serve does not promote innovation, partnership and reform.  Evidence-based support programs will need to be expanded in order to see real, sustainable improvement in school success for those most challenged schools, communities and young people.

Legislators can’t decouple the EAA conversation with the budget discussions in the Capitol over the next several months.  The path to success for the lowest performing students, schools and communities is the same as it has always been:  invest in proven strategies from cradle to career.

It is likely that the Senate Education Committee will take up this legislation quickly after returning from spring break.  Contact your Senators and let them know what you know to be true to increase the success of kids and schools; let them know that there are successful programs around the state that are assisting in this effort already and that those programs need to be available to more struggling young people and their parents.

At the same time, the Legislature continues to debate funding levels for critical programs that support educational success.  Those programs exist within the School Aid and Department of Education budgets, but they also exist within human services, health, workforce and higher education.  Let your Senators and Representatives know that without other investment, the EAA will not be able to show the kind of gains necessary for our state.

Learn more about the EAA legislation and what’s left undone in our latest Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.  To keep posted on the state budget process, visit our Budget Basics library.

-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

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