education

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

Will Your Vote Improve Educational Equity?

Last week, an AnnArbor.com news article highlighted the successes of Ypsilanti Public Schools with using the fifth and sixth years of high school to improve their high school completion rate.  As a Washtenaw County Resident, I was proud to see Ypsilanti Public Schools utilizing a strategy that has shown to reduce high school achievement gaps between white students and students of color – a strategy aligned with Michigan’s Children’s educational equity priorities.  And related to educational achievement outcomes, on November 6th, Ypsilanti and Willow Run residents will see a proposal on their ballot to consolidate the two school districts that, if passed, would lead to a re-envisioning of public education.

What does consolidation have to do with educational equity?  While the ins and outs of the consolidation in terms of financial implication is beyond Michigan’s Children’s purview, the notion of re-envisioning the current education system is one that we can get on board with.  These particular consolidated district plans would incorporate a cradle-to-career approach to education (similar to Michigan’s Children’s cradle-to-career strategy) that would redefine the notion that public education is a K-12 system that falls within the school walls.  The ballot proposal is one way of many that citizens from all over Michigan can get engaged in this re-envisioning conversation.

The Michigan Department of Education is already taking steps to expand beyond the K-12 tradition.  The Office of Great Start was established last year to bridge the gap between early childhood education and K-12 and to align the state’s early learning and development investments to increase school readiness and early literacy.  Research shows that investing in high quality early childhood programs that target young kids most at-risk of being unprepared for kindergarten is critical to reducing the educational achievement gap – a gap that can be traced to children as young as nine months of age.

But, we know that Michigan’s current level of early childhood investment does not reach all of the children who could benefit from high quality early learning programs, so efforts must be made to continue to focus on improving educational outcomes for all kids in K-12.  The State of Michigan’s ESEA Waiver (also known as the No Child Left Behind waiver) focuses on reducing gaps in all schools – between white students and students of color, students from upper-class families and those from low-income families, and even students that are highly proficient versus under-proficient regardless of demographics. In a nutshell, the state’s waiver focuses on reducing equity gaps – a strategy that cannot be done within the traditional K-12 system alone.

This takes me back to the beginning of my blog – a cradle-to-career education strategy much include components that take advantage of equity-promoting strategies like high quality early learning opportunities, access to before- and after-school programs that promote learning beyond the traditional school day, use of the 5th and 6th years of high school like in Ypsilanti Public Schools to increase high school graduation rates, and alternative education programs that may utilize online learning and/or link young people to college prep and workforce development opportunities.  Residents of Ypsilanti and Willow Run have a serious decision to make on November 6th that may lead to some of these strategies.  The rest of us do as well – how are the individuals we are electing into office going to ensure that Michigan is appropriately educating ALL of our children?

-Mina Hong

Why Does Big Bird Matter?

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Mitt Romney, Big Bird, PBS fiasco and all of the political hoopla that has resulted from Presidential Candidate Romney’s comment at last week’s debate.  And while we at Michigan’s Children like to avoid this type of hoopla, Big Bird does represent educational opportunities outside the classroom and brings to mind the impact that the elections will have on education.

Big Bird and Sesame Street epitomize the importance of having access to educational opportunities outside the traditional classroom – whether in high quality child care settings that provide engaging developmentally appropriate learning opportunities or in after-school programs that help connect what kids are learning in math class to real world experiences and careers.

In Michigan, we are starting to pay needed attention to our gap in academic achievement between low-income kids and kids of color and their peers – the equity gap.  Pressure from the Federal government and our own demographics are forcing this attention, as Michigan’s kids of color continue to make up larger and larger shares of all our children – our future parents, voters and workforce.

As a state, we rely heavily on federal funding to support programs serving kids and families who struggle to access high quality opportunities outside of the traditional classroom.  Much of our state’s efforts to provide these types of programs serve kids from low-income families and kids of color who struggle the most to achieve academically.  And these high quality programs are proven to increase educational equity by helping to reduce the academic achievement gap. So what types of programs are we talking about?  Federally funded programs in Michigan include:

  • high quality home visitation programs that help parents become the great parents they want to be,
  • high quality child care programs that allow parents to work while kids learn,
  • school-based health and nutrition programs that keeps kids healthy and hunger-free so they can actively participate in the classroom,
  • after-school programs that keep kids learning and engaged after the last school bell rings, and
  • partnerships with community colleges and workforce development that keep young people in school or reconnect them to education.

So what does this mean for the elections?  With the Congressional gridlock that we’ve seen, whether federal funding will continue to flow to our state for equity promoting programs is uncertain.  Thus, it is our responsibility to elect individuals who we believe will be good stewards of our public dollars and will ensure that these types of programs will, at a minimum, maintain their funding and hopefully increase to serve more kids and better prepare our future workforce.  At Michigan’s Children, we believe this means hiring (because that is what we’re doing when we elect public officials into office) individuals who believe in a fair approach to tackling the federal deficit that does not further cut programs that promote equitable opportunities to educational success.

In Michigan, we have a statewide Senate race and every single Congressperson is facing re-election this November.  So do you know where the candidates stand on these types of issues?  Learn how you can engage with candidates by visiting our Vote for Michigan’s children webpage.

-Mina Hong

E is for Education, not Expulsion

Students in Michigan are being stripped of educational opportunity and future economic security because of school expulsion and suspension. Michigan’s Children applauds a recent Resolution adopted by the State Board of Education that begins to address district disciplinary policies that are stricter than state and federal law.

Michigan law currently requires school expulsion in certain circumstances, including zero tolerance for guns, arson, or committing criminal sexual conduct in a school building or on school grounds.  However, both state law and the State Board Resolution remind school boards that they are NOT required to expel a student possessing a weapon if any one of the following is established:

  1. The student did not intend on using the object as a weapon, or to give to someone else to use as a weapon.
  2. The student did not know they had the weapon.
  3. The student didn’t know the object was a weapon.
  4. The student had permission to carry the weapon from school or police authorities.

We applaud the Board for acknowledging that certain groups of students – students from communities of color and children with disabilities – are more likely to be suspended and expelled, as well as their encouragement to local districts to review discipline policies that are more stringent than the law.

But they didn’t go far enough.

The Resolution encourages using alternatives to expulsion and suspension, like restorative justice and peer mediation, as well as increased professional development for teachers and administrators alike. However the Resolution fails to recognize the vast number of community resources available to assist with school behavior issues, particularly for students with mental health needs beyond the capacity of traditional school counselors.

The Resolution states that “students that have been suspended or expelled have no alternative opportunities for learning,” and the Board missed an opportunity to encourage alternative options to expulsion that would not end a students’ educational career. [They even say the word in the sentence.]

The Resolution fails to suggest what might be done differently when a student does need to be suspended or expelled. Alternative Education options all over the state are meeting the needs of former “behavior problem” students, with great success. The State Board could encourage districts to develop a plan for students to continue their education, even when the traditional school system isn’t working and thus eliminating a major part of the school-to-prison pipeline.

School Boards and Assistant Principals, typically responsible for school discipline issues, need to utilize the alternative education options in their communities and where there aren’t enough available, work with other local principals, districts, ISD’s and community agencies to develop the educational options they need to keep the kids in their communities in school.

For information about communities that have built programs that work, check out this Focus on Michigan’s Communities piece.

-Beth Berglin

Baby Steps Are Good, But Bold Leaps Are Required

We applaud the efforts of the Michigan House of Representatives to re-instate $5 million in their version of the Department of Human Services’ budget to support extended learning options.  These programs provide young people with experiences that cut down on summer learning loss, improve school attendance, connect classroom learning with life relevance, as well as reduce violence, substance abuse and teen pregnancy and other behaviors that place young people at risk of school failure.

Not only do these programs result in better outcomes for kids, they also leverage public and private resources, and join the efforts of the nonprofit and for-profit sectors in a community to assist the work of schools and families.  Even in the short-term, this investment will come back to the state many times over.  And, while these programs improve educational success for all students participating, they are most impactful for the students who face the most extraordinary educational challenges – kids from low-income families and kids of color.

Directed by the federal government, and led by a wide variety of education stakeholders, Michigan has committed to eliminating educational gaps by 2022.  Gaps between children of different races and ethnicities; gaps between children from low-income families and those from families with more income; gaps between children receiving special education or English Language Learners and others who don’t receive those services; and even those gaps within every school between those who perform at the top and those who perform at the bottom.

Eliminating those gaps is not only a worthy task, but an essential one if we want Michigan, our families and our communities to regain their economic footing.  A return to state investment in quality extended learning programs is a step in the right direction, but $5 million isn’t nearly enough.  As recently as 2004, Michigan prioritized $16 million to support these programs, in addition to the federal resources available that even when taken together, served only a fraction of those who could benefit.

More investment is essential to support quality before- and after-school, summer, and other out-of-school-time programs; and assist community development of innovative options for their young people.  We urge the Senate to embrace at least the $5 million starting point, and we urge the Legislature to understand the key role that these programs play in getting to the educational success that we need for all Michigan’s young people.

-Michele Corey

Failing Michigan’s Youngest = Failing Michigan’s Future

Since its inception, Michigan’s Children has focused on children’s well-being from cradle-to-career – a concept that aligns with Governor Snyder’s P-20 education continuum.  With Executive support for this continuum; as a state, Michigan must put its money where its mouth is.  While the state has made efforts to support preschool-aged children through the Great Start Readiness Program, the state’s half-day preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of school failure, we have failed as a state to provide consistent support for Michigan’s youngest learners – those three years of age and younger.

It is well documented that the first 1000 days of life are critical for the healthy development of young children – a time when the brain is developing rapidly and early literacy and foundations for lifelong success can be solidified.  More importantly, the first three years of life are critical to prevent large racial, ethnic, and economic-related disparities that begin to emerge as young as nine months of age and continue to grow throughout life.  Disparities in child outcomes, particularly educational disparities, have huge consequences such as:

  • kindergarten teachers needing to spend more time with students who aren’t ready for school;
  • students repeating grades in K-12;
  • more students needing access to special education services;
  • disparities in on-time graduation rates; and
  • disparities in college and career readiness.

These outcomes combined will in the long run, take a toll on the state’s economy as we will not have a workforce prepared to take jobs of the future. Long-term disparities in educational success and their economic, social and fiscal consequences are profound.  However, taking advantage of the first three years of life by supporting families with young children to be their child’s first and best teachers can help reduce future taxpayer burdens associated with disparate child outcomes.

Michigan’s Children’s key priorities for the fiscal year 2013 budget are to improve educational outcomes and close equity gaps.  Creating a sustainable funding stream for children from birth through age three would provide the foundation for that improvement.  High quality supports for infants, toddlers and their families can help reduce and prevent equity gaps directly linked to the Governor’s Dashboard including infant mortality, child poverty, 3rd grade reading, and college readiness.

The State of Michigan used to support families with young children through the 0 to 3 Secondary Prevention Program.  0 to 3 Secondary Prevention supported community-based collaborative programs that fostered positive parenting skills, improved parent-child interactions, promoted access to needed community services, increased local capacity to serve families with young children, improved school readiness, and supported healthy environments.  It’s funding peaked at $7.75 million in 2001 before complete elimination in last year’s budget debates.  It is critical that Michigan reinvest in young children from birth through age three by creating a consistent source of funding for infants, toddlers and their families to truly realize the P-20 education continuum.

Check out Michigan’s Children’s website to learn more about our early childhood priorities.

-Mina Hong

Education for All

Coinciding with his State of the Union address, President Obama released a Blueprint for An America Built to Last. This blueprint contains several education based initiatives to “give hard-working, responsible American’s a fair shot.” Among these suggestions are:

  • Forging new partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train and place 2 million skilled workers;
  • Attracting, preparing, supporting, and rewarding great teachers to help students learn; and
  • Keeping students in high school, which challenges all states to require all students to stay in school until their 18th birthday or they graduate.

In addition, Mr. Obama was in Ann Arbor last month to discuss his plan for keeping college affordable and within reach for all Americans. Included are plans to reform student aid to promote affordability; and more federal support to assist students, such as keeping interest rates on student loans down and increasing the number of work-study positions. The plan also calls on colleges and universities to keep costs down and colleges that can show they provide students with long-term value, would be given additional funds to help grow enrollment.

The President’s plan also includes a Race to the Top for College Affordability and Quality that would invest $1 billion to give states the incentive to:

  • Maintain adequate funding levels for higher ed to address long term causes of tuition increases;
  • Better align entry and exit standards with K-12 education to facilitate on-time completion; and
  • Revamp how states structure higher ed financing.

On their face, these sound like great plans to help keep tuition costs from rising astronomically, help teachers prepare students for post-secondary education, and give students the best bang for their educational buck. In addition, these initiatives, when taken together, encourage students to stay in school and move into post-secondary education.  However, even when states have tighter compulsory school requirements and tuition increases are small, many students, especially low-income students and students of color, end up over-aged and under-credited when it comes to high school graduation and need non-traditional pathways to graduation, as evidenced by data included in Michigan’s Children’s Building Michigan’s Future Workforce brief.

Additionally, Michigan law already pays to educate students up to age 20, but districts don’t consistently offer programs that re-engage dropouts, nor are they consistently developing and maintaining options for older students.  These options work best when they are built on community college and workforce partnerships which often lead to students earning a post-secondary credential. We know these programs work and there are examples of these innovative partnerships throughout the state.

Overall, President Obama’s goals of attracting and rewarding great teachers, keeping students in high school, keeping tuition low and thus, getting more students into and completing college are noble. However, unless all students, regardless of income or district which they are enrolled, are allowed multiple pathways to graduation and encouraged to achieve a post-secondary education, far too many low-income students and students of color will still be left behind, and with a rapidly diversifying child population, do we really want our children of color, who will be the workforce of the future, unprepared for family and community sustaining employment?

-Jacqui Broughton

Taking Advantage of Michigan’s Opportunity

One of the good news pieces in the Michigan 2011 Kids Count Data Book released last week is that the high school dropout rate in the state fell between 2007 (the first year that Michigan went to the new cohort system that tracks the diploma or GED status of individual young people through 4, 5 and 6 years of high school) and 2010, the most recent information available.  These improvements did not happen by chance.  They happened because of concerted and strategic partnership efforts by schools, districts, cities and towns, health departments, after-school programs, human service agencies and yes, state departments.  They happened because of private philanthropic investment.  They happened because the state overwhelmingly decided that everyone should be in high school until they reach credential.

They also happened because of fear – a broad acknowledgement that the economic and social consequences of dropping out are high and far-reaching.  Costs borne by the young people themselves, our schools, our communities and our state.  As we all know, young people lacking a high school diploma face a labor market that is becoming more and more difficult to successfully navigate.  And, young people without a basic education are less likely to have the maturity and skills needed to parent effectively or the resources to promote the well-being of the next generation.

Despite the fact that this decline in dropout has not resulted in a corresponding increase in “on-time” graduation rates, there is an ever growing group of over-age and under-credited young people who are still connected to school but need more time to finish.  This is an opportunity not to be missed.  Michigan law allows state payment for educating young people toward a high school diploma until they are 20 years old (under certain circumstances, until age 22), resourcing school and community efforts to continue programming through the 5th and sometimes 6th year of high school.

A healthy economy can’t survive our current inequity in graduation rates for low-income students and students of color, and additional time in high school improves equity.  Graduation rates increase for all groups after those additional years, but the fifth and sixth years of high school are particularly beneficial for low-income students and students of color.  This is great news.  We can take advantage of the opportunity to align State and Federal policy to better support young people who are not dropping out by providing multiple pathways to graduation that include more time and flexibility for students.

This year, as every year before, we hope that policymakers use their positions as caretakers of our tax dollars to invest smart from cradle-to-career.  High school dropout is a symptom of success and failures in systems serving kids and families throughout their lives.  Gaps in educational achievement and eventual high school completion between groups of young people experiencing different level of challenge can be traced to the earliest years of a child’s life and continue to grow through their educational careers.  Legislative and Administrative actions over the last several years have diminished services for young people.  Their state budget decisions have placed Federal funding at risk.  This is counter-productive to innovation, partnership building, meaningful education reform, and to a robust economy in Michigan.

There is leadership, however.  In 2008, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mike Flannigan, issued a challenge to schools in Michigan – to curb high school dropout by doing what works.  The Challenge is for all schools: elementary, middle and high, to identify 10-15 young people who aren’t doing so well with the early warning signs of attendance, behavior and coursework and change their trajectory.  The data suggests that schools involved in the Challenge, who intentionally work to prevent high school dropout by utilizing early warning signs and research-based interventions, have lower dropout rates than those who are not part of the Challenge.  This is heady stuff.  Again, opportunity abounds.  We know what works.

We should be encouraged by the possibility of graduating more young people from high school and make sure that the 2013 budget supports that work.

-Michele Corey

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