Michigan Losing Ground in Education

Two interesting articles were released recently that, together, highlight just how much ground Michigan has made in the last decade on student performance relative to our US peers. 

A New York Times article shows an increasing gap between higher and lower income students:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/education/education-gap-grows-between-rich-and-poor-studies-show.html?_r=1

This study was done by Sean Reardon, a sociologist at Stanford University.  There has been much discussion in the US, and globally, about the growing inequality in the US and what that means for our economy today – and our future.  If education of our students is an indicator of our future, this does not bode well.  Education was supposed to be part of the path to an equal opportunity.  President Obama mentioned it as part of what put him on a path where becoming President of the US became an option. 

We are making that more difficult for future generations to achieve.

In Michigan, a different story is unfolding (article can be found here: http://www.freep.com/article/20120209/NEWS05/202090445/Michigan-s-students-not-keeping-pace-with-rest-of-U-S-on-test).  Our higher income students are losing ground relative to higher income students in other states.  Michigan’s data from this same story shows that the gap in performance between Caucasian and African American students is closing; but this is not because we are raising the bar for all students.  Instead, our higher income students are performing worse.  This trend has been worsening over time.  While this study just shows data from 2003, if we were to extend that to when Proposal A went into place, I would anticipate that we would see the trend starting around that time, or shortly thereafter. 

Our funding policies in Michigan have, in general, meant funding education is less of a priority.  That is reflected in our state budget and made incredibly worse with the $1.1B reduction in education funding we experienced last year.  These are the implications, or outcomes, of declining investment in education.  Perhaps there are other environmental causes – or something else that happened collectively to impact all of our state’s higher income students that might explain these results.  I doubt it. 

We can continue to expect these kinds of outcomes when we continue to defund education.  We must change direction on education.  Funding drives the resources that we are able to provide for our students.  There is a direct link in funding and performance (see CRC’s overview of the impact of Proposal A, showing that districts that received a significant increase in funding were the only ones showing a statistically significant improvement in student performance: http://crcmich.org/PUBLICAT/2010s/2011/rpt371.pdf).  Student performance is the ‘product’ that education produces, among other things. 

Is $70M enough to invest in improving student performance?  $700M might provide more substantive support to spread to 550 districts (and the at least 156 charter schools, if they are included in this funding mechanism) – and that is the scale and direction we need to start committing to if we want our students to be competitive.   Unfortunately, our students need to be globally competitive, not just competitive in the US.

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