Data point after data point seems to demonstrate clearly that we are failing to educate our children in Michigan. We know the importance that education has to achieving long-term economic security. Education levels also impact health and other outcomes over time. And poverty, health and communities have an effect on how well kids are able to learn. This means that our policies should recognize that our educators alone cannot improve the system or outcomes, and that policies need to support our teachers and schools along with their partners in helping kids to reach their potential.
Kids living in poverty or with low incomes also face a number of challenges. Of fourth-grade students whose families have low incomes, 84% were not proficient in reading compared to around 60% of students whose families were not low income. Where children live and attend school can also impact their outcomes. Albeit reading proficiency is not much better, but fourth-graders attending schools in suburban areas tend to have better rates of proficiency compared to students in city, town and rural communities.
Also impacting child development and outcomes, like education, are the notably high rates of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods. Michigan ranked 41st in the 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book with 17% of kids living in areas with concentrated poverty—a worsening trend from 2008-2012. Even more disturbing are the racial disparities in the data: Michigan has the highest rate of concentrated poverty in the country for African-American children and top five highest for Latino kids. Children living in high-poverty communities and attend schools located in these areas are likely to have limited access to resources or parks and recreation and be exposed to more crime and violence. These adverse childhood experiences are not only traumatic to child well-being, but carry into adulthood. Michigan must invest in communities.
What does this mean for our kids who are growing up in an evolving and competitive global economy?
Schools with larger numbers of students with low incomes struggle to help their students overcome many of the barriers their students face and experience every day—and they cannot be expected to improve educational outcomes alone. Recent investments in the At-Risk program—an equitable approach to target resources in high-poverty schools—and in child care are moves in the right direction. Programs like Communities in Schools, Pathways to Potential and before- and after-school programs are great examples of addressing the whole child and family to help kids thrive and need to be expanded. And, using a cradle to career strategy through the use of programs like home visitation and adult education are critical.
Our educators, however, are the foundation for our kids’ learning and they must be supported. Recent moves by the Legislature to “reform” the teacher retirement system will do nothing to retain and attract some of our most important figures for our kids. This is a move backwards and will do nothing to improve the quality of education. The League will continue to support students, families, schools and communities as we work to get Michigan heading in the right direction on education.
— Alicia Guevara Warren