education

When I took wood shop in high school, the project was a step stool. I know. Not very exciting.

To get high school students more excited about woodworking and to get them more active, an industrial arts teacher and a gym teacher got together and came up with a new kind of class. Kids can make their own longboard skateboard, surfboard, snowboard, or skis.

The class at Forest Hills Eastern High School in Grand Rapids is called Gone Boarding.

The Education Achievement Authority has been the center of controversy since its doors first opened. The idea was to create a statewide school district to take over and turn around failing schools. The EAA is now in its third year, operating schools, all in Detroit, and it remains a polarizing subject in Michigan.

Michigan isn’t the only state where policymakers have created statewide school systems to turn around their worst-performing public schools. Tennessee and Louisiana have “Recovery School Districts,” or RSDs, similar to Michigan’s EAA. Nelson Smith has been studying these state turnaround systems for the Thomas Fordham Institute. His most recent report is called “Redefining the School District in Michigan”. Dan Varner serves on the State Board of Education. He’s also the head of an organization called Excellent Schools Detroit, which is seeking ways to make school choice work better in Detroit.

Aaron Selbig

As Michigan continues to dig its way out of an economic recession, employers are looking for workers. But in skilled trades like construction and manufacturing, the next generation of workers has yet to come forward.

“Now it’s a situation where the economy’s turned around, there’s a lot of building going on and there’s more work than there is workers,” said Chris Webb, general manager of Team Bob’s Plumbing and Heating in Traverse City.

Michigan testing scores are treading water. Ron French and Chastity Pratt Dawsey of Bridge Magazine traveled across the country to study states that are getting education right. They say they discovered what it will take to pull Michigan's schools out of the mire of middling-to-poor student achievement.

Stopping in both red and blue states –  Massachusetts, Tennessee, Florida, and Minnesota – French and Pratt worked to avoided bias. 

While Massachusetts is widely known as the gold standard in education, the reporters found that Minnesota, a mid-western state comparable to Michigan, ranks No. 1 in math scores and in the top 10 in every other category.

Ten years ago, Florida and Tennessee scored lower than Michigan. In the last decade, both have ascended in the ranks and surpassed Michigan.

 


If you had a typical American high school experience, chances are you trudged through the day, going from one period to another – maybe starting with algebra, then over to American lit, then chemistry or biology, on to history, and so on.

History in particular gets a bum rap, with grumbling about memorizing dates and names.

What's missing? A sense of all of this knowledge being connected.

Enter the Big History Project. Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has become a champion of this new way to teach history, and he's using his own money to develop this new history curriculum for high schools.


As college students explore their campuses, they're likely to find a wide array of student groups that pertain to race: The Black Student Union, Asian-American groups, or Hispanic and Latino groups.

Universities say they're spending time and money on trying to increase the number of minority students, especially since the Supreme Court ban in 2006 on affirmative action.

But Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution says the challenges for American colleges should be not only racial diversity, but also economic diversity. 

Especially when universities, including elite schools, haven't upped their percentage of low-come students in generation. 

Haskins says that's what happens when colleges maintain admission standards.

New federal data shows Washington now holds more than $1.1 trillion in student loans taken out by nearly 40 million people.

And that dollar amount is up by more than 112% since 2007.

But should student debt get blamed for a wide range of economic troubles?

Beth Akers says maybe not. Akers is a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy.

In her article, Akers says there are a lot of narratives about how student loan debt is potentially creating a huge drag on economy through reduced consumption, depressed home ownership, and lower rates of entrepreneurship. But she says it's hard to back up that blame. 

What makes a teacher great?

And how should we measure a teacher's success and effectiveness?

These are questions that take up a lot of the debate about education in Michigan. We've got policymakers, educators, politicians and parents all weighing in, and the resulting conversation is often loud and unproductive.

Education writer Elizabeth Green explores these challenging questions, and looks at how we are preparing teachers for the realities of the classroom.

Green’s new book is Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach it to Everyone). She says great teachers are not born, but trained.

“By assuming (some teachers are born great, and some teachers aren’t), we fail to prepare teachers with the specialized knowledge that nobody is born knowing how to do. And as a result, we leave students vulnerable to teachers who haven’t learned the basic things they need to know to help students learn,” says Green.

* Listen to the full interview with Elizabeth Green above.

More and more students in Michigan are taking five or more years to finish college and get their degrees. Ron French from Bridge Magazine has been researching this for his new article, and he talked about the trend today on Stateside. French said nationally, 31% of students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. In Michigan, 12 of the 15 public universities are below that average.

Staying in school longer is more expensive, as extra semesters add cost. French said the fifth and sixth years are usually the most expensive, because financial aid dries up after eight semesters.

“Student debt nationally is over $1 trillion now,” said French.

How can cutting-edge new technologies be used in the classroom?

Sure, devices like Google Glass or a 3-D printer are cool.

But how can they be used to teach and to learn?

Eric Kunnen is the emerging technologies coordinator at Grand Valley State University.

"Trying to find that sweet spot there between teaching learning and technology is where we are focused and having access to the technology is one piece," Kunnen said.

Kunnen said that Google Glass could be useful in the classroom by providing hands free operations.

“Think in terms of a visual demonstration maybe in a science classroom, where you need both hands as the instructor,” Kunnen said. “Also the ability in wearing the glasses and having information on top of what you are seeing has a lot of potential as well.”

But where is the boundary in using technology for a good purpose, versus using it because it’s cool?

Kunnen said when figuring out when to use the technology, they start with trying to solve an instructional problem.

“How do we address a difficult concept that is very challenging to explain perhaps, or very difficult to visualize, and how do we apply technology to that as a solution?” Kunnen said.

An example he gave was difficulty in visualizing 3D protein molecules, but a 3D projection image could help solve that problem.

New technology are on display in Grand Valley’s Technology showcase, located in the Mary Idema Pew Library on campus.

“The concept really is to interact, learn, discover, and share how technology can transform teaching and learning at the university,’ Kunnen said.

*Listen to full interview above. 

Michigan's Education Achievement Authority, formed in 2011, was created to help failing schools. It currently operates 15 schools in Detroit.

EAA Chancellor John Covington stepped down with one year left on his contract. What does this mean for the EAA and the students in its 15 schools?

Bridge Magazine education writer Chastity Pratt Dawsey covers the EAA extensively. She said there had been talk for months that Covington was going to resign.

Veronica Conforme was named the interim replacement. She’s from New York City, where she was Chief Operating Officer for New York City public schools. Pratt said it's unclear if they are going to keep Conforme at the helm or if they are going to hire someone new.

Pratt added that the EAA had to do damage control in the media and let everyone know that they are trying to do better.

“There were some misgivings about [Covington's] leadership and whether or not the EAA was going in the right direction,” Pratt said.

Pratt added that the EAA had problems since it was put together hastily in 2011. In its first year, it was supposed to be funded by donations, which has not been done for any school in the United States.

“The first year, the donations did not come in as expected. They get the kids the second year of operations, they don’t get the Title I money that they think they are going to get,” Pratt said.

The EAA had to borrow money, using the Detroit Public Schools as a conduit. They started to lose students. MEAP scores were lower than promised. Their online individualized education plan did not see the success people thought it would. State legislators even complained about a lack of transparency in the system, and that Covington had a lucrative contract.

Pratt said that the EAA needs to turn around their academics. Parents and teachers are saying they want results, not excuses.

“Do something, make it happen. Otherwise, what was the point?” Pratt said. 

*Listen to full interview above.

-Bre'Anna Tinsley, Michigan Radio Newsroom.

Michigan is now into its second year of right to Work. 

The law took effect in March 2013, making Michigan the 24th state where workers don't have to join a union as a condition of employment.

Many unions have yet to feel the impact of right to work, because they were already under contracts, or were able to sign new agreements or extend their existing ones before the law went into effect.

But Michigan's two teacher unions have certainly felt the impact of right to work. 

Doug Pratt is the Director of Member and Political Engagement for the Michigan Education Association, and he joined us on Stateside. 

*Listen to the full interview above. 

The way Michigan schools are funded is complex and emotionally charged.

Proposal A was passed in 1994. It was a new system for funding schools. It stopped the use of local property taxes as a source of school funding. Instead, it created a new state education tax, and it boosted the state sales tax from four to six cents on the dollar. The extra two cents goes to the school aid fund.

Twenty years after the changes, one thing many Michiganders agree on is that it's time to overhaul Proposal A, but there are many views on how to do that.

This week, Bridge Magazine is featuring a series of reports by Chastity Pratt Dawsey looking at how we fund schools in Michigan.

Dawsey joined us today.

*Listen to our conversation with her above.

In 2011, state lawmakers passed a measure that was designed to toughen up Michigan's teacher evaluation system. The idea was that a teacher who repeatedly got poor evaluations could be fired.

How do you measure a teacher's effectiveness? 

One big way is to determine how much students learned and grew during the school year, and that is done through academic testing. 

But, three years out, the Legislature hasn't managed to agree on how those evaluations should be conducted, or even which test should be used to measure student growth.

And, left twisting in the wind, are school administrators, principals, and teachers who are wondering which standardized test they're supposed to start giving this fall. 

Brian Smith joined us to give an update on where things stand as this school year winds down. He's the statewide education and courts reporter for MLive.

*Listen to the full interview above. 

Online learning. Make no mistake about it: It is here and it is growing.

The number of students taking online courses has grown 52% in the past three years. In the 2012-2013 school year, some 55,000 students in Michigan took a virtual course.

A new report from the Michigan Virtual University looks at virtual learning for K-12 students –who’s taking online classes, what kinds of classes and how effective the classes are.

The results are mixed.

Jamey Fitzpatrick is president and CEO of Michigan Virtual University, and he joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Ever since a student at Ann Arbor's Pioneer High School got his first 8mm camera for his 17th birthday, he has searched for good stories to tell.

And tell them he does. That Ann Arbor high school kid was Ken Burns. And since getting that first camera in 1970, Ken has turned his camera and his storyteller's eye to subjects like World War II, the Civil War, the Brooklyn Bridge, baseball, jazz, the West, the Brooklyn Five, and so much more.

Tonight on PBS, Ken Burns brings us his newest story. It's called "The Address."

The film follows the students at a tiny school in Vermont where students are challenged each year to learn and recite Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

As he follows these boys, Ken uncovers many powerful individual stories and, at the same time, brings us a much-needed reminder of the power of Abraham Lincoln's words.

Ken Burns joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

You don't have to hunt too far to find critics of our schools, of the way our children are learning, what they're learning and the achievement gap within our classrooms.

There are countless ways, countless statistics that try to measure the problems. Here's just one, centered on the achievement gap. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, on 2007 standardized math exams, white fourth-graders performed better than black fourth-graders in all 46 states where results are available.

And we hear a steady drumbeat of criticism that students here in the U.S. are lagging behind their peers in other countries. When you look at standardized tests, American students rank 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math, which puts them behind students in Poland and Slovenia.

How much pressure should we put on individual teachers to fix these problems?

Natalie Davis, Alistair Bomphray, and Martha Curren-Preis are teachers who are all earning their Ph.D.s in education at the University of Michigan. They joined us today to discuss the issue.

Listen to the full interview above.

The state of Michigan is ending its exclusive contract with the Education Achievement Authority to oversee the worst-performing schools in the state.

State School Superintendent Mike Flangan sent a letter to the EAA saying the state will pull out of its exclusivity agreement with the Authority one year from now.

Martin Ackley is with the Michigan Department of Education. He says the state still intends to use the EAA to help turn around struggling schools.

“Now, this is in no way a statement or an indication of a lack of confidence in the EAA or its academic strategies. This is just an action that needed to be taken in order to provide flexibility and to provide options other than the EAA in which to place these most struggling schools.”

So, what are the other options that the State might use to help failing schools? And what's ahead for the controversial EAA?

Jake Neher, who covers Lansing for the Michigan Public Radio Network, joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

How do you best measure the progress of students in Michigan's classrooms and, by extension, the effectiveness of their teachers?

It's one of the thorniest challenges being debated in Michigan education.

For years, the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) and the Michigan Merit Exam (MME) have been the assessment tools. Now, with the move to the Common Core Standards, it's out with the MEAP and MME and in with the what?

Districts around Michigan are gearing up for an online adaptive assessment test in the spring of 2015.

The Michigan Department of Education says the state has only one option for testing students on the Common Core State Standards for the next three years.

And that option is the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the SBA.

But state lawmakers haven't made that official.

We wondered how districts  are preparing for the SBA or whatever test they're told to administer next year.

William Heath is superintendent of the Morrice Area Schools and the principal at Morrice Junior and Senior High School located in Shiawassee County. He joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

There is a two-bill package making its way through the state Legislature that could impact students in every third-grade classroom in Michigan.

It would hold back third-graders who have poor reading skills. If a child fails a third-grade reading exam, he or she does not move along to fourth grade.

Backers say it can help get a struggling student back on track. Critics say flunking that struggling student is a punishment. State Superintendent Mike Flanagan panned the legislation, saying it should be up to local schools and parents.

Amber Arellano is the executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest.


A new report finds the state's poorest children have failed to make up any ground in their reading skills in the past decade.

According to the the latest Kids Count report, 81% of low-income 4th-graders in Michigan are not reading proficiently.

Michigan is among six states that have seen no improvement in that rate since 2003.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell is the project director for Kids Count Michigan and she joined us today.

It's been a year and a half since state education leaders called for reforms to Michigan's "zero tolerance" discipline policies. Critics say too many students are still being booted out of school because of zero-tolerance measures and the result is the kids who are getting in trouble and being expelled are the ones who most need help. And they point to the statistics: A disproportionate number of the students who are punished are minorities.

Bridge Magazine contributing writer Ted Roelofs wrote a piece in a recent issue titled "Zero tolerance school reforms hit resistance in Michigan.” He joined us today along with Annie Salsich, director of the Center on Youth Justice at the Vera Institute, to explore zero-tolerance policies and what can be done to promote a safe and productive school environment.

Listen to the full interview above.

Michigan education officials say the state risks losing more than a billion dollars of federal school funding as the state Senate debates a set of nationwide school standards.

The state budget that took effect this week bars the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) from spending any money to implement the Common Core standards.

MDE officials say the federal dollars are only awarded to states that have adopted acceptable standards. Michigan chose to implement Common Core three years ago, with relatively little fanfare.

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