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Listen Tuesdays at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on 90.5 WKAR-FMAccording to the Kids Count report of April 2018, 56% of third graders in Michigan are not proficient in English Language Arts. At the same time, some new public school teachers in Michigan are leaving the classroom because they do not earn enough money for a decent living. Virtual and charter schools are on the rise in Michigan. And in some communities there are breakthroughs in raising better readers.Covering education in Michigan is complex, but WKAR is committed to reporting on the problems, searching for solutions, and holding leaders accountable.Listen for Making The Grade in Michigan with WKAR education reporter Kevin Lavery every Tuesday at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on 90.5 WKAR-FM's Morning Edition.

Report: Fewer MI Kids Can Read at Grade Level

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The 2018 Kids Count Data Book finds 56% of Michigan third graders are not reading at grade level.

More than two million children live in Michigan.  Their health, education and overall well-being depends largely on where in this state they live.  The  2018 Kids Count Data Book takes a look at how Michigan kids are faring.  


WKAR's Scott Pohl and Kevin Lavery review the findings of the 2018 Michigan Kids Count Data Book. Pohl:              

What exactly is the 2018 Kids Count Data Book?


It’s the product of a national network that pulls together data from a variety of sources, including the Census Bureau and state government departments.  It’s funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which I’ll mention is also an NPR underwriter.

Here in Michigan, the report is created by the Michigan League for Public Policy.  It uses 16 key indicators to measure a child’s economic security, education, health and safety and family and community life.  There are many partner agencies all across the state that are studying these issues and crunching the numbers.


What have past studies revealed about our children’s lives, particularly in the capital region?


Well, first you have to know that the 2018 report looks mainly at 2016 data.  That’s the most recent calendar year for which there’s complete information.  Also, the report compares new figures with 2010.  The authors see that as the first year after the Great Recession, so they use that as a baseline. 

That said, we’ve seen Michigan’s child population decline by almost six percent since 2010.   We’re also seeing a drop in childhood poverty rates across the state.  That’s down more than 11 percent since 2010. 

Looking at the latest figures in terms of overall child well-being, the best place to live in Michigan is Livingston County, with just over six percent child poverty.  The worst is Lake County, where the childhood poverty rate is over 40 percent.  And by the way, Clinton County made the top five; they're tied for second place with Ottawa County.  Eaton County comes in at number 21 and Ingham County is in the middle at number 40.


Kevin, what about education?  That’s going to be the main focus of your reporting over the next year.


Absolutely.  The numbers are not good.  One of the biggest benchmarks is reading proficiency, and that’s first measured in the third grade.  Just under 56 percent of Michigan third graders are not reading at their grade level.  That number has been steadily increasing; it was 50 percent in 2016 and 54 percent last year. 

Just under 56 percent of Michigan third graders are not reading at grade level. - Michigan League for Public Policy


This is troubling news for Michigan, which is really struggling to turn itself around.  Last year’s National Kids Count Data Book ranked Michigan 41st in the nation for education.  There’s a glimmer of hope though.  Last week the National Assessment of Educational Progressreport showed Michigan is improving in fourth and eighth grade reading and math. 

However, we're still in the bottom half of the country.  This is a challenge for a state that’s declared it’s aiming to be a Top 10 education state in 10 years.


So what happens now with this data?  How will it be used?


Well, the Michigan League for Public Policy doesn’t actually MAKE public policy...it’s only there in an advisory role.  But they’re hoping state lawmakers who are now beginning to work through the details of Governor Snyder’s 2019 budget will put some funding behind things they feel could fix the problem.  In terms of education, this includes establishing a state funded three year old preschool program.  The league says we’re one of only a few states that doesn’t do that.  It even goes back farther, to ensuring women have good prenatal care and then accessible, affordable child care. 

Starting in the 2019-20 school year, all Michigan third graders who do not score proficiently on the English Language Arts portion of the M-STEP will be required to repeat the third grade.


One last point.  Starting in the 2019 school year, a new law requires all Michigan third graders who score below par on the English Language Arts portion of the M-STEP standardized test will have to repeat that grade.  School districts are trying to get extra help in place for teachers, students and parents.  And they are very closely watching the results of this year’s M-STEP, which begins just two weeks from now.  That will be a big indicator of what classroom sizes might look like going forward.


View the report: 2018 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book (pdf)

More about the report at: Michigan League for Public Policy






Kevin Lavery is a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things considered.
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