WKAR News: Digging Deeper Into Michigan Education

Apr 15, 2018

This week, we’re starting a new reporting focus on education.. We are digging deeper into the numbers, searching for solutions and giving parents, educators and students a voice while holding leaders accountable.

Did you know 56 percent of Michigan's third graders cannot read proficiently? Did you know black and white 4th graders in Michigan rank near the bottom of our 50 states in reading scores

WKAR digital news director Reginald Hardwick and reporter Kevin Lavery talked recently about our new initiative. 

REGINALD: Welcome to Current State from WKAR, your NPR station for the capital region. I’m Digital News Director, Reginald Hardwick. We start with a new commitment with the WKAR news team. Here in Michigan, we boast about our forests, our waterways, our history of technology and innovation and our bounceback from the great recession. But education is a much different story. Did you know 56% of michigan’s 3rd graders cannot read proficiently. Also, black and white 4th graders in Michigan rank near the bottom of 50 states for reading. Right now, WKAR is digging deeper into education in Michigan. Searching for solutions, giving parents, students and educators a voice, and holding lawmakers and leaders accountable. WKAR reporter Kevin Lavery will be the reporter leading this effort and he joins me in the studio now. Welcome Kevin.


KEVIN: Hello Reginald, great to be here.

REGINALD: Your reports start on Tuesday, how will you start our new initiative.

KEVIN: Well I will begin by talking about this year's release of the annual statewide report. Every year the Michigan League for Public Policy publishes what is called the Kids Count Data Book. It's a series of benchmarks that focuses on children's wellbeing, and there is something to the tune of 2.2 million children in the State of Michigan. Some of these benchmarks are health and safety, economic security, family life, but education is one of those as well. Now this years book will not be released until Tuesday, so I am not going to give the score right now. But it is safe to say given past years trends, we’re not making any real gains in education. Those trends have been really troubling, especially with regards to third grade literacy.

REGINALD: A lot of times the Kids Count book comes out, the media skims over it, and we forget about it for another year. So how will your reports be different?

KEVIN: Well I really see this report being a guidebook for me this year. There’s a lot of data that breaks down the problems to the individual county level and it takes a close look at what’s going on in those places. The socio-economic factors that are driving why children are succeeding or not. We know that poverty is a huge indicator of child success in school and in the rest of their lives. Not only will I be using the Kids Count Data book, but this past week the NAEP report came out. Now NAEP is education jargon for the National Assessment for Educational Progress. The Kids Count book ranks kids county-by-county in Michigan and the NAEP Report measures Michigan against the rest of the country. I can tell you again the numbers are not good, even for the NAEP report.

REGINALD: I understand that you are also looking at the Third Grade Reading Law. Explain what that law is and how will you cover it.

KEVIN: Two years ago, the Michigan Legislature passed a law that said, any third grade student that does not score proficiently in the english language arts section in the MSTEP, thats our standardized test, will be  required to repeat the third grade. Now that does not actually take effect in the 2019 school year, in terms of the kids being retained. But educators are looking closely and will be looking closely at the scores this year. The MSTPE begins at the end of this month and runs into the first couple of weeks in May. So, now the law is requiring districts to provide extra support to K-3 teachers when they are helping out their students. Also, in addition to things like parent teacher conferences, if a child is falling behind in reading. Parents will be notified right then and there and school districts are preparing a reading at home plan for parents to take on with their kids. So, it is safe to say that Michigan is trying to turn this ship around. The state wants to be a top 10 education state in 10 years, attract new talent for a new economy, its very largely information based. But the statistics look like we have a long way to go.

REGINALD: And again this is a year long effort and I am glad that you are leading our effort in reporting this, Kevin.

KEVIN: Thank you Reginald, I am looking forward to it as well.

REGINALD: And again, listen for Kevin Lavery’s reports every Tuesday on Morning Edition between 5-9am on 90.5 FM WKAR, your NPR station for the capital region.