Supporting Michigan’s teachers and students

Michigan’s students have lost substantial ground over the last decade. Michigan has among the worst achievement gaps in the nation, and our state is not keeping up with the rest of the country – in achievement or improvement – according to new 2013 national assessment data. Indeed, that assessment found an astonishing 69 percent of Michigan’s fourth graders cannot read on grade level.

Legislation being debated now in Lansing offers one possible solution to our state’s tragically low performance: retain all third graders who are not proficient in reading and require them to repeat the grade.

An effort to boost early reading is noble – and needed. Students need to read proficiently in the fourth grade, when they begin to read to learn other subjects, such as math, science and social studies.

The question is: How do we do it to achieve the results that we want? We know from leading states around the country that a coherent, multifaceted strategy and investment are needed to meet the goal.

Florida is an important case in point. In 2002, Florida leaders passed legislation that would retain third graders who weren’t proficient in reading, but they did so as they made investments and implemented a comprehensive strategy to improve learning. For example, by 2006, the state trained 56,000 teachers in research – based reading instruction in grades K-5. The state also placed retained students with high-performing teachers and built systems to identify those teachers, to ensure retained students actually got better teaching to help them catch up.

Florida also reprioritized around $80 million in state and federal funds to pay for this teacher training, plus reading diagnostic tests and summer literacy camps. Over time, it also has raised academic standards, installed a statewide educator support and evaluation system, and trained teachers on how to teach more rigorous, complex content.

Thankfully, Michigan is on track to implement two of the most proven, transformative strategies to raise achievement: the Common Core standards and an educator support and evaluation system. These new efforts are our state's best opportunity to raise not only third-grade reading levels but learning across grades.

We applaud the state leaders that have provided the leadership and commitment to see to it that Michigan implements these mutually reinforcing strategies. Now we encourage our state leaders to invest in this work.

Our new report highlights how Michigan can best do that over multiple years, given how budget-strapped the state is. It also provides a common-sense road map for implementing these strategies so that all teachers and students benefit, including in early grades.

Rigorous standards, aligned to the high-level skills required in college and in the 21st-century workplace, are new to Michigan teachers. They require dramatic shifts in instructional practices in the classroom. Teachers will need intensive support and training to meet them.

We also must commit to providing the training, data systems, and technical support that districts say they need to evaluate teachers accurately – and give educators the feedback and support they need to improve their practice.

Implementing these strategies first in the early grades makes good sense, and would build upon the preschool investment happening in Michigan. This strategy also would provide the proven, research-based support needed to raise third-grade proficiency rates.

Tennessee is among the states showing how these strategies, done right, can dramatically raise student learning. According to the new national assessment, Tennessee’s students are seeing some of the highest growth nationwide.

That's remarkable, given how much Tennessee has struggled educationally in the past. How has Tennessee done it? It has invested in resources to train more than 35,000 educators and built an admirable teacher data, support and evaluation system to support educators on the higher standards.

The Michigan Department of Education is working to transform our teaching profession by raising the bar for teacher preparation programs and certification. While that is a worthwhile strategy, it's also a long-term one. Today's first-graders in Michigan will be in high school – or even raising children of their own – before such a strategy will pay dramatic dividends in learning. We need to improve both the preparation of future teachers and the practice of current teachers in Michigan’s classrooms.

Now is the time to invest in our teachers – and ensure no Michigan teacher is left behind in the transition to tougher standards. In the coming weeks, we have an opportunity to begin making the investments and approve legislation that will put us on a responsible path toward educational improvement in our state.

Our students – and our teachers – deserve it, and desperately need it.

To see the full report, please visit the Education Trust-Midwest website.

Sarah Lenhoff is director of policy and research and Amber Arellano is executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest, based in Royal Oak, Mich.

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Tue, 12/17/2013 - 8:15pm
Ms. Lenhoff and Ms. Arellano sound just like every ‘education’ promoter that has precede them, they talk about others and what they have done, they talk about how Michigan can replicate that success, they talk about how the education system in Michigan is on the verge of success as long as we spend more money on their ideas. They never offer any (those day to day activities) examples of what will be changed, how it will be implemented in the classroom by the student, they surely never talk about performance metrics for the voter/reader to use in holding those new programs accountable, they never offer specifics of what will be achieved. They never trust the reader/voter with enough information to make their own choices, instead we hear it will be better because they say it will, so trust them and give more and more money. I don’t know either Ms. Lenhoff or Ms. Arellano, I expect they are very nice caring people who are well intended. I know nothing of their experiences, but I wonder if they have ever had to risk their job, their family’s income, their reputation on the success of an idea and tangible results. I am a skeptic of new program promoters who praise the simplicity of the new program, the assured success it will bring, the little sacrifice that will take (except for spending more money). I have heard it time and again, just as the predecessors there no offer of accountability, no monitoring of the kids progress and the effectiveness of the program. Why should we trust the new ideas when there is no accountability?
Chuck Fellows
Wed, 12/18/2013 - 8:08am
Please note that the fundamentals, the foundations, the structure - whatever you choose to call it - of education is not addressed by any of these well intended suggestions to improve schools. Fact: Our schools are modeled after the Prussian system of organizing children into manageable cohorts in order to produce compliant workers for a 200 year old industrial revolution. Fact: In 1892 a Committee of Ten decided we should have eight elementary grades and four secondary in public schools reinforcing the Prussian system of segregation by age. Fact: Children are sorted into bright and not so bright cohorts based upon the fallacy that all children learn the same things at the same rate and that proficiency in a given subject is dependent upon a child's chronological age. Fact: Schools segregate knowledge by academic disciplines in gross denial if the interrelatedness of all knowledge rendering education irrelevant ( and the children know it). Fact: Education is driven by a calendar, not learning. See: "How Schools are Killing Creativity" by Ken Robinson at and read "The One World Schoolhouse" by S. Khan. Then write or call your legislator and tell them to start listening to the people that actually do the learning work, teachers and students. Until that happens and we begin to dispense with the arbitrary 2,782 rules in statute "reform' s nothing more than a fools mission and the fourteen billion we spend on education a gross misallocation of funds.
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 12/22/2013 - 1:53pm
"Thankfully, Michigan is on track to implement two of the most proven, transformative strategies to raise achievement: the Common Core standards and an educator support and evaluation system." This is just not true. The CCS have not been tested or implemented anywhere but New York where 2/3rds of students were deemed failures. Teacher evaluation systems have not proven successul either especially if tied to test scores which don't reflect teacher or learner success at all. The title of this article is misleading. There is nothing here that supports teachers or students.
Thu, 12/26/2013 - 2:37pm
To Duane and Others, I totally agree about spending (not spending) more money to "train teachers." For what did these teachers go to college? Why did taxpayers subsidize many of their educations? Why should the taxpayers pay for more training? Trying different things and not getting results just keeps on happening. All we have to do is....and things will change? I've said it before and I'll say it again. In my day, kids listened to the teacher (yes, only one teacher in a room - not with a bunch of para pros to keep kids quiet) and learned to read and write. Teaching those subjects should not be that hard. It was when they began to change they way they taught reading and writing that all of this happened, in my opinion. They need to change the way they teach people in college, not afterwards, and it should not cost the government (us ultimately) any additional money; it should be part of the college curriculum.