Richard Zeile, co-president of the State Board of Education of Michigan, said “no” in a Sept. 14 column, “Is there an education crisis in Michigan?” Unfortunately, what I have observed in my own research and that of many others is that Michigan’s academic stagnation — and decline in comparison to the rest of the nation — is a real and direct threat to our state and our children’s futures.
The column suggested that Michigan’s performance on the NAEP is just below average, citing that Michigan’s scores are “5 points or less from the mean.” But five points on a single NAEP assessment translates to about a half-year of learning. In 4th grade reading and math and 8th grade math, Michigan students performed significantly below the national public average in 2015, the most recent year of data. The three- to five-point difference between our students’ average scores and the nation’s means Michigan students have learned 30 to 50 percent less of a year’s worth of content than students on average nationally. And if you look at the states ranked highest on the NAEP, Michigan students were 10 or more points behind, translating to more than a year’s worth of learning that they will likely never make up. Detroit was the worst-performing large urban district in the country on all four assessments, scoring on average 10 or more points below the next lowest district on three of the four.
Perhaps more disconcerting is Michigan’s falling ranking compared to other states. We’re not keeping up, and our children are suffering the consequences.
The column also claims that “it is an illusion that government spending can replace the parent’s role in a child’s development.” There is no evidence that Michigan’s parents are less involved in their children’s development than parents in other states, and I have not heard a single argument that increased spending on public schools should replace a parent’s role. Yet, there is compelling, independent evidence that Michigan is not adequately funding its public schools.
Rather than blame parents for poor performance, schools should be encouraged and supported to better engage families in the educational process, including by significantly increasing resources for students with the greatest educational needs. Treating families as partners in the educational process — and collaborators in solving this crisis — isn’t just the right thing to do, it also works.
Sarah Winchell Lenhoff, Ph.D.
assistant professor of educational leadership
and policy studies, Wayne State University