We know how to better educate our kids

Andrew Stein

The challenges facing our education system are no secret.

According to the most recent information from the National Center for Education Statistics, Michigan now ranks 41st in fourth-grade reading. Our students in Detroit are even further behind, with only about one in 20 public school fourth graders proficient in math or reading.

Nearly a third of students in Detroit’s public schools drop out before graduation, and the consequences are severe. These students are eight times more likely to become incarcerated and three times more likely to be unemployed. When a student drops out of school, it has devastating effects for the individual, as well as the health of our community overall.

Legislation is now making its way through Lansing that will hopefully address the debt and implement a new governance model for Detroit Public Schools. The questions of “who pays for it” and “who controls it” should finally be answered.

But the more important question still remains: how do we provide the education that our children deserve?

We must remember that the answer is not merely to improve a test score. It is about how we successfully educate children in the context of poverty. We know that our students come to school facing a myriad of obstacles to learning: food insecurity, safety, a lack of transportation and unstable home lives, to name a few.

At City Year Detroit, we partner with educators to deploy teams of trained AmeriCorps members to public schools where they serve all-day, every day, starting before the first bell rings in the morning through after-school programs in the early evening. They provide academic and social emotional support designed to keep students in school and on track. Over the years, we have learned that we are most effective when we are able to work with the same students, year-over-year, between grades three through nine. We serve in the highest need high schools, as well as the “feeder” elementary and middle schools that send the majority of students to these high schools.

And we’ve seen success. Recently, independent consultant Policy Studies Associates found that schools that partner with City Year were two-to-three times more likely to improve on English language arts and math assessments than schools that do not partner with us. Overall, City Year partner schools gain the equivalent of one month of additional learning each year.

There are no easy solutions here. We must partner a sense of urgency with patience, knowing that improving outcomes for our students means providing consistent support every step of the way.

Andrew Stein is the Executive Director and Vice President of City Year Detroit.