Column: Follow models to better education

Matthew Randazzo

Creating immediate and long-lasting improvements in Michigan schools requires that everyone from policymakers to community members recognize four core needs and work together to address them simultaneously.

The needs are easy to innumerate: Schools must be student- and achievement-centered; teachers must have access to results-oriented training, year-round mentoring and classroom-ready materials; students must have classroom and lab equipment and sufficient time-on-task; students must see how their course work connects to the local workforce and they need to interact with local professionals to whom they can relate.

Meeting these needs isn’t insurmountable or cost prohibitive. Just look at Cass Technical and Renaissance high schools here in Detroit.

Cass, Renaissance and now Western International are among nearly 350 schools working with the National Math and Science Initiative this year to increase access and achievement in high-quality, rigorous math, science and English courses.

After one year in NMSI’s College Readiness Program, African-American students at Cass had Michigan’s highest number of qualifying scores among their peers on Advanced Placement exams in math, science and English. Renaissance students had the second highest total in that group. Combined, the schools increased qualifying scores by 36 percent compared to an 11 percent increase for African American students across Michigan. Qualifying scores on AP exams illustrate mastery of college-level skills and knowledge and make students eligible for course credit at most U.S. colleges and universities. Western International will have its first-year NMSI results in 2018.

All students need STEM knowledge and skills — because of the growth of STEM-dominated careers and the influence STEM has in trades and service industries — and all students are capable of mastery if appropriately supported. In the comprehensive Ramsay High School in Birmingham, Ala., for example, African-American students increased qualifying scores 85 percent after one year of support from A+ College Ready, a NMSI affiliate. And in rural Pennsylvania, Trinity High School increased its qualifying AP math, science and English scores 186 percent last year.

“This is what it’s all about,” said Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit and a former science teacher. “Increasing access and resources for our students to benefit in STEM so we can grow up and become adults and take on those professions that require a skill set in STEM.”

And while high-quality intervention in high school can deliver immediate results and transformative opportunities, it’s not enough. NMSI and other organizations are working to ensure elementary and middle school students are developing the skills and dispositions needed to excel in high school and beyond.

Our education challenges are intertwined and need simultaneous interventions. Fortunately, there are models available to move Michigan schools forward.

Matthew Randazzo is CEO of NMSI and a Class 10 Children and Families fellow at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.