Opinion: Education policy harms urban schools

Shaun Black and Brod Boxley

Earlier this year, metro Detroit’s failed bid for Amazon’s HQ2 due to a “lack of talent” is Lansing’s call to action to solve Michigan’s paramount man-made problem: education.

Education reform is the heartbeat to Michigan’s future economic viability, and Lansing’s priority must be to invest in education to improve the talent of high school graduates . Lansing’s policies and disinvestment in education over the past 25 years is the cause for Michigan’s status among the lower tier of states in Reading proficiency (4th grade students 32%) and Math proficiency (4th grade students 36%) on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2017.

In contrast, the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 was the response to their call to action, which radically changed the quality of education in Massachusetts including investment quality. Education is a priority in Massachusetts and it’s reflected in various statistics. Massachusetts spends $15,000 per pupil (standard allocation), $645 million on corrections, their NAEP scores are the best in the nation, median income increased 94.9% since 1993, and 10.4% of their residents live in poverty. Meanwhile, Michigan spends $7,600 per pupil (standard allocation), $2 billion on corrections, our NAEP scores are near the nation’s bottom, median income increased 74.7% since 1993, and 15.0% of our residents live in poverty. Inspired investments and political will mattered in Massachusetts as both significantly improved outcomes for children.

Unfortunately, the social impact of Michigan’s education policies and disinvestment often manifest in urban schools. Thus, a lack of hope, opportunities, and doing more with less especially in urban schools has created a corollary relationship with the per capita surge in violent crimes in cities like Detroit, Flint, and Saginaw according to F.B.I. statistics. Reforming Michigan’s education system should include a significant investment in urban schools across the state, and this investment in urban schools would likely disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

To solve this man-made problem, officials must understand the root causes of dysfunction in some urban schools. Education research asserts the root causes of dysfunction in some urban schools are the ones missing the mark on expectations for students, quality of instruction, strategic planning, triangulating learning data for instructional change, meeting the social-emotional needs of students living in poverty, and strong instructional leadership.

If Michigan is to remain competitive in the industrial and technological sectors of today’s global economy, a long-term frontend societal investment is required to increase the likelihood of Michigan’s future economic and social prosperity.

Michigan’s next governor should quarterback investments in urban schools to disrupt the pernicious cycle of generational poverty, decrease violent crimes in urban areas, decrease the incarceration rate of urban citizens, and increase Michigan’s return on investment in the form of talented members of society. To have statewide impact on prosperity, leaders in Lansing must take fresh action to build a brighter future for all students in Michigan, regardless of their zip code, by harnessing a new political will to replace talk and intentions with an investment accompanying a comprehensive education reform act designed to transform the quality and results of K-12 education in Michigan.

Shaun Black is lead consultant for the Synergy Educational Consulting Group.

Brod Boxley is service director for Hawthorne Learning Associates.