According to an analysis of educational success across several states conducted by The Education Trust-Midwest, third graders in Michigan showed the greatest decline in reading when compared to their peers in other states participating in the same assessment consortium. This came despite nearly $80 million of spending by Michigan to improve reading outcomes.

Michigan students also are among the lowest performing students among peers for third-grade reading, which is one of the most important indicators of lifelong student success and lifelong employment. The study is titled “Top Ten for Education: Not By Chance.” According to the executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest, Amber Arellano, “Michigan’s young students are just as bright and talented as other students around the country.”  Arellano added, “The question is not whether we should be investing in improving third-grade reading for Michigan children. The question is, how does Michigan become more effective at improving teaching and learning, as leading education states have done?”

Starting with the 2014-15 school year, the study examined three years of data and found that Michigan ranked last among 11 states for changes in third-grade reading proficiency. Michigan was dead last among the states examined, behind Delaware, Vermont, Connecticut, Idaho and West Virginia. The states showing the most improvement were California, Hawaii and Washington state over the last three years. Those states use standardized tests similar to Michigan’s.

Faring poorly in a number of different educational measures, Michigan showed that 56 percent of third-graders did not pass the reading test on Michigan’s state assessment in 2017. Last year, Brookings Institute showed last year also found that the Michigan’s students made the least improvement in National Assessment of Education Progress scores since 2003.

The Education Trust is sponsoring its Michigan Achieves campaign in an effort to make Michigan a top ten education state by 2030. The nonprofit non-partisan trust has asked citizens to help improve education and urge K-12 educators “that it’s time to embrace better practices.”

In a press release, Arellano congratulated the educators in Grand Rapids Public Schools and Wyoming [Michigan] Public Schools for becoming models for improvement. In collaboration with the Steelcase Foundation and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, it was noted that  Wyoming’s Parkview Elementary ranks among the state’s highest improving high-poverty schools for subjects such as third-grade reading and math. 

The report’s recommendations include providing more systematic support for teachers and principals. The report also includes a comprehensive report card of the most important indicators of performance and improvement, showing how Michigan is advancing to the goal set for 2030.

In an email response, Ben DeGrow of the Mackinac Center -- a nonpartisan thinktank based in Michigan -- wrote, “Sadly, the picture this study paints of Michigan’s struggles with early literacy isn’t new or surprising. But we had better take it seriously. Students who show they can read and write early on are much more likely to complete their schooling, find a meaningful career and be a functioning citizen. 

“If simply pouring more money into the current system were the answer, we wouldn’t be on the track we’re in. The state has given out tens of millions of dollars in early literacy grants in the past few years, yet fewer and fewer third-graders are reading on grade level. 

“Michigan has a ways to go to fix this problem. State leaders need to ensure more teachers are equipped to use effective reading instruction and diagnose early problems that can be overcome. Florida provides a fine example of how a combined emphasis on choice, accountability and quality reading instruction can dramatically improve results for students from various backgrounds.

“We need to stop putting faith in Lansing bureaucrats to take the initiative. The state needs to set clear and transparent standards, but more funding should follow students rather than finance pet programs. That approach creates greater incentive for local solutions chosen by parents and educators to meet the needs of individual learners.”

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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