WUOMFM

Jennifer Guerra

Reporter/Producer

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.

Her stories and documentaries have won numerous regional and national awards, and her work has aired on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace and Studio 360.

Jennifer graduated from the University of Michigan and received her master's in broadcast journalism from Fordham University in New York. When not working on a story, you can find Jen practicing her tap steps and hanging out with her husband and their two hilarious kids.

jennifer@michiganradio.org

Ways to Connect

Money
Flickr user 401(K) 2012 / Creative Commons

We have an update on the efforts to get Detroit area charter school employees paid for time worked during the school year.

Many employees at Michigan Technical Academy spread their paychecks out over the year, but late last month, the charter school's board had to divert those summer paychecks to creditors. 

Matchbook Learning is the nonprofit charter management company that directly employs MTA staff. Today, the company's CEO Sajan George sent a letter to MTA employees saying the charter's board gave its approval last night to appoint an independent "receiver" to review the payroll issue. 

Andrew Stein, executive director of City Year Detroit, says Americorps members help at-risk students, and teachers who have to manage large class sizes.
Detroit Public Schools

Detroit public school students could soon be spending a lot less time on testing during the school year.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District is moving to cut the number of assessments they give students across the district by 70 percent — from administering 186 tests down to 57 tests.

stevendepolo / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

We reported last week that a Detroit area charter school used state money to pay its bondholders instead of its teachers.

Many employees at Michigan Technical Academy spread their paychecks out over the year, but late last month, the charter school's board had to divert those summer paychecks to creditors. 

pile of one  dollar bills
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

More than 460 Michigan college students who say they have been defrauded by their for-profit schools filed federal claims this year to try to get their student loans forgiven. But the Trump administration has not approved any so-called borrower defense claims yet.

tables in a classroom
Frank Juarez / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Detroit's public school teachers have approved a three-year contract that includes a roughly 7 percent wage increase over the next two years.

The contract with the Detroit Public Schools Community District was approved by teachers on Thursday. It includes a 3 percent increase in year one and a 4.13 percent increase in year two. 

tables in a classroom
Frank Juarez / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Charter school employees at Michigan Technical Academy in metro Detroit are not getting paid for time they worked in the classroom.

The charter school’s license was revoked last month for poor academics and financial problems -- it owed roughly $16 million in long-term debt and $50,000 in short-term loans, according to Central Michigan University officials. CMU authorized the school and issued its charter.

Michigan is facing a teacher shortage.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Nearly every school district in the nation uses the same type of salary schedule to pay its teachers -- a schedule with "steps" and "lanes" that pays based on years in the classroom, and you automatically get paid more if you have a master's degree or higher.

Photo courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute

Our first post in this series looked at the state's "average salary" for teachers and how that number can be misleading since it doesn't account for years of experience.

Results of our teacher survey.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

We put out a non-scientific survey earlier this summer asking teachers in the state how they've seen their pay change over the past several years. (You can check out the survey questions here.)

 

We heard from 390 teachers across more than 115 districts, which is awesome. (Thanks, teachers!)

 

We'll go through the six main themes that emerged, but first let's get up to speed on the basics.

 

A primer on teacher pay

 

Public school teachers in Michigan and most of the country follow a salary schedule that doles out automatic and relatively small incremental raises for each year of service (these are called "steps") and gives a bigger pay bump for additional educational attainment, like a master's degree or PhD (these are called "lanes").  

 

The number of "steps" and "lanes" varies from district to district. It can take seven steps to reach the top of the teacher pay ladder in one district and 30 steps in another district.  There are no more yearly step increases after a teacher reaches the top step, but some districts offer "longevity" bonuses for veteran teachers.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Michigan's average teacher salary has dropped for the fifth year in a row, and many districts say they have trouble retaining high quality teachers because of low pay.

So we wanted to know: what's going on with teacher pay in the state?

As a starting point, we have the average teacher salary in Michigan. The state Department of Education puts it at $61,978.

OK, so what does that number really tell us?

First, it marks a downward trend for five years in a row. The average teacher salary in 2011-12 was $62,613 and has dropped every year since. But beyond that, because it's not paired with any longevity data, it doesn't tell us a whole lot more.

Boy in classroom with his hand raised
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Michigan will no longer rank schools based on test scores. The state is working on a new accountability system as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal education law that goes into effect this coming school year.

ESSA replaces the controversial No Child Left Behind education law, which evaluated schools solely on proficiency (i.e. test scores) and went into effect in 2002. 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Detroit students will have a new high school option this fall, but they'll have to pass a test to get in.

There are currently three high schools in Detroit with entrance exams -- Cass Technical, Renaissance, and Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School -- but space is limited at those schools.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Michigan is one of 23 states that did not meet all the federal requirements for educating its students with disabilities.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Michigan's zero tolerance policies were part of a 'tough on discipline' trend that was big in the 1990s, but countless studies since then have shown that zero tolerance doesn't work and many states have amended their school discipline laws to reflect that.

kids at computers
U.S. Department of Education

Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed state budget includes a 20% cut to per pupil spending for virtual charter schools, but lawmakers in both the state House and Senate want to continue funding online schools at the same rate as traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

This will be the second so-called adequacy study to try to figure out the cost of educating a child in Michigan.

Desmond Ricks and members of the Michigan Innocence Clinic pose outside the prison where Ricks had been held since 1992
Photo courtesy of Michigan Innocence Clinic

A man who was found guilty of shooting his friend outside a Detroit restaurant 25 years ago was released from prison today.

A Wayne County judge threw out Desmond Ricks’ murder conviction after it came to light that the conviction may have been based on faulty evidence produced by the Detroit crime lab. The lab was closed in 2008 after a state audit found widespread problems.

Students raise their hands inside a classroom
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The new superintendent for the Detroit Public Schools Community District could begin work  as early as Tuesday. Dr. Nikolai Vitti’s five-year contract was approved by the Detroit school board earlier this month, but the commission that oversees the district’s finances still has to OK the contract. The Detroit Financial Review Commission is expected to vote Monday afternoon. 

If approved, Vitti has his work cut out for him.

Four poets stand behind a mic to record their spoken-word album.
Brianne Carpenter / Creative Youth Center

It's been a relentless news cycle this week, so here's a break for at least a few minutes from politics, national security and healthcare. We turned the mic over to some students way outside the beltway.

Children at Cummings Early Education Center play at a water table using bottled water
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Every child who attends the Cummings Early Childhood Center in Flint lives in the city and was exposed to lead as a result of the Flint water crisis. That can have damaging effects on their development and growth. The Cummings daycare and preschool opened late last fall to help mitigate some of those effects on the youngest children. 

Close up of adult, child holding hands
FLICKR.COM/SWAITY / LICENCED UNDER CREATIVE COMMONS HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY/2.0/

The Michigan Supreme Court this week handed a big win to parents with disabilities in child welfare cases.

If the state removes a child from her home and puts her in foster care, generally the goal is to reunite the child and parent as soon as possible. The parent is given services and a plan with specific goals they have to meet before reunification, and if those goals aren't met, their parental rights can be terminated.

The state says 38 schools with persistently low test scores might not have to close by the end of the year. At least, not yet. These schools now have 60 days to come up with a turnaround plan using what the state calls a "partnership" model. We wanted to know a little bit more about what that partnership strategy might entail, so we took a trip to Dearborn to find out. 

Miguel and Angel are brothers and they pretty much disagree on everything: TV shows, music, games, even the way they dress. But that stuff’s all pretty minor compared to the big disagreement they have over where they should go if their mom is deported back to Mexico.

Miguel is 14-years old and a proud mama’s boy. He says he never wants to separate from his mom and will go with her to Mexico even though he’s only visited there once, when he was three.

Big brother Angel, who's 15, says he wants to stay here in the U.S. and finish studying.

Michigan's own Betsy DeVos is now the most powerful education official in the nation. So what does that mean for Michigan? Let's start our story in Detroit, where DeVos played a big role in pushing for more school choice in the district.

It has been a crazy few days for Ryan Griffin, the guy behind the Read-to-a-Barber program we wrote about on the NPR Ed blog last week. He says the phone at The Fuller Cut in Ypsilanti, Mich., has been ringing nonstop since the story ran.

Figuring out all the different pots of money that go into paying for special education is complicated, but you know what’s even more complicated? Figuring out how much special education in Michigan actually costs. And if we don't know that, we don't know whether we're spending too much or too little on special ed. 

The idea for today’s State of Opportunity story comes from you. After we ran a piece about how special ed placements vary from district to district, several of you got in touch and asked: How do schools pay for special ed?

I went to Elliott Elementary in Holt to get some answers.

Most kids will head back to school this week ready to learn. But some will have to spend a good chunk of time re-learning things they forgot over the summer. The dreaded “summer slide” has been linked to persistent achievement gaps between kids from lower-income families and their better-off peers.

As kids head back to school, it’s worth remembering that all kids have the right to a free education.

Michigan Radio

We're going to go out on a limb here and say most parents want to know how their child's school measures up in terms of standardized test scores, graduation rates, demographics and so on. 

Another big question parents ask when looking at a school: 

“How many kids are in a typical classroom?”

When you hear people talk about ineffective school systems, you’ll often hear something like, “there aren’t enough desks or books,” or “there are more than 30 kids in that classroom.”

Pages