Report: Michigan students falling behind their peers nationally in math, reading

Feb 9, 2012

A new report shows Michigan students over the past decade have fallen far behind their peers in other states when it comes to math and reading.

The "What Our Students Deserve" report by the nonprofit Education Trust-Midwest compares National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores in reading and math for fourth and eighth graders around the country.

According to the report, Michigan now ranks near the bottom in most subjects and grades.

Amber Arellano, executive director of Education Trust-Midwest, says Michigan students have been stuck in the same place for the past decade, while students in other states have been improving.

She says it's like a marathon, where She likens it to a marathon:

"We can see the other runners in this race, they’re all going much faster and much farther than our kids are."

Michigan's African American students ranked last in 4th grade reading among the 45 states reporting in 2011.

But Arellano says it’s not just low-income, urban or minority children who are struggling. White students in Michigan ranked 13th in the country for 4th grade math in 2003. Last year, they were 45th in the country.

She says Michigan students aren't to blame for the drop. Rather, she places the blame on the state’s poor quality of education. But Arellano says she more hopeful than she was a year ago, thanks in large part to the following changes and policies put in place at the state level: 

The report does highlight a school that's doing remarkably well, despite having the odds stacked against them.

The students at Baylor-Woodson Elementary in Inkster are 98 percent African American, with 84 percent eligible for free and reduced-priced meals. According to the report, nearly all the schools' students met state math and reading standards in 2010:

Last year, 73 percent of the school’s fifth-graders scored as advanced in math, compared with 45 percent in Michigan. Their reading results also are impressive, with 63 percent having scored as advanced, compared with 44 percent statewide.

Arellano says Baylor-Woodson is a "model for every school in Michigan" regardless of poverty levels and demographic background. She says Baylor-Woodson students are performing at levels seen in more affluent communities like Northville and West Bloomfield.

Below you'll find what the report calls "a recipe" for school improvement:

  • Talent Transformation: Baylor-Woodson leaders built a talented staff that continues to boost teaching and learning. Among other strategies, they used the federal No Child Left Behind act to conduct a credential audit to ensure appropriate teachers were staffing classrooms.
  • Strategic Use of Resources: District leaders and the local American Federation of Teachers union negotiated a progressive contract to allow the district to find cost-savings in benefits,which enabled them to raise teacher salaries and attract high performing teachers to Inkster.
  • Improved Instruction and Alignment with State Standards: Instructional teams worked diligently to align classroom teaching with rigorous state standards for all children across all grades. Their coherent approach to instruction goes far beyond reading and math. Physical education teacher Dave Thompson, for example, has won grants to invest in wholebodywellness. He teaches students about the importance of exercising and eating fruits and vegetables.
  • Taking off the “jacket of poverty:” Bashir says Baylor-Woodson leaders and teachers address the deficiencies that poor children often bring to school by giving them basic necessities (such as hot meals), broadening their cultural exposure (through field trips, etc.),and providing additional academic achievement.
  • Transforming School Culture: Baylor-Woodson teachers collaborate on school-improvement planning, and help lead subprograms such as a Saturday Academy. The school’s positive culture is apparent in math and reading classrooms as well, where clear objectives for learning are posted on the walls. In Nelson Henry’s classroom, students rise to their feet at a moment’s notice to pledge to be the best they can be.