Today in Tech & Opportunity, State of Opportunity asks educators and parents: what is your school doing to encourage students from all backgrounds to pursue educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math?

The Michigan House of Representatives
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Lawmakers are in the midst of a debate over how teachers in Michigan should be evaluated.

Hearings were held today at the Capitol and the Michigan Public Radio Network's Jake Neher was there. He joined us today.

*Listen to the audio above.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

It's been a year and a half since state education leaders called for reforms to Michigan's "zero tolerance" discipline policies. Critics say too many students are still being booted out of school because of zero-tolerance measures and the result is the kids who are getting in trouble and being expelled are the ones who most need help. And they point to the statistics: A disproportionate number of the students who are punished are minorities.

Bridge Magazine contributing writer Ted Roelofs wrote a piece in a recent issue titled "Zero tolerance school reforms hit resistance in Michigan.” He joined us today along with Annie Salsich, director of the Center on Youth Justice at the Vera Institute, to explore zero-tolerance policies and what can be done to promote a safe and productive school environment.

Listen to the full interview above.

Think Again is the name of a new feature on our State of Opportunity blog. Maybe there are stories you missed that we think deserve your attention. Or perhaps there are new developments on issues impacting Michigan's kids. Click over to State of Opportunity and see what we're highlighting for your reconsideration. Today's topic: the discipline gap in school suspensions gets federal attention.

Erik Hersman / Flickr

State of Opportunity's Kimberly Springer tells us how "the specter of an exclusive, our boutique, access internet looms" after the recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision striking down many of the FCC's "net neutrality" rules.

For the privileged, the demise of net neutrality might mean paying even more for broadband access to Netflix or YouTube---no more buffering...buffering...buffering? But for the less privileged, losing net neutrality puts all of the world's information further out of reach and condemning some to "pay to play" deals. 

Go here to read more.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Legislature formally kicked off 2014 with no heavy lifting. But voting could occur this week, when lawmakers also gather to hear Governor Rick Snyder's annual State of the State speech.

Budget work will dominate the first half of the year. Legislators have nearly $1 billion more to work with than expected, and one priority is spending more on road upkeep without raising taxes.

Lawmakers also are talking up an election-year tax cut, perhaps in the state income tax.

Every week on the State of Opportunity blog we have a feature called, "Ideas & Stuff." It's meant to give you some background into the research that informs our stories about helping Michigan kids get ahead. Today, Dustin Dwyer give us a peek into the studies he's been reading in preparation for a new documentary on high-stakes testing. The studies question whether there's a class bias in which kids are tracked into gifted and talented programs. Are children living in poverty recognized as gifted and put into the appropriate programs? Swing by our blog and see what the research says.

Just last year, when I brought up the Common Core to my non-educator friends, I would usually see a furrowed brow and a tilted head.

They’d never heard of it.

That’s certainly changed. Most people have at least heard of Common Core by now. 

Still, I find very few folks have anything more than the vaguest notions about the Common Core. They seem to know that most states are a part of it, but not much more.

toshibatelecom / toshibatelecom

Michigan's economy may be slogging its way up the hill towards recovery, but life is not getting as good as it should for children in our state.

That's the takeaway from the latest Kids Count report.

Here to tell us more is Jane Zehnder-Merrell. She's the project director for Kids Count in Michigan, part of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Listen to the full interview above. 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Back in 2010, the State Board of Education approved the Common Core State Standards for Michigan — a set of math and English goals for K-12 students.

School districts across the state have spent the past three years integrating the standards into their curricula. At the same time, we've heard a lot of political debate about Common Core, mostly about the involvement of the federal government in our classrooms.

But in October of this year, state lawmakers OK'd funding for Common Core, and now it is becoming a reality in Michigan classrooms.

We wanted to find out: What does this mean — day-in, day-out — for Michigan's students?

What does a school year under Common Core really look like?

Joining us is Naomi Norman, the executive director of Achievement Initiatives at Washtenaw Intermediate School District and Livingston Educational Service Agency.

Listen to the full interview above.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan is creating a confidential tip line for students designed to prevent school violence.

A law signed Friday by Gov. Rick Snyder authorizes the creation of a hotline accepting tips by phone, text message, email or through a website or mobile app. The state attorney general's office and other agencies will cooperate to establish the OK-2-SAY program being modeled after one Colorado created after the Columbine shootings.

What happens when a child is struggling to read at his or her grade level?

In too many cases, the student moves up a grade anyway and the struggle continues, resulting in high school graduates who are poor, ineffective readers. And that can impact that student's chances of going to college and then getting a job that provides a good level of pay over a lifetime.

There's a package of bills sponsored by Holland Republican Representative Amanda Price now working through the State that tries to tackle this problem. It's called the "read-or-flunk law."

In a nutshell, if third-grade kids aren't reading, hold them back.

Ron French reported on the pros and cons of these bills for Bridge Magazine, and he joined us today to discuss the issue.

Listen to the full interview above.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

It could be a busy December for state lawmakers after they return from their Thanksgiving break.

Here are some of the issues that could come up for debate before the end of the year.

Paying for the Medicaid expansion delay – In a procedural vote earlier this year, state lawmakers delayed by about two months the implementation of Michigan’s Medicaid expansion law. In doing so, they created a hole in the budget of more than $70 million.

Legislative leaders say passing a bill to fill that hole is one of their top priorities in the coming weeks.

Navy Hale Keiki School / Flickr

A recent study coming out of Michigan State University reaffirms the need for one educational discipline that’s been continuously cut over the past decade — the arts.

Researchers found a startling link between taking part in arts and crafts activities as a child and patents received or businesses launched as an adult.

According to that study, which examined MSU Honors STEM students between 1990-1995, 94% of STEM graduates had musical training in their lives, compared to 34% of all adults.

Joining us is one of the authors of the study, Rex LaMore, the director of the MSU Center for Community and Economic Development. Cynthia Taggart, a professor of Music Education at Michigan State also talked to us.

Listen to the full interview above.

YouTube / YouTube

This week on State of Opportunity, Sarah Alvarez is taking a look at some radical decisions that have shaped the educational landscape of Detroit schools.

Today, families in the city are taking a gamble on brand-new charter schools, like the Detroit Achievement Academy.

The academy opened earlier this year, by 28-year-old Kyle Smitley. Smitley is the first to admit she lacks formal educational experience. "I’ve been laughed out of so many rooms coming into the education world," she says.

But that hasn’t stopped the unconventional school from getting national buzz. Earlier this year, Smitley and the academy were featured on The Ellen Degeneres Show.

Still, the odds are stacked up against the academy and other charter schools that pop up in Detroit. There are more seats in Detroit schools than students. Many students in the city haven’t met benchmark requirements in their grade levels.

So what do educational experts think about these experimental schools? Check out Sarah’s piece for more. 

clipping courtesy of Ray Litt / via Detroit Free Press

In short, the answer is 'we don't really know.'

Stanford University's Sean Reardon studies achievement gaps - the difference between how one group of students performs compared to another group.

When comparing black, white, and Latino students, Reardon says you see the importance not so much of race, but of class.

"Over the last 40 or so years, the black-white achievement gap and the Hispanic-white achievement gap have narrowed a lot," Reardon said. "On the other hand, the gap between high and low income students has increased quite dramatically."

Reardon said that particular gap has grown about 40% since the 1980s. 

But while economic diversity might matter more in ensuring a quality education, that doesn't mean people want to give up on racial and ethnic diversity.

Ray Litt, a community activist involved in Detroit's Milliken v. Bradley case, reflected, "The desegregation action was to provide a quality integrated venue in which students and staff are exposed to and can interact with kids of different races religions and economic status," he said. "We all need to be able to be comfortable, not tolerating, a society that is the melting pot."

Racial diversity is not something you are likely to find in a majority of Detroit's schools, even after a hard fought desegregation plan.

Read more and listen to the whole story at State of Opportunity.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Are Michigan colleges and universities so focused outward that they have become "placeless"? Are families being needlessly fractured by a growing emphasis on global engagement, and a move away from local involvement and commitment?

Jeffrey Polet, a professor of political science at Hope College in Holland thinks so. In a column for Bridge Magazine Polet argues that Michigan’s “hallowed halls may lead to the world, but they also contribute to the fracturing of communities.”

Polet talks to us about what he’s seen that caused him to write his piece, and where his criticism lies.

Listen to the full interview above.

Wikimedia Commons

All of Michigan's fifteen public universities are now offering in-state tuition to all veterans, regardless of their legal residence or active duty status.

In the past, this benefit was limited to active duty personnel.

Michael A. Boulus is executive director of the Presidents Council State Universities of Michigan. He said "Our message is that Michigan's public universities are dedicated to supporting our veterans and their families. We value veterans and are committed to helping them get degrees that are vital to their success and the success of the state."

From the John and Leni Sinclair papers / UM Bentley Historical Library

Next week, Sarah Alvarez from our State of Opportunity team will explore the long shadow of a busing and integration case 40 years ago, and the way the outcome fundamentally altered the notion of a neighborhood school for students in Detroit and many communities throughout the metro area.

Check out this post by Kimberly Springer that shows how some Detroit parents were notified that their kids were going to be bused to another school.

The series “Abandoning the neighborhood school” will focus on these topics:

Voters in Detroit go to the polls tomorrow, and no matter who gets elected to be that city's next Mayor, crime will be one of the problems they'll have to tackle. On today's show, we looked past the city's financial struggles to curbing the violence in Detroit.

 And, we found out about a "flipped school" - one of the first in the nation. Students watch lectures at night and do homework during the day in class.  And, a Grand Rapids park millage will take park funding out of the city's general fund. We spoke with one of the supports of the millage to find out why voters should consider it. Also, a Canadian photographer found beauty in the ruins of Detroit. He joined us to talk about his exhibit. 

First on the show, one of the most emotionally charged issues in Michigan in 2013 has been wolves.

After teetering on the brink of extinction, the gray wolf population has rebounded so much so that earlier this year, Governor Rick Snyder signed a law that allows a first-ever state wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula.

That historic hunt begins November 15.

Forty-three wolves can be shot in three UP zones where officials say they have the most problems.

During the legislative debate on the wolf hunt, lawmakers from the UP spoke with passion about the "fear" their constituents had of the wolves, worrying for the safety of livestock, pets, even small children.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody spoke with the point man on wolves for the DNR. Adam Bump told Steve that wolves had become very accustomed to life in Ironwood.

"So you have wolves showing up in backyards, wolves showing up on porches, wolves staring at people through their sliding glass doors, while they're pounding on it, exhibiting no fear."

But an MLive investigation into the historic wolf hunt raises some serious questions about the debate, about claims made by opponents, and about the DNR's Bump.

John Barnes is reporting on this for MLive in a series called "Crying Wolf," and he joined us today.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

There is a high school in Macomb County that has grabbed the attention of educators across the country.

Three years ago, Clintondale High School became the very first in the country to be a "flipped school."

Kids watch teachers' lectures at home as much as they want or need, and class time is when teachers are there to help with what we would otherwise call "homework."

One education expert says maybe online is controversial, but the flipped classroom is a new strategy nearly everyone agrees on. It can be a very good thing for students and teachers.

Mercedes Mejia

This week, Zak Rosen with State of Opportunity reported on the school-to-prison pipeline. It's known to be pattern seen across the country of students being pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system.

In Rosen's report we learned about Youth Voice, a student lead community organizing group that’s working to break the school-to-prison pipeline and revise Zero Tolerance policies. Today we talk with Chanel Kitchen, a member of Youth Voice.

To learn more about Youth Voice you can visit their Facebook page here

Listen to the full interview with Chanel Kitchen, just click on the link above.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A new Michigan State University study suggests a Catholic school education might not be better than a public schools education.

Todd Elder is an MSU economist. He says it's true that test scores for Catholic school students are better than for public school students. But Elder says that gap is wider in Kindergarten than it is in the eighth grade.

Michigan is home to five national parks and there are lots of open spaces where you can camp, hunt and enjoy nature. But, yesterday, an Oklahoma Senator recently said two Michigan landmarks are a prime example of wasteful federal spending. We found out what’s behind the senator’s reasoning and whether there is some truth to his concerns.

 Then, we took a look at a new proposal by a group of Democrats in the Michigan House that would require the state to determine the actual cost of educating a public school student in Michigan. That got us thinking, shouldn't we already know?  We also spoke with Michigan writer Donald Lystra about his new collection of short stories. And, Ann Arbor now has its own Death Café, organized by funeral home guide Merilynne Rush. She stopped by to tell us more about it. But, first on the show, ever since the government unveiled its website, the headlines surrounding the Affordable Care Act have been about the problems with the way the site was designed and the extreme difficulty Americans have had in getting on the exchange. But what about the Americans that don't need The ones who already have plans? To those consumers, President Obama has been saying this since 2009:

“If you like your current insurance, you will keep your current insurance. No government takeover, nobody’s changing what you’ve got if you’re happy with it.”

So why, then, then are some 2 million Americans - about 140,000 in Michigan - getting cancelation letters from their insurers over the past couple of weeks?

Marianne Udow-Phillips directs the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation, a non-profit partnership between the University of Michigan and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan. She joined us today.

Last month, the Michigan House Democrats School Reform Task Force unveiled a new proposal that would require the State Department of Education to determine the actual cost of educating a public school student in Michigan.

That got us wondering: do we really not know how much it costs to educate a student in our state? And if so, why not?

Michael Addonizio is a professor of education at Wayne State University, and he joined us in the studio.

Listen to the full interview above.


LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan's new color-coded school accountability system is already up for an overhaul just two months after its debut.

Some lawmakers say schools should get A-F grades just like students do, so parents and others can easily understand performance.


A new report said Michigan eighth graders perform in the middle of the pack in math, and better in science, compared with students in other countries. 

Bob Geier is associate director of the CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University.  He says students in Michigan and most other states lag behind the top-performing countries.

A new study found that students enrolled in online charter schools are not performing as well as students in traditional brick and mortar schools. At the same time the number of virtual schools is growing. On today's show, we talked about the big business of online charter schools.

And, how do you talk about being gay and Christian? And how should we be talking about it? We spoke to the founder of the Gay Christian Network to learn more.

And, could eating local save energy and help the planet? We took a closer look at the impact of the local food movement.

Also, Jen Guerra from Michigan Radio’s State of Opportunity project joined us to give a preview of her upcoming documentary, “The Education Gap.”

First on the show, is Detroit really broke?

That’s the question before Federal Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes as Detroit’s bankruptcy eligibility trial began today. His ruling could open the door for the City of Detroit blowing up billions of dollars in debt and liabilities.

As has been the case ever since the bankruptcy filing on July 18th, this is all being closely watched from coast to coast. History is being written in Judge Rhodes' courtroom.

Daniel Howes, Detroit News Business Columnist, and the former Chief of Communications for the City of Detroit, Karen Dumas, joined us today to talk about what this trial means and what we might see.

To parents who are seeking the best education for their children, it's a whole new world out there and it can be a confusing one. No longer is it an automatic choice to send your child to the public school in your neighborhood.

Today, there are charter schools. There are online classes. And, the subject of our discussion today: online K-12 charter schools.

Gary Miron is a professor of education at Western Michigan University. He recently co-authored a major piece, along with Jessica L. Urschel, for the National Education Policy Center. Its title: Understanding and Improving Full-time Virtual Schools---A Study of Student Characteristics, School Finance, and School Performance in Schools Operated by K12 Inc.

user alkruse24 / Flickr

There is one thing that seems pretty clear about those of you who are Stateside listeners. Education matters to you! Whenever we talk about education, about our children, you are “all ears.”

Tomorrow at this time, you will not want to miss a powerful documentary produced by Jennifer Guerra for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. It’s called “The Education Gap.”

Jen Guerra joined us today to give us a preview.

Listen to the full interview above.