Michigan's academic slide has reached crisis mode, but don't blame Detroit students, school spending, charter schools or poverty, according to a report released Tuesday from Business Leaders for Michigan.
Instead, the report says, Michigan needs to invest in teacher training, stick with its current standards and state exam, adopt a stronger rating system for schools, have a stronger system for fixing failing schools and ensure classroom funding is adequate and equitable.
"It's alarming to see how far we've fallen in just a relatively short amount of time," said Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of the business leaders' group, whose recommendations are based on best practices gleaned from states such as Massachusetts and Tennessee.
Just 23% of Michigan's students graduate prepared for college or careers. And the state ranked 46th in fourth-grade reading and 37th in eighth-grade math on a rigorous national exam.
Improving Michigan's education system is important for the economic future of the state, Rothwell said.
"For folks that expect to have good jobs that pay well ... this is really important that they have the right education and skills," Rothwell said.
The report lays out best practices in Massachusetts, Tennessee and several other states. It also lays out four myths about what's ailing Michigan schools:
1) Detroit's performance is bringing down the state
Not true, the report says. Detroit schools — both those in the Detroit Public Schools Community District and charter schools — for certain have some of the worst academic results in the state. But academic struggles are happening across the state and among a number of demographic groups.
This was highlighted most recently in a March 6 report from the Education Trust-Midwest that showed declines in third-grade literacy among every demographic group, including higher-income students and white students.
"In short, what can be said about Detroit can be said about almost every other community in the state: all must substantially improve K-12 student performance," Tuesday's report says.
2) Michigan isn't spending enough
The report says Michigan spends about $11,000 per student. There are states that spend less and have better academic results and states that spend more with worse results.
Rothwell said previous studies on school funding in Michigan — including one released in January — didn't "challenge whether the monies being used could be used more effectively or if more of that money could get to the classroom if we provided education differently.
He said Michigan doesn't need a separate information technology, human resources or curriculum office for each of the state's 538 school districts.
"You add all that up, and that's a lot of overhead," Rothwell said. "Why can't we have more of those services shared across jurisdictions?" That, he said, could free up more money that could go into the classroom.
3) The problem is poverty.
There is a strong correlation between poverty and poor academic performance. But, "correlation is not causation," said the report, which cites examples of high-performing, high-poverty schools.
"These other states that do far better than us have many of the same challenges that we do," Rothwell said. "They have urban districts that have unique issues. They have a lot of kids in poverty."
4) Don't blame charters.
The report says that charter schools in Michigan — like traditional public schools — "have produced varying student outcomes."
But, it says that because they overall represent about 9% of Michigan's total public school enrollment, "Michigan's charter school sector is simply not large enough to be fully responsible for Michigan's K-12 results."
The research and analysis for the report were done by Pricewaterhouse Cooper.
Rothwell said he hopes the report will become a springboard to get everyone in the state on the same page to ensure fixing Michigan's schools is a priority. He said that's what happened in states like Massachusetts and Tennessee. The former is the top-performing state in the nation while the latter is among the most improved.
"It was a really major effort by bringing together a variety of different groups — business, civic, community, education — around some common goals, common strategies.."
Just as important? "Sticking with these strategies for a long period of time," Rothwell said.
Already, eight groups and individuals have signed on to be part of the business group's efforts to make Michigan a top 10 performing state, including the Skillman Foundation, a Detroit nonprofit.
"If we can continue to collaborate around effective solutions for students, we will almost certainly move the needle on K-12 achievement," Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a news release.
Contact Lori Higgins: 313-222-6651, firstname.lastname@example.org or @LoriAHiggins