#TBT: Getting Serious About Literacy in Michigan, 2014

November 13, 2014

With a history of civil liberties stretching back almost a century, the ACLU has got plenty of amazing cases for #TBT. Every Thursday, we'll be sharing updates on cases pulled from our archives of work in Michigan and beyond.

In a ruling that should outrage anyone passionate about education, this month the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the State of Michigan has no legal obligation to provide a quality public education to students in Highland Park.

We’re going to continue to fight for a meaningful, quality education, but let's take a look at an explanation of how dire the situation is from early this year.

Getting Serious about Literacy in Michigan

By Kary Moss, Executive Director
Jan 29, 2014

A study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports the very disturbing information that only 31 percent of all Michigan students and only 19 percent of low-income students are reading proficiently in fourth grade in 2013.

Unfortunately, this data was not very surprising to us. At the ACLU of Michigan, we've heard it before as we've worked in school districts across the state.

In Highland Park, where 90% of eleventh graders are not reading proficient, we are trying to enforce a little known state law that requires that school districts provide special assistance to children who are not reading at grade level in the 4th and 7th grades.

As Governor Snyder and the legislature work to determine how best to spend this year’s $1 billion surplus in Michigan, it’s time that they looked hard at what it will take to ensure that there is high quality literacy intervention in every school. We must be strategic, rather than continue a hit-or-miss approach that falls desperately short of what is needed to help these children.

Part of the problem rests with the State. Michigan has no literacy intervention programs in place to meet the compelling need for highly qualified teachers, particularly in literacy and mathematics instruction at the lower grades, and in disciplinary literacy instruction at the upper grades.

It is time for the State to begin working with the tremendous experts we have in our public universities to develop the best possible models.

Part of the problem is that the lack of expert voices who can accurately evaluate high quality literacy intervention programs and the cost of an adequate education.

It is time that the State convene a blue-ribbon commission to identify the most important elements of such a program and then for an impartial expert to determine what it will cost.

Part of the problem is that the scheme for funding public education is broken. Between 2002 and 2011, real per-pupil funding fell by 24.5%. Now over fifty districts in Michigan are classified as in “financial distress,” forced to cut into instruction. In places like Pontiac, the average class size is now regularly at 40 students.

In addition, the main reason so many school facilities are in terrible condition is because they depend on local property taxes for their funding. This means that children in affluent districts are assured of state-of-the-art facilities while children in poor districts are compelled to learn in unsafe and uncomfortable conditions.

It is time that the State stopped defunding public education and rectify these tremendous inequities.

And part of the problem is that education policy is now driven by wishful thinking -- the misguided belief that markets will weed out the bad and reward the good.

There is no evidence to support the notion that emphasizing 'school of choice' programs will raise student performance and close gap between the best-performing students and those at the bottom. Instead, research shows that the real effect is to leave the poorest students in the lowest performing schools.

Our state must remember that a rising tide may lift all boats, but a sinking ship kills all those on board. We must pull together to ensure all our state's students have an opportunity to succeed. We are in this together.

Demand that Governor Snyder prioritize education reform that puts children first by ensuring that every child learns how to read.