Editorial

With Michigan's students falling behind, it's the business of business to respond

July 8, 2016
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“It’s time for Michigan business leaders to help provide leadership in advancing a thoughtful, research-based strategy to ensure our system is teaching all children at the high levels of achievement that they so deserve. It is crucial to their futures — and to Michigan’s economic competitiveness and future.”

That’s how Steelcase Inc. Vice President of Global Corporate Relations Brian Cloyd and CMS Energy CEO Ken Whipple reacted to the Annie E. Casey Foundation 2016 Kids Count report in a guest editorial for Center for Michigan’s Bridge Magazine.

The fervent call to action was precipitated by Michigan’s rank of 40th in educational achievement and big declines for white, black and Latino students. The findings were strikingly opposite of most perceptions that achievement is an issue in poorer school districts or predominately among black or Latino students. The study showed white student achievement in fourth-grade reading ranks 49th. White students in Michigan’s higher-income communities ranked 50th in early reading.

In a separate mid-June report, Business Leaders for Michigan noted a Pew Research Center report showing Michigan’s median household income had declined 17 percent from 1999-2014, the largest drop among all 50 states. Further, the report showed Michigan did not balance declining middle class incomes with an increase in affluent households; wealth just didn’t grow in Michigan.

Gains in income will not occur in the future without immediate changes in education outcomes. Business has much to lose.

Models for change are apparent in the research as well as in studies by Center for Michigan and Michigan Future Inc., and the Business Journal also gives emphasis to two programs helping to marshal student talent at all ages:

  • The Steelcase Foundation grant to the Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan, which by every measure has created successful programs at three Wyoming schools. Instead of letting street fights and expulsions flourish, the program helps resolve disputes and teaches young people how to do so. The three schools averted approximately 398 suspension days. The result is made more significant in findings that a suspended student is twice as likely to drop out of school or drop a grade level.
  • The Grand Rapids Community Foundation Challenge Scholars program, which has supported student achievement and school attendance and has developed parents’ skills to provide a foundation. Community Foundation programs include after-school and summer enrichment opportunities and provide examples of college and career opportunities not generally modeled in the communities served. The program is moving the needle in the right direction in several measures including student achievement, absentee rates and in the number of students focused on post-secondary educations.

The lesson here is that area businesses need to engage in the education of their upcoming workforce.

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