Street Talk

Street Talk: Stemming the education decline

Blinker, please.

July 7, 2017
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Business Leaders for Michigan launched a study aimed at boosting K-12 school performance in Michigan. While the organization has supported numerous K-12 reforms in the past, such as increased funding for early childhood education and the adoption of high academic standards and a rigorous, aligned assessment, this marks the first time it has sought to identify actions that can have an impact on raising student outcomes.

“Our state’s educational achievement has declined relative to other states during the past decade,” said Doug Rothwell, BLM president and CEO. “College and career readiness is low and remains stagnant, enrollment has slipped, and we now rank in the bottom quartile of states in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math. The purpose of this report is to provide an objective, third-party view of leading practices that can have a positive influence on K-12 outcomes in Michigan.”

Rothwell said PricewaterhouseCoopers, a BLM member, will conduct the study. The report will include data analyses of where Michigan’s gaps in students’ performance lags comparable to peers’ performance by grade, subject, ethnicity and location. It will synthesize research and interviews of government and education professionals, particularly from states with superior education performance, to identify and consolidate the education approaches into a prioritized set of high-impact actions Michigan’s schools can use to address student achievement gaps, given the unique mechanisms governing Michigan’s education system to determine the actions needed to drive K-12 performance growth, he said. BLM actively will seek the input of leading Michigan education groups and consider the findings of the Governor’s 21st Century Education Commission.

“Today, most good jobs require an education or training beyond high school, and successful careers will demand it in the future” Rothwell said. “Unfortunately, too many kids aren’t getting the preparation they need in their elementary and secondary education to thrive in this environment.”

“Like all BLM projects, this study will focus on data, facts and analysis. We recognize that student achievement is attributable to many different factors — some of which a school can affect and some of which are beyond institutional control. We are focusing on the factors that our education professionals have within their control.”

The project is expected to take most of 2017, with an anticipated release of early 2018.

“Our goal is to move Michigan student results from the bottom quartile to the top,” Rothwell said. “We need to identify clear action steps to deliver the results necessary to boost the achievement of our young learners.”

Giving some thought

Researchers from the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University have released a report that demonstrates a new method of defining and analyzing the giving habits of a community.

The report, “Understanding the Philanthropic Character of Communities,” applies the new method to two separate case studies that focus on the communities of Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.

“This kind of research is unique because it combines publicly available data with original, qualitative interviews with philanthropic leaders to identify patterns and trends of how giving is done in a specific community,” said Kyle Caldwell, executive director of the Johnson Center. “This report can help identify possible ways to influence giving on a local level. Fundraisers, too, might benefit from a deeper understanding of giving in their community.”

The new method focuses on several variables, including ways that donors give, the types of issues that received the most funding, expectations from peers about giving, whether gifts were anonymous or named and the degree of collaboration among donors.

“By focusing on the details of how the most prolific donors in a community are giving, we’re able to better understand and find patterns that reveal the distinctive and unique philanthropic character of each community,” said Michelle Miller-Adams, political science professor and a researcher for the report. “By looking at the data and consulting with ‘expert witnesses’ to philanthropy in these communities, our team was able to reach more nuanced conclusions.”

Independent analysis of giving patterns in the two communities shows in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, dollars and leadership have been critical to preserving the health of the community and preventing the economic and population declines that have characterized other nearby cities.

The analysis also shows there are significant differences in the tendencies and focus of the most prolific donors in each community. Coordination between donors, the leadership roles played by funders, the role of religion and the types of programs that are funded varied between the two communities.

The research focused on case studies that compared approaches to giving to the arts (ArtPrize in Grand Rapids and the Gilmore Festival in Kalamazoo), K-12 education (Challenge Scholars in Grand Rapids and the Kalamazoo Promise), and downtown development.

GVSU’s research team included Miller-Adams and Johnson Center researchers Grace Denny, Teri Behrens and Michael Moody.

The full report is available online at

Melting pot

Inner City Christian Federation’s announcement regarding its plan to purchase 213 residential units to help ease the housing crunch in West Michigan and Lansing is being met with support from around the region and state.

BriAnne McKee, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, already is talking collaboration with ICCF.

Also on board is the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Both organizations are touting diverse housing stock as essential to the region’s growth.

“While we don’t have a stake in these home purchases, MSHDA supports ICCF’s efforts to create and preserve housing options for low to moderate income families who are feeling the pressure of gentrification,” said Kelly Rose, MSHDA’s Chief Housing Solutions Officer. “A diverse neighborhood, with families of all income levels and backgrounds, makes for a healthy community.”

Road warriors

Despite all the construction seemingly all the time, drivers in Michigan are fairly courteous.

A survey from Kars4Kids found Michigan to be the 15th most polite state in the nation when it comes to driving and received a B+ overall.

Not surprisingly, our neighbors all fared much worse. Indiana was No. 34, Ohio was No. 35 and Wisconsin was a woeful No. 46.

Also not surprising, for anyone who has driven cross-country, is Iowa’s drivers ranked No. 41.

And least shocking of all, New Yorkers came in dead last, because driving in the Big Apple is a pain if you’re polite.

For a peaceful drive, head out to Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Montana or Alaska, the top five most polite states, which also happen to have great scenery. Women also are much more likely to be courteous than their male counterparts, according to the study.

Michigan was No. 1 when it came to one of the questions, “How often do you signal?”

Kansas was the only state to perform very poorly on the question, “How aggressively do you respond to slow driving?”

The summer driving awareness campaign from the organization is called Drive Human, “with the goal of reminding drivers that they share the road with other people, not faceless cars.”

Of course, it’s fair to wonder how long that tagline will be accurate, with innovators like Elon Musk at Tesla and newly minted Ford CEO Jim Hackett at the forefront of creating cars that don’t need people.

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