While Michigan’s gubernatorial campaign between Democrat Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Bill Schuette is precipitated by a lack of specifics and unrealistic promises, a new report issued last week found that young minority children could be facing a traumatic moment at their schoolhouse.
A new third-grade reading law, which takes effect in 2020, calls for flunking kids who cannot pass the state’s M-STEP test, forcing them to redo the third grade. Most of those kids will likely be black and Hispanic students, based on current testing trends.
Holding students back from promotion to the next grade is rare but the Michigan Legislature, based on horrendous third-grade reading scores on the standardized test, decided that tough love was what’s needed for those who cannot reach literacy benchmarks.
The report, issued by the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLEP), warns that students of color will fall further behind in their schooling. MLEP points out that Michigan’s weak M-STEP scores in third-grade reading are mostly due to minorities and poor kids.
The newest statewide test results among third-graders found that nearly 56 percent failed the English/Language Arts test, which measures reading, writing and listening skills. But more than eight of every 10 African-American students and two-thirds of Latin students failed the English test for the third grade, based on the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, or M-STEP.
Already, African-American children are nearly twice as likely to be retained for a second year as their white peers, the MLEP reports. The chances of minority third-grade students failing to read “proficiently” – the magic word in the M-STEP testing process – remains overwhelming as
as Michigan prepares to implement the new “Read by Grade Three Law.”
Obviously, the intent here among critics of the new law is not to create some affirmative action-type division among students. But solutions are hard to find and some public policy issues that receive little attention have become problematic.
The MLEP report, Race, place and policy matter in education, raises the concern about Michigan’s lack of minority teachers in the state’s classrooms. The lack of teacher diversity, according to the MLEP, has become a major issue as one-third of Michigan students are children of color, and the percentage of students of Latin, Asian and multiracial heritage is growing.
The report concludes:
Despite growing evidence that children of color thrive when they have teachers and role models whom they can identify with racially and ethnically, Michigan teachers do not reflect the student body. While one of every three Michigan students is a child of color, more than 90 percent of teachers and 80 percent of school administrators are white. And the diversity of Michigan’s teaching workforce has not grown over the last decade, with the percentage of African-American teachers actually declining.
Research shows that African-American (elementary) school students matched to same-race teachers perform better on standardized tests and are more favorably perceived by their teachers. In addition, assigning African-American boys to an African-American teacher in the third, fourth or fifth grades significantly reduces the probability that they will ultimately drop out of high school — particularly for boys with the most economic disadvantages.
Just something for Whitmer and Schuette to think about as the gubernatorial campaign enters its final weeks.