Michigan’s Snyder Takes on Third Grade Literacy

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Michigan, led by Governor Rick Snyder, is making third-grader’s ability to read a focus in education reform.

Legislation to force pupils who are not reading at the proficient level to repeat the third grade stalled in the Republican-led Legislature last year.  But Snyder, in an effort to downplay the bill, deferred to his February 11 budget proposal, which will, most likely, propose additional or more targeted state spending on prenatal -to-third-grade programs – including $130 million more a year to help more poverty-level kids attend Pre-K.

David Eggert, reporting for Associated Press, says the governor is also planning a bill that would create a commission outside government to propose ways to improve third-grade reading scores. If students reach third grade and do poorly on Michigan’s standardized test, he is open to state-required intervention.

“That should be something that should be looked at if there isn’t success going on or later in on the process. When you wait until third grade, it’s too late in many respects,” he said in a recent interview.

The Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation says that a student who leaves third grade not reading proficiently is four times more likely not to graduate from high school than are those who are proficient.  Last year, 70% of Michigan’s third grade students were rated proficient, which is up 10 percentage points from five years before.

Because the state has changed from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) to the new Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP), the third-grade reading test will be given in the spring of the third grade rather than the beginning of the fourth grade as it has been in the past.

The Education Commission of the States explains that holding students back because of reading proficiency in the third grade is a short-term fix that usually has no long-term advantage and also damages students’ self-esteem. Proponents of the bill say that those students who are deemed partially proficient, roughly 21,000, would not be held back, but would receive reading help. Schools will be increasing efforts with younger students, allowing students to qualify as proficient by taking alternative tests, and permitting students to qualify based on learning disabilities or limited English skills.

Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, a school choice advocacy group, is for putting reading improvement efforts on the front end.

“The focus should be on the screening, the early intervention for the three, four years kids are in school. Retention is a last resort and it would be rarely used but serves as an important piece of this package because it motivates districts and parents,” said Naeyaert, who estimated that 1 percent of current third-graders are held back every year.

In his second term State of the State address, Gov. Snyder called for “revolutionizing how government operates,” according to Paul Egan and Kathleen Gray writing for The Detroit Free Press. In the realm of education, he continues to want to improve the manner in which students move from high school to post-secondary education through improved counseling, high-tech training, training in other skilled trades, and creating a way for students to be simultaneously enrolled in high school, college, and online courses. His focus in K-12 schools is to form a commission on third-grade reading and discovering how to nurture and teach reading readiness and skills from before birth to pre-school and further.

This week Snyder talked to Rick Albin of WOOD-TV while at the Career Education Conference in Grand Rapids. He said that while a four-year degree is desirable, that is not the path everyone is going to follow. He wants to begin to emphasize the value of technical training.

“Career tech education is a huge opportunity for Michigan,” Snyder said. “Both in terms of there are tens of thousands of great, well-paying jobs out there and then just the economic growth of our state, so this is a top priority for me and should be for every Michigander.”

Students who complete the two-year welding school program at the Grand Rapids Community College M-Tech program can graduate and make about $13 an hour. Good welders’ potential earnings can increase rapidly. Scott Mattson, Grand Rapids Community College’s Job Training and Construction Trades Manager at M-Tech, says, and there are many options and plenty of work available. He wants students to get the message early so they can take advantage of these opportunities.

Even though Rick Snyder did not create the problems in Detroit, he will certainly have its recovery linked to his legacy. His sights are targeted on fixing the incredibly dysfunctional Detroit Public Schools, says Erik Telford, acting president of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, writing in The Detroit News. The system has been under emergency management for over five years and the deficit is in the nine figures. If a parent in Detroit believes that his children deserve better than a failing school, he has few options.

Telford believes that Snyder should be discussing charter school restructuring and open enrollment, the practice of having parents enter their children in a lottery for any of the public or charter schools, as a way of leveling the playing field. Granting parents a choice, in whatever manner, directly impacts underprivileged children. Without raising taxes, or putting a strain on city governments, these types of programs give hope to families trapped in inadequate schools. Telford adds that although Snyder has not been afraid of bold reform, his education agenda was “underwhelming.”