A new national report reveals that while overall childhood wellbeing has increased in Michigan, the state's education system is worsening. It shows that Michigan ranks 10th-worst in the nation for children's education as it improved its ranking slightly in child wellbeing from 37th to 33rd.
The education ranking is premised on four criteria: 3 and 4-year-old children not in preschool, fourth-graders not proficient in reading; eighth graders not proficient in math, and high school students not graduating on time. Specifically, according to Record Eagle in Michigan, a little more than half of 3 and 4-year olds are not in preschool, and 71% of fourth-graders are not proficient in reading. Additionally, 71% of eighth graders are not proficient in math, and the percentage of high school students graduating on time is only 76%.
The stats compare poorly with the national averages. For example, nationally, 82% of high school students graduate on time. Still, the national figures exhibit serious shortcomings. 65% of fourth-graders nationwide are not proficient in reading, and 68% of eighth-graders nationwide are not proficient in math. Nationally, about the same percentage of 3 and 4-year-olds do not attend preschool in Michigan, at just over 50%.
Safiya Merchant of Battle Creek Enquirer reports that the numbers have been a source of embarrassment for Michigan policymakers. All of the other Great Lakes states — Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Minnesota — fared considerably better than Michigan.
"I would say that we have seen a lot of energy and movement in the Legislature — they understand that we have an issue in this, so we've seen some expansions in 4-year-old preschool programs, we have some legislation currently in a conference committee between the House and the Senate to address third-grade reading," said Guevara Warren, the Projector Director of Michigan Leader for Public Policy. "There is some recognition from our state leaders that this is an issue and hopefully we'll continue to work on that. One of the things that's really connected to education, though, that we are not addressing very well is really looking at our high poverty rate. We have more kids living in poverty than we did in the last year of the Great Recession."
These worrisome statistics reflect the impact poverty has on education. In 2014, 23% of all children in Michigan, or 493,000 kids, lived in poverty, up from 19% in 2008. In order to redress these trends, Michigan must look to increasing opportunity for low-income families inside and outside of the education sector. An expansion of high-quality pre-kindergarten and early childhood programs could help children and parents, and paid family leave may also go a long way in improving families' socioeconomic status.
"A lot of times you hear about moms having to go back to work within a couple of weeks of giving birth because they don't have paid time off and they can't afford to lose their jobs," said Warren. "So that really diminishes that bond between the mother and the child and really those early developmental things that are going on with the child."
The bright spot of the otherwise bleak report, as reported by Public News Service, is that Michigan jumped from 23rd in health among children to 14th in a matter of just a year.