Four Stories Show the Value of Educational Options

Students aren’t all the same ­— why should their schooling experiences be?

As a father of three, I recognize some of the different needs children have and the different ways they learn best.

The conventional school system works well for many Michigan students, but fails to provide effective services to all. Educational choices and innovations have expanded opportunities for children, which helps. Still, many families are crying out for something better. 

The Mackinac Center team has heard directly from Michigan residents with stories that show the potential of breaking down centralized control and expanding parent power and choice. Four families in particular provide some diverse examples.

The two sons of Port Huron’s Aley Minton were falling behind at their traditional bricks-and-mortar school. Her oldest son was not getting the classroom help he needed for his dyslexia. He then started in Michigan Connections Academy, a full-time virtual charter school, as a fifth-grader reading at a second-grade level. Four years later, he is earning As and Bs, and is academically on track for graduation.

Before Connections, the younger Minton brother experienced bullying in a school environment that couldn’t fully protect him from his severe food allergies. He since has developed bouts with epileptic seizures. Had he been enrolled in a conventional school, he might have missed so many days that he would have been held back. The flexibility of virtual school, however, made it possible for him to advance two years above grade level in both math and science. 

Edgar Servin hails from a poor southwest Detroit neighborhood. He aims to graduate from high school next year, an opportunity that escaped his parents. But he is ready to go even further, having applied to college in hopes of pursuing a mechanical engineering career. He also aspires to one day return and support the youth in his troubled community.

Edgar’s ambitions have been bolstered by his time at Detroit Cristo Rey High School, a distinctive school with a perfect college acceptance rate for its entirely low-income student body. His parents chip in hundreds of dollars in tuition each year. But most of the cost is paid for by his participation in the Corporate Work Study Program, which adds invaluable professional preparation to a rigorous classroom experience.

For Mia Roe, the difference between third and fourth grade was night and day. At her assigned Macomb County public school, she often would come home frustrated and in tears, not getting the extra help she needed to overcome her learning disability. One educator even described her case as “hopeless.” 

Her parents, Liz and Jamie, then moved Mia to the same private Christian school where their older daughter was thriving. The school’s partnership with Lutheran Special Education Ministries enabled her to get the right kind of individualized attention. Mia’s demeanor changed; she finally wanted to go to school. While the Roe family can afford this private option, many others would find it too expensive. 

Vipul Gupta is the father of two students in Grand Blanc Public Schools, which serves many higher-income, higher-achieving students. Through diligent work and some online course options, Gupta’s middle-school daughter has accelerated years ahead in math and science, and is taking an entrepreneurship class designed for high school juniors and seniors. 

But the family is frustrated by the district’s decision to place her in a study hall rather than allow her to take a typical sixth course, which she would use for second-year Spanish. The two-credit entrepreneurship class technically gives her more than a full course load, even though the class assigns no homework. The district has told her dad that it doesn’t get enough funding to fully customize her education. The state, meanwhile, defers to local officials. How many other advanced learners are being held back by our state’s antiquated system?

As the needs of each child vary, so do their aspirations and definitions of success. These stories show that where barriers are removed, students and their families often charge forward to seize the opportunity. 

Future Michigan success stories are waiting to be told. It’s time to knock down more barriers.