The pandemic of 2020 disrupted normal schooling experiences in a profound way. Educators and experts anticipate considerable learning losses for many students. The challenge to meet the unique learning needs of all students may be greater with the ongoing pandemic, but the state’s K-12 education system has fallen well short of this goal even in normal times.
Some of the best available measures highlight the unsettling reality of public school performance in Michigan:
- Between 2003 and 2019, Michigan eighth-grade achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress stagnated, with nearly one-third of students failing to meet basic performance levels in math and one-fourth the same in reading.[*]
- Only 36% of Michigan students finish 11th grade ready for college-level math, a consistent trend in recent years. The share of those ready for college-level reading and writing dropped from 60% in 2016 to 55% in 2019.
- More than one in eight Michigan students who start ninth grade drop out before completing high school within six years, more than 15,000 youths from each prospective graduating class.
- One out of four Michigan high school graduates need some kind of remedial college coursework, a rate that has declined slightly in recent years.
- While one in six Michigan high schoolers is concentrating in a career and technical education program, data suggests there is a significant mismatch between the types of training students receive and the type of skills that employers demand.
In recent years, many attempts have been launched to turn around these trends. Among them, the Michigan Department of Education has called for a host of changes aimed at making the state rank in the top 10 nationally on some metrics within 10 years. The guiding principles of the department’s strategic plan include encouraging students to “have voice in their own learning,” giving all students “opportunity to achieve the broadest range of life dreams,” and recognizing families and communities as “essential partners … in the education of students.”
The department recognized an important basic principle found in the organization and clear language of state law. Michigan’s body of K-12 education statutes, known as the Revised School Code, begins (after defining key terms) with this declaration:
It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children. The public schools of this state serve the needs of the pupils by cooperating with the pupil's parents and legal guardians to develop the pupil's intellectual capabilities and vocational skills in a safe and positive environment.
This language immediately precedes the introduction of school districts and other institutions that are organized to carry out the mission of public education. It puts parents in the driver’s seat of their children’s education and implies that students will need different and diverse learning needs and aspirations. The role of public schools is to partner with parents to maximize educational opportunities and chart successful learning paths.
[*] National Assessment of Educational Progress, Data Explorer, https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/data/. NAEP Basic “denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for performance at the NAEP Proficient level.”