What we miss when we focus only on test scores

March 24, 2017 by  
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At Michigan Future, we’ve been making the argument for some time now that our k-12 accountability systems need to measure schools based on the outcomes that matter most: what happens to students after they leave k-12. This is far different than what we do now. And therefore, our current system tells us very little about actual school quality.

Our current school accountability system ranks schools almost exclusively on standardized test scores. But standardized tests capture only a small piece of what it means to be college-ready.

A couple pieces of evidence. The book Crossing the Finish Line used a large, nationally representative set of student data to analyze what truly predicts success in college. And what they found was that a student’s high school GPA – made up of grades given by individual teachers across four years of high school – was far more predictive of eventual college graduation than her SAT/ACT score. And the student’s GPA was predictive regardless of high school attended; whether the student went to a “good” high school or a “bad” high school, a good GPA predicted college success.

Why? Because while test scores measure a student’s ability on a narrow band of math and reading skills, GPA measures a diverse set of capacities, encompassing academic habits, content knowledge, and non-cognitive skills, exhibited day after day across four-years of high school.

Research from Northwestern economist C. Kirabo Jackson came to a similar conclusion. Using a large set of student data from North Carolina, Jackson found that a “non-cognitive” index of grades, attendance, and disciplinary records was more predictive of long-term success than test scores. And he also found that the set of teachers that were able to improve this index was an entirely different set of teachers than those that were adept at raising test scores.

The message from both cases: when we focus only on test scores, we miss the really important stuff.


The case for focusing on long-term outcomes: data from Metro-Detroit schools

The argument we often hear against using long-term outcomes to measure school success is that there are far too many factors that intervene between high school graduation and college graduation to meaningfully hold high schools accountable for postsecondary results.

Our argument, however, is that there is so much a high school can do – outside of improving test scores – to improve postsecondary outcomes that it’s irresponsible not to include this data on an accountability scorecard.

A look at local data is illustrative. Detroit’s selective high schools, Cass Tech and Renaissance, were ranked in the 21st and 45th percentile, respectively, in the 2015-16 school rankings. High-ranking suburban high schools, like Birmingham Groves and Saline High School fell in the 84th and 95th percentile. To some extent, this is to be expected: test scores are highly correlated with socioeconomic status, and Cass and Renaissance, despite being “test-in” schools, serve a far higher proportion of economically disadvantaged students than their suburban counterparts.

Yet if we look at the high school class of 2008, postsecondary outcomes for these schools look remarkably similar. 57% of Renaissance graduates and 45% of Cass graduates earned a four-year degree in the 6 years after high school, with another roughly 7% at each school collecting a degree in the following two years. Meanwhile, 57% of Groves graduates and 49% of Saline graduates had earned a four-year degree 6 years after high school, with another 6 to 10% earning a degree in the following two years.

The postsecondary outcome data for these schools was roughly the same, despite the fact that a larger chunk of Cass and Renaissance student will likely face a more difficult path to college graduation.

Yet although postsecondary outcomes for these schools look largely similar, in the picture the public receives on school quality, Groves and Saline are exemplary, while Renaissance and Cass are failing.

What might be going on at Cass and Renaissance that we miss by looking only at test scores? Perhaps they’ve developed a rich college-going culture, a strong college-counseling department, or a broad curriculum that targets the wide-range of skills students need to do well in college.

Regardless, this example demonstrates just how much is missed when we only focus on test scores. Groves and Saline may very-well be exemplary. And Cass and Renaissance may very well have a lot of room for improvement. But we can’t tell any of that based on the picture of school success we’re given through the state accountability system.

Including long-term outcomes in our school evaluation system doesn’t give us all the information we need, but it certainly makes the picture just a bit clearer.







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More and better parks can help position Detroit to attract more millennials

March 22, 2017 by  
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When my husband and I moved to a high-rise building near the Renaissance Center in Detroit in 2000, calling our new neighborhood “downtown” would be an aspirational description at best.

The city center we moved to lacked amenities so basic that even our apartment’s stunning views of the Detroit River and Belle Isle barely made up for it. We had to get into a car to reach the closest drug store, movie theater, dry cleaners, and grocery store. Even the most attractive thing about the neighborhood – the Detroit River – was barely accessible by land because the riverfront of those days was a long-abandoned industrial wasteland.

When our son’s arrival made our apartment too cramped for three people six years ago, my husband and I thought about buying in one of the city’s traditional residential neighborhoods, but the pull of downtown was hard to resist. Folks thought we were crazy when we told them we were moving just a mile away to a near-east neighborhood near the edge of downtown because – even then – building a life near the city’s center seemed like far from a sure bet.

Today, the signs of rebirth in my neighborhood are undeniable. Long-shuttered storefronts near Eastern Market have sprung back to life as hip restaurants, coffee shops and other millennial magnets. And new housing is being developed and built in and around downtown at an impressive pace.

But the primary amenity that made me move to and stay downtown is my home’s proximity to the Dequindre Cut Greenway and the Detroit River Walk . I’ve watched my son play with new friends and learn to ride his bike in these beautiful, art-infused green spaces, so thoughtfully planned and beautifully realized. We were among the first to experience the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Outdoor Adventure Center when it opened on the Dequindre Cut a few years ago. We love to take in summer concerts at the Chene Park amphitheater on the Detroit River. And after all these years, the view when I take a walk or ride my bike on the River Walk still takes my breath away. It’s like the city’s greatest assets are in our backyard.

Turns out I’m not alone when it comes to choosing a home simply because of its proximity to green space. New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman recently wrote about efforts in Chicago and Philadelphia to transform abandoned and underused land into green spaces. The city’s mayors are betting on revitalized parks as a way to boost civic pride, not to mention housing values. As an added bonus, early statistics show that violent crime is practically non-existent in these newly vibrant public spaces in Philadelphia.

“Urban policy often focuses too much just on housing,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel told Kimmelman. “Housing alone doesn’t make a neighborhood.”

I recognize that mine was not exactly a novel approach to home buying: There’s a reason real estate surrounding Central Park is at a premium in Manhattan. But with a few exceptions, Detroit’s long-neglected parks have hardly been a draw for home buyers in recent decades.

In fact, there was a time when living near a Detroit park could saddle a homeowner with more responsibilities than amenities. A few years ago, my father, who lives in a sprawling condo that faces Palmer Park, called the city’s recreation department to offer to pay for new basketball hoops in the park out of his own pocket because he was tired of seeing disappointed kids playing ball with imaginary baskets. The city later installed the hoops, but many of Palmer Park’s improvements can be attributed to the city’s partnership with People for Palmer Park – a non-profit organization that has created programming for and brought structural improvements to the park. For example, the group worked with the administration of former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Lear Corporation to bring a splash park and play scape to a section of the park that was once home to an abandoned swimming pool. It’s a hopeful sign that citizens, non-profits and city officials are working together to improve public spaces like Palmer Park.

It matters because Michigan desperately needs an infusion of talent and educated millennials are obsessed with living in walkable, vibrant, urban communities. Global commercial real estate services firm Avison Young issued a report last year that predicted that communities that are rich in amenities will hold on to millennials, even as their predecessors de-camped for the suburbs once they started having children.

“Millennials will choose to locate where they can access the city center but live in neighborhoods that still offer an urban experience that most closely resembles the denser downtown. Inner city neighborhoods, in-fill locations, improved public space and walkable amenities will continue to attract some millennials as their life circumstances change.”

Detroit still has a long way to go before we can offer amenities that rival cities like Chicago, but I’m excited that there seems to be a recognition – from both non-profit and city leaders – that green spaces are a vital feature of a functional and attractive city.

I’m still pulling for Detroit to provide more and better amenities – not to mention basic services – to make the city a magnet for talent. In the meantime, my family and I have five glorious months of play at the river’s edge each year. It’s not enough. But it’s pretty good.

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Theme Template Site for the Artist in You

March 21, 2017 by  
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These two sites are created from a theme template, colors and images are switched out. Both clients, although working in different mediums, wanted something simple and inexpensive that highlighted...


New report shares the impact of over-incarceration on kids

March 21, 2017 by  
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At MFI, we were already supportive of prison reform that helps nonviolent criminals stay out of jail when appropriate, not least because doing time severely limits one’s ability to participate meaningfully in the economy following release. When we look at what it will take for Michigan to be prosperous again, we need to be removing barriers to employment, and those barriers are huge for the formerly incarcerated.

Turns out, prison reform could just as easily be a focus of our education agenda because over-incarceration is playing a significant role in making life really hard for a large number of Michigan kids, and undercutting the chance that they will be prepared for the economy of the future.

228,000 Children

In Michigan, 10 percent of kids have a parent in prison. 228,000 children. (According to last year’s Kids Count report, “A Shared Sentence.”)

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute claims that not only is it harmful–in a long-term, impacting life outcomes kind of way–for a child to have a parent in prison, but that it could be a significant driver of the achievement gap. (The “achievement gap” usually refers to the gap between black and white performance in our educational system.) The conclusion is logical when you think about it: with black men six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men, and one in three black men experiencing incarceration at some point in their lifetimes—the impacts are disproportionally going to fall on the children of those men, children of color.

The Impacts on Kids

While the researchers take pains not to attempt to quantify the impact precisely, they do share some remarkable factors. They have controlled for a variety of factors to do apples-to-apples comparisons, and find that, versus a child whose parents have never been incarcerated:

  • A child with a parent in prison is 48% more likely to have ADHD, and 43% more likely to have behavior issues.
  • A child with a parent in prison is 43% more likely to suffer from depression.
  • A child with a parent in prison is 23% more likely to experience developmental delays.

“Children of incarcerated fathers are 51 percent more likely to suffer from anxiety, 43 percent more likely to suffer from depression, and 72 percent more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Not surprisingly, children with incarcerated parents are also more likely to engage in some of the behaviors that may lead, eventually, to their own induction to the justice system, like delinquency and marijuana use.

Naturally, all of these issues weave together in a complex dynamic of causality. Incarceration is wrapped up with poverty, joblessness, psychology, family culture, stigma in the community, stress, and trauma.

But what is clear is that when we over-incarcerate, the costs include worse life outcomes for children who were not themselves on trial.


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Our Write Side Picture Prompt: Imogene and Luca

March 19, 2017 by  
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Our Write Side picture prompt rockandddrool.com

Our Write Side Dark Room Prompt Rules, because there are always rules:

1. The photo is here to spark your imagination. Use it as the landscape for your story, to remind you of a moment in your past, or the punch line to a joke. Use the photo as inspiration in any way you want.
2. Your submission can be fiction or nonfiction, memoir, poetry, dark or humor – your pick.
3. Please no adult content, no racial or political posts. Also, where applicable, please include a trigger warning introduction.
4. Keep your word count to 1000 or less. (Don’t worry if you go over, we won’t count.)
5. Link to your submission’s post URL in comments. If you don’t have a blog, you can add your entry to the comments below.
6. Link to this page’s URL in your post.
7. Limit one entry per person.
8. Submission deadline is Wednesday, midnight CST (Thursday, 5 a.m. GMT)


Her heart came to a full stop as she made her way up what was once a grand drive, but time and an obvious lack of care had diminished it to pebbles and rubble. The large Plantation-style house was being strangled out by Kudzu, ancient tree branches draped in moss, and other natural born killers. From what Imogene could tell from behind her dusty windshield and lack of sunlight, the entire property was so run down that it was hard to imagine anything was salvageable. She could only guess how it would look in broad daylight because dusk has a way of softening deep wrinkles.

“Some inheritance.” She felt like crying. Sight unseen, she sold everything she had in the city and made her way to the estate that had been in her family for generations and was now her charge. She felt a familial obligation, despite the fact that there was no family left to oblige. Her great uncle Randolf, an eccentric man whom she had only heard about but never met, had lived in the house until he died a month prior. He had been the one depositing her trust fund allowance into her bank account since she had been 18. Her guardian since her parents died, he never insisted she come for a visit and she never asked. Too busy with college and life, she took for granted money would always be replenished but she never considered visiting the man who made it happen. Now it was too late, and she was starting to wonder if inheriting this house was some form of punishment. “This place better not be haunted. But, omigod it wouldn’t shock me if it was.”

Slowly exiting the car, she inspected as much of the area directly around her as she could. Darkness was coming fast, bringing with it some seriously crazy looking shadows. Imogene figured she only had a few more minutes until it became pitch black. Based on what sprawled out before her, she couldn’t understand how anyone possibly inhabited this mess. It was such a dreadful wreck from the outside, she shuddered at what the inside held in store for her.

Sighing, she grabbed her luggage from the trunk and got the keys to the front door ready. She didn’t bring much in her car, a moving truck would be arriving within a week with the rest of her stuff. As she slowly made her way to the front door, a light snapped on, the vines across the window casting snake-like shadows over the rough driveway.  Imogene, who didn’t consider herself to be a faint-of-heart-type woman, stopped dead in her tracks. As far as she knew, the house had remained deserted since the death of Uncle Randolf. Or, maybe the light was on one of those timer thingies to keep people from trying to rob the family jewels from generations of wealth.

A chill coursed its way down her spine as scenes from horror movies played in her mind. All the what-ifs floating around threw her into fight or flight mode, and flight was sounding really good right at the moment. “Oh, c’mon. You’re being stupid. It’s an old house, no one is waiting to slash out your heart and make dinner from it.”

With shaking hands, she tried to fit all the various keys in the lock until she found the one that fit. With a hard twist, the lock clicked. Extremely hesitant, she pushed open the creaky door. “Note to self, oil the hinges because this door is fitting for a Poe story.”

With one foot inside the massive, musty smelling foyer, she decided maybe she should announce herself. Just in case. “Hello?” Her voice was as shaky as her insides, “Anyone here?”

It was darker inside than it had been outside. The sound of heavy footsteps echoed from overhead causing her to drop her luggage with a loud thud onto the hard surface of the unseen floor. The only thing keeping her from a blood-curdling scream before a dramatic faint was that she was sure ghosts wouldn’t make as much noise walking as whoever was up there was doing. Besides, she had never fainted before in her life, and she wasn’t going to start now.

“Hey, hello.” Responded a husky male voice, “Hang on, I’ll be right there.”

Cautious relief replaced the violent chills, “Ok.” Her voice sounded like a squeak, but it was the best she could muster under these circumstances.

The shadow of a large man appeared at the top of the stairs. With a flick, lights illuminated a crack-filled, black and white marble foyer, and transformed the man-shadow into a living, breathing, all-male man, “Ah, Imogene. I was just getting your room ready for you.” He bounced down the stairs and came toward her so fast, it caused her to back up closer to the front door. With a hand extended, “I’m Luca, sort of the new-ish handyman around here.”

Before she could stop herself, a snort escaped as she looked around the less than well-kept house, “Well, you’re clearly not so handy!”

Luca’s dark eyes flashed for a second, then a slow smile showed off a deep dimple in his left cheek, “I actually haven’t started working yet, but I was hired to help you fix up this place. I guess you could say that I’m a part of your inheritance.”

Imogene paused for a moment, taking in his full form. He definitely wasn’t bad to look at, despite the scare he gave her. Dark hair, even darker eyes made him sort of mysterious looking. Well, as mysterious as a handyman named Luca could be. She wished she was better with clever responses but all she could come up with was, “Oh. Ok.” Before she picked her luggage up and held it out to Luca.

His dimple showed itself again, “You must be exhausted and starving after the long drive, I’ll show you to your room and then I’ll go order us a pizza. Sound good?”

He didn’t wait for an answer as he grabbed her heavy bag and bounced the stairs, two at a time. Trying to keep up, Imogene followed Luca down a long, threadbare carpeted hallway. She was too busy looking at all the pictures lining the worn, aging walls to notice he had come to a stop, and she crashed into him. Steadying herself on his thick arm, “Oh wow, sorry about that.”

He didn’t seem to even notice her hand remaining on his arm, “Lots of stuff to look at around here. Some of it is priceless, from what I understand. My old man worked for your uncle for years. Actually, someone in my family has always been around here, working for someone in your family.” They entered the room which was probably so grand back in the day, and now it just screamed to be refinished and refurnished. “This is the best bedroom, I scoped them all out. And, you definitely don’t want your uncle’s room, that one even gives me the creeps.”

Ghost stories started haunting her brain again, causing her heart to race wildly, “Will you be staying here, too?” The thought of being alone in the house with her crazy imagination, especially the first night, was enough to make that flight sensation come back in full form. A big, strong, good-looking guy in the house would probably make her feel a tad bit better.

He shrugged, “I mean, that’s the plan. I’m temporarily living here now, too. Just until we get the house in decent liveable condition for you, of course.”

She threw him a relieved smile, “Pizza sounds good, thanks. Just no onions or green peppers.”

Backing out of the room, Luca gave her the thumbs up, “Got it. This room is an en-suite, so do what you gotta do and I’ll meet you downstairs in a few minutes.”

Imogene nodded in agreement, and she could hear Luca dialing his cell phone to order their pizza. She glanced around her room and headed toward the window that had been the cause of her initial scare. The house was going to be a massive undertaking, her degree in English literature definitely wouldn’t be coming in handy. Hopefully, Luca was going to be some help.

Running her tongue over her hairy feeling teeth, she realized her breath must smell like something had crawled into her mouth and died there. Driving for eight hours could do that to a person. She had only grabbed her clothes, her carry-on had her makeup, toothbrush and other freshen up essentials in it, and was still in the back seat of her car. One thing she was super self-conscious about was speaking while under the influence of bad breath. Especially if it meant talking to a good looking male person.

“Oh well,” she groaned to herself as she turned away from the window, “This isn’t a date. He’s as obligated to be with me as I am to be at this house.” Too bad, he’s pretty hot, a voice that sounded nothing like hers whispered inside her brain.

Squeaking, she practically jumped out of her room and raced downstairs to where Luca was standing, waiting. She knew she must have looked terrified, but Luca let out a laugh, “Ah, so it seems you met our friendly ghost.”

“Ghost? There’s a ghost?” Her legs wobbled beneath her before buckling altogether.

Acting fast, Luca grabbed her, “Oh honey, you don’t know the half of it.”

That was the last thing she needed to hear.

For the first time in her life, Imogene dramatically fainted.



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Why do we want to be like those states?

March 17, 2017 by  
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In my last post we looked at evidence that the most prosperous non-energy states were those with the highest college attainment, not the lowest taxes. In this post I want to look at the states the tax cutters in Lansing are telling us we need to emulate.

The argument of many advocating for an elimination of the state income tax was Texas and Florida don’t have an income tax and they are strong economy states. Think again! Texas is 24th in per capita income and Florida is 28th. Yes slightly better than Michigan’s 32nd. But not close to the Great Lakes’ best Minnesota at 14th or #1 Connecticut. Per capita income in Texas is nearly $22,000 lower than Connecticut. For Florida its more than $24,000.

Yes Texas and  Florida are low tax states, they rank 14th and 4th overall in the latest Tax Foundation  State Business Climate Index. Connecticut ranks 43rd.  Connecticut has a graduated income tax with a top marginal rate of 6.99 percent. Minnesota––which is ranked 46th by the Tax Foundation––also has a graduated income tax with a top rate of nine percent. So much for lower taxes leading to higher prosperity.

(Washington is the one top 15 per capita income state that does not have a state income tax. But they also are 11th in the proportion of adults with a four-year degree or more.)

As we saw in my last post what aligns with high per capita income is the proportion of adults with a four-year degree or more. On that measure Connecticut is 4th, Florida is 28th and Texas is 30th. Michigan is 32nd in per capita income, 32nd in the proportion of adults with a four-year degree or more and 12th in the Tax Foundation rankings.

Let’s move on to the case Business Leaders for Michigan is making for big new tax breaks for business making investments in Michigan. They claim we aren’t competitive with Ohio, Indiana, South Carolina and Kentucky. Which begs the question “why do we want to compete with them?”

Ohio is 30th in per capita income, Indiana is 36th, Kentucky is 43rd and South Carolina is 45th. It will come as no surprise that all four are low college attainment states. Ohio ranks 37th, Indiana 42nd, Kentucky 46th and South Carolina 36th.

To BLM’s credit one of their goals for Michigan is becoming a top ten state in per capita income. But its hard to figure out how we are going to get there trying to adopt the policies of states that are towards the bottom in per capita income.  For years we have said you can’t get Minnesota’s economy with Mississippi’s policies. Substitute Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and South Carolina for Mississippi and you still won’t get Minnesota’s economy.



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Educational attainment and the American dream

March 15, 2017 by  
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Late last year, Stanford economist Raj Chetty and colleagues published an important set of data that measured just how many Americans achieve the American dream. They define the American dream as the ideal that a child will earn more money, and enjoy a higher standard of living, than their parents did. Economists refer to this as the absolute mobility. And under that measure, far fewer Americans are achieving the American dream than they used to.

The period after World War II, up until the early 70s, is often pointed to as the golden era of economic growth in the United States, with average family income growing at an inflation-adjusted rate of 2.6% annually. And growth was not only high but evenly spread, with bottom quintile incomes increasing 3% annually, and the top quintile averaging 2.5% annual growth.

As you might guess, this meant a high rate of absolute mobility. 92% of Children born in 1940 did better than their parents. And those that didn’t were generally individuals who’d grown up rich, giving them a smaller chance of earning more than their parents.

As economic growth slowed, absolute mobility rates started to decline. And then as the mega-forces of globalization and automation took hold in the 80s, decreasing the number of well-paying jobs available to less-skilled workers and increasing inequality, the absolute mobility rate dropped precipitously. For the 1980 birth cohort – who are now in their prime working years – just 50% are doing better than their parents did at the same age.

So to recap, if you were born in 1940, you were almost certain to do better than your parents. If you were born 40 years later, you had just a 50/50 shot.

The question, of course, is what to do about this? One obvious place to look is educational attainment. And sure enough, the story of educational attainment in America mirrors, almost exactly, the story of economic mobility in America.


Educational attainment

In a 2014 article in the New York Times, Eduardo Porter lays out the numbers. Today, just 30% of American adults have achieved a higher level of education than their parents did. And this number is going down, not up. Among 25 to 34 year olds, just 20% of men and 27% of women have achieved a higher level of education than their parents.

This is a profound shift from that high-mobility 1940 birth cohort. When they were born, America was near completing the transition to universal high school enrollment. And between 1915 and 1960, the relative supply of college educated workers (compared to high school educated workers) increased at a rate of 3% per year. Americans were getting more education than their parents had, and earning more than their parents did.

Somewhere along the line, however, this stopped happening. Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, authors of the book The Race Between Education and Technology, report that the relative supply of college-educated workers continued to increase at a rate of 3.8% annually between 1960 and 1980, before declining to just a 2% annual increase between 1980 and 2005. Fewer Americans are now getting more education than their parents had, and mobility has stalled.

It should be noted that higher educational-attainment is not a panacea for reducing inequality. An increase in the number of college graduates will not have much of an effect on the exorbitant earnings currently flowing to the top of the income distribution. But for those in the middle and bottom of the income distribution, increasing educational attainment is the answer to declining rates of mobility. Today, roughly a third of working-age Americans have a bachelor’s degree or more, with another 9% with an associate’s degree. This leaves a lot of room to grow, a lot of room for children to gain more education than their parents.

But this won’t just happen on its own. As Porter points out, in the first half of the 20th century, increasing access to education was seen as a national project, a national priority. We understood that universal access to a high school education would provide both greater equity and greater productivity, and we brought the needed resources to bear.

It seems we’ve lost this broader sense of purpose, both as a nation and here in Michigan. From anti-poverty policy to k-12 education policy there’s a lot we can do to attack the problem of slowing educational attainment. But a place to start is with properly funding higher education so that all Michigan students who want a college education have equal access to it.

The funding of higher education in Michigan is currently placed squarely on the backs of students and families, with 70% of state university funding coming from tuition, and roughly 20% coming from state appropriations.

What this means is that for non-affluent students, the math on paying for college simply doesn’t add up. Even after maxing out federal loans and family contributions, they’re often still left with a large gap that they can’t pay for without saddling their parents with long-term debt. So despite the fact that the investment in a four-year college degree is clearly worth it, college becomes a far riskier proposition than it should be, and mere sticker shock can distort students’ decisions.

We need state policy that ensures all students can pay for college, anxiety-free. This can be in the form of higher funding for institutions, or far more state aid to non-affluent students, to fill the gaps in a student’s full cost of attendance. But until we publicly commit to doing this, and turn higher education into the public good it should be, the American dream has little chance of becoming a reality in Michigan.






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8 Reasons Michigan Is A Better Tournament Team This Year Than Last Year

March 14, 2017 by  
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I think we can all agree last year's tournament showing was disappointing. In 2015, Michigan had to play in a Round of 4 game just to get in to the first round. When they did, John Beilein’s team blew a double digit lead against a Notre Dame team they should have beat. The season was fraught with question marks as 10 of Michigan's 11 losses were by double digits.

The ironic thing is, two games into the Big Ten Tournament, this year’s Michigan team had the same record as last year's team (and had just knocked off the #1 seed both times, as well). But if the Wolverines’ dominant play lately isn’t already a testament, this is not the same team as last year’s group, and they’re primed for a much deeper run in the NCAA Tourney. Here's why:

#1. The maturation of the Michigan big men

Last year, we screamed and buried our face in a pillow any time an opposing center got the ball down low. This year, even in some of our biggest losses, our bigs are not getting outscored and they’ve even learned they are allowed to block other players when they shoot. That is actually a huge plus in a Big vs Big scenario.

Sometimes, if you can at least score on a big, you can get him in foul trouble, which is sometimes just as good as blocking him. D.J. Wilson, in particular, can guard any position and contributes even when he is not scoring. Plus, it’s great to see Donnal on the bench. It was nauseating when he was our starting center, but he fills in just fine as a sub. It's safe to say our size is no longer our biggest liability on offense. As a matter of fact, it's one of our greatest assets.

#2. A deeper bench from which to draw

I don't know if you've noticed, but two starters from last year are now on the bench. It is a little sad, but it also means Beilein is recruiting better younger players and developing them. Donnal is a decent relief big and Duncan Robinson can completely change the pace and feel of the offense.

Meanwhile, the former Mr. Basketball of Ohio (Xavier Simpson) is coming along nicely. I am not saying he's the next Trey Burke, but he even in his limited playing time he is showing that he can do some things Walton can't do: like force his way into the lane. Look for little Simpson to get more playing time in the tournament and for him to do some special things.

#3. Zak Irvin is no longer our top scorer

I get it, everybody likes it when he buries a three in someone's face, but we're not at the neighborhood park trying to school Freddy from across the street. Michigan was great when Zak Irvin was our 7th or 8th best player back in the day, and now, with Walton being more aggressive and Wagner maturing as a player, we don't have to rely on him chucking up low percentage shots. Luckily he’s started to take better shots and his teammates have benefited from better looks.

#4. This team wins against higher quality opponents

As previously stated, 10 of our 11 losses last year were by double digits. This year, we only have 4 losses by double digits (the last coming on January 11th, the infamous “white collar” game). But this year’s team has won against six top-50 opponents, five of those coming since February.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Final-Michigan vs Wisconsin Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

#5. Mo Wagner is the Truth

Yes! I am on the German Vulksbandwagon! There are times he loses vision and can't pass himself out of tight spaces, true. He also gets into foul trouble just about every game (but he seemed aware of that against Wisconsin and did a good job), but the fact is that at the end of the day he can create scoring opportunities in ways NO one on that team can. Big men are not fast enough and guards aren't big enough to guard him. If only he can learn there are two halves in a game...

#6. Derrick Walton, Jr. is even Truthier

Boy, did we ever need him to have a big senior season and boy did he deliver. It's not just the freak game at Nebraska with 18 points, 16 assists (ridiculous), and 5 steals. It’s not just the 29 points and 9 assists against Minnesota. He's been stepping it up all year in ways that haven’t made the box score, and he’s only got more comfortable with the more games he’s played.

I’ll want to see how he will fare against bigger, stronger guards, but it’s hard finding guys as big and strong as Walton. This is a HUGE advantage for Michigan. John Beilein simply cannot win without a good/great point guard. His offense knows just as much about post moves as Warren Beatty does about reading cards. We will need everyone to contribute, but Walton's play is the X-factor.

#7. This defense is what wins the day, though

I feel like 90% of any given tournament game is about match-ups. Last year, we had Donnal starting at the 5 spot, with Irvin at the 4 spot. That was a nightmare I hope I don't have to relive, since neither one of them could guard their opponents' position.

But this year, it's been Wagner and Wilson with Donnal coming off the bench. That has been a great duo in the Big Ten. Going into the Big Ten Tournament, three of their four wins against teams in the top of the RPI were because they held their offense under 60 points. Last year, that happened ONE time against Purdue and it was a pretty big fluke.

Last year, we gave up 80 points or more to opponents 7 times - all of them blowout losses. This year, we did it 5 times, 2 of those were overtime games, and the only one that was not a road game we won. We currently rank 38th in the country in points allowed.

#8. ..And they know how to follow through

Sure, the 2016 team upset the #1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament last year too, but the next day they got blown out by Purdue. This year, beating the #1 seeded Purdue was just the beginning. The day after, they soundly beat Minnesota and then dispatched Wisconsin in the championship, handling every run and challenge with resolve.

The miraculous thing is that Michigan lost in the regular season to ALL FOUR teams it beat in the Big Ten Tournament. That is more than momentum. That is inspiration. If a team is going to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, it doesn't need seeding, publicity or a plethora of NBA talent. It needs 8-10 guys who all know their role and are playing inspired basketball.

So, does this mean they are going to win it all? No, but it does put them in a great position to make a run. Being a 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament comes with challenges, but being an 8 seed in a conference tourney is pretty rough, too - and Michigan aced that. I don’t think think this team is ready to go home just yet.

What do you guys think?

How Michigan fails black college students

March 14, 2017 by  
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As a member of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, I have become very familiar with the various lists that organizations and publications compile to rank institutions of higher education. Many times when a new list is published, I tense up as I scan it looking for my school’s name.

Recently, WSU was at the top of a list that no university wants to be on at all: Education Trust ranked Wayne State at first place on its list of worst performing institutions for black students. Our ranking didn’t exactly come as a surprise to me. I was largely motivated to run in a statewide race to serve on the board because of Wayne State’s dismal African American graduation rate. When Education Trust released its report on racial graduation gaps in 2010, Wayne State’s six-year undergraduate graduation rate for black students overall was 9.5 percent and that statistic was even worse for black male students – an appalling three percent were earning their bachelor’s degree in six years or less. Education Trust’s most recent ranking combined Wayne State’s results from 2012, 2013 and 2014 to come up with an average six-year graduation rate for black students of 11 percent, while white students graduated within six years of starting a bachelor’s program at a rate of 44.3 percent over the same time period – a gap of 33.2 percent.

When Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson joined the university in 2013, he and the university’s board immediately set out to prioritize strategies to boost African American retention and graduation rates. A team of academic leaders from Wayne State visited Georgia State University to learn about that school’s successful retention programs for underrepresented students of color. We learned that Georgia State eliminated its achievement gap for underrepresented students of color through “intrusive advising” programs that closely track and offer customized support to students who are struggling. Georgia State’s six-year graduation rate for underrepresented students of color is now actually higher than that statistic for white students.

Two years ago, Wayne State hired its first-ever Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and established our first-ever Office of Multicultural Student Engagement, which is charged with building to boost academic outcomes for students of color. Since 2012, Wayne State has invested $10 million in programs designed to boost student success. As a result, as of 2016, Wayne State University’s six-year undergraduate graduation rate for black students is 17.2% — still nothing to crow about but a significant uptick from the nine percent black six-year graduation rate that motivated me to run for office in 2012 and the 11 percent three-year average African American graduation that is cited in Education Trust’s most recent report.

I have learned that when it comes to boosting outcomes for students of color in higher education, nothing is more important than having university leadership that prioritizes radical change. When our administration, board, faculty and students went through the process of drafting a strategic plan for the university a few years ago, many on campus encouraged President Wilson to set an incremental goal to narrow the racial graduation gap at Wayne State by 2021. President Wilson – and the board – instead set as our goal the total elimination of the completion gap between white and underrepresented students of color.

It should also be noted that Wayne State University is not the only public university in Michigan that is struggling with racial graduation gaps. Sadly, both Saginaw Valley State University and Oakland University are also ranked in the top ten of Education Trust’s list of the bottom performing institutions for black students, with black/white graduation gaps of 26.6 and 25.1 percent, respectively.

Despite Wayne State’s commitment to eliminating its racial graduation gap, there are external factors that need to change if underrepresented students of color are to thrive at Michigan universities that serve large numbers of them:

  • The state must change the way it funds and measures success for its K-12 schools. Michigan’s K-12 education funding system leaves most districts underfunded and a precious few flush with per-pupil spending options. As a result of funding disparities and lackluster education policy, Education Week’s 2016 Quality Counts state report card gave Michigan a “D” score for K-12 educational attainment.
  • There is also a preponderance of evidence that students’ grade point averages are more predictive of college success than test scores, yet, as my colleague Patrick Cooney explains here Michigan policy makers continue to prioritize test scores as the most important metric of college readiness. If we really want to see students thrive in college, we need to steer educators away from engaging in rote standardized test-driven instruction to curricula that help students develop critical thinking skills, creativity, strong writing abilities and other skills that aren’t measured on standardized tests but are critical to college success. This kind of instruction will require an overhaul of K-12 curricula and significant state investment and energy.
  • Michigan lawmakers need to reinvest in higher education to ease the tuition burden that causes many students to drop out before they complete a degree. In 1985, Michigan public universities received about 60 percent of their operating budgets from state appropriations. Today, the state provides about 20 percent of funding for public universities, with about 70 percent coming from student tuition. Lack of affordability is a major barrier to college completion for black – and all – students.
  • We need to rethink Proposal 2, the anti-affirmative action ban that has made it more difficult for universities to provide specialized educational supports – including scholarships – for students of color.

All of this matters because as my colleagues and I have written repeatedly, a four-year college degree is by far the most dependable credential for long-term economic stability. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center study of median annual earnings for full-time workers between the ages of 25 and 32, holders of an associate’s degree earned $15,500 less than bachelor’s degree holders. Additionally, bachelor’s degree holders are more likely to retain employment even when the economy suffers. As my colleague Lou Glazer recently noted, it’s no coincidence that Michigan is 32nd in per capita income and 32nd in four year degree attainment.

Knowing how important having a degree is and will continue to be in an increasingly knowledge-based economy, we cannot afford to leave black students behind: Not at Wayne State University nor at any university in Michigan and not at the K-12 schools that should be preparing them to succeed in life and college.

The post How Michigan fails black college students appeared first on Michigan Future Inc..

Tuesday Morning Brews: Afterglow

March 14, 2017 by  
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Michigan sports has a big weekend as Basketball and Women’s gymnastics take home B1G Titles

What a weekend, folks. Men’s basketball walked away from a plane accident and won a B1G Title. Women’s gymnastics likewise exited the weekend with B1G Championship hardware. Basketball is a seven seed in the NCAA Tournament and will play Oklahoma State on Friday. Also, for those that haven’t done so already, don’t forget to join our bracket challenge. Your picks must be in before noon on Thursday. The college sports landscape is pretty well saturated with basketball-related news right now, so this morning’s Brews will be a little abbreviated. We should start seeing news from football on Thursday, as spring ball is right around the corner.

Let’s hit the links:

Basketball capped a miraculous weekend with a B1G Tournament Championship on Sunday afternoon, topping Wisconsin by the score of 71-56. Derrick Walton, who had been robbed of a first team all-conference spot just days earlier, rightfully took home tournament MVP honors. Zak Irvin overcame his mid-season doldrums to put together a great close to the season and also earned all-tournament team honors. This is Michigan’s first B1G Tournament Championship since the 1997-1998 season. If you haven’t already, check out MnB’s analysis of the Mid-West regional and what it would take for Michigan to get to the elite eight.

It’s several days old at this point, but if you haven’t read this article from Brendan Quinn about the aftermath of the plane accident - you should. You should read THIS ONE from Monday morning, as well. In many ways, this was almost the weekend and championship that wasn’t. This team responded to adversity in a way that is very rare for a group of 18-22 year-olds. At the center of that was John Beilein who, somewhere between a plane crash and a B1G Title, became Michigan’s winningest coach. As our very own (and new addition to the staff) Ed Murray put it, it’s time to thank Coach Beilein.

Keeping with the big victories over the weekend theme, John Beilein has won the Coaches for Charity Challenge. This is the second year of the challenge, and Beilein’s second year winning the challenge. $100,000 will be donated to ChadTough Foundation Fund at the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. That fund is used to advance research into childhood cancer, and specifically Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) from which the foundation’s namesake, Chad Carr, died a year-ago November.

Women’s gymnastics also won a B1G Championship over the weekend, topping Iowa and three other teams at the Big Five meet to secure their 3rd regular season title. Michigan will share the title with Nebraska. Michigan has won at least a share of the B1G regular season title three of the five years it has been in existence. Including B1G Tournament titles, this is Michigan’s 25th championship in Women’s gymnastics. The Wolverines will compete for a B1G Tournament championship next weekend at Rutgers.

Men’s lacrosse scored the first victory of the young program’s career this past weekend, topping #10 Penn 13-12. Despite being in existence since the 1940s, men’s and women’s lacrosse at Michigan was only elevated to NCAA team status in 2012. Prior to then, the teams existed as varsity club teams. Prior to becoming an NCAA team, the men’s team had won 11 of the past 12 club championships. Since being elevated, the team has struggled against top-flight competition - like Penn.

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