Michigan Chronicle’s Pancakes & Politics panelists Dave Meador, retired – vice chair, DTE Energy, left, Dr. Jennifer Green, superintendent of the Southfield Public School District, second from left, Dr. Nikola Vitti, superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District, third from left, and Dr. Curtis I. Ivery, chancellor, Wayne County Community College District, far right, talk education at the Detroit Athletic Club on Thursday, May 19.
Photo by Monica Morgan
Michigan’s education system needs a major overhaul.
The state ranks low across the nation – even below other states who are failing their students, too, despite concerted efforts to get ahead of the seemingly growing problem. What’s to be done?
After a recent education report came out, Still Stalled: State of Michigan Education Report 2022 there is much to be done with the needed radical equitable transformation for student achievement rates, and more – even before the pandemic.
Michigan currently ranks 32nd in the nation for fourth-grade reading, and without intentional efforts toward improving these numbers, that ranking could drop to 39th by 2030, according to Ed Trust-Midwest’s Michigan Achieves! Indicators.
Even more susceptible to these gaps are students of color, underserved students, and low-income students, according to the report. Michigan is also in the bottom 10 states nationally for Black students in early literacy and eighth-grade math. COVID-19 also has continued to impact students across the state with increased opportunity gaps.
“Michigan’s public education system does not have to be the barrier that stalls the dreams of Michigan’s children and their families. Instead, it can be the catalyst for success and prosperity,” the statewide education report noted. “With greater access to effective educators, principals, and counselors, and better funded and supported schools, all students can be supported on their educational journey.”
From discussions surrounding increased opportunity for career-driven students to intentional funding around the state, Michigan Chronicle’s 17th annual Pancakes & Politics four-person panel discussion unpacked statistical data, among other findings, on Thursday, May 11 at the Detroit Athletic Club during its third installment (of a four-part series) before about 300 attendees.
During the sold-out live event, other issues were highlighted, including issues of economic impact over breakfast with local political, business, and community leaders.
The panel, led by host, President, and CEO of Ignition Media Group Dennis Archer Jr., included Dr. Nikola Vitti, superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District, Dr. Curtis I. Ivery, chancellor, Wayne County Community College District, Dr. Jennifer Green, superintendent, Southfield Public School District, and Dave Meador, retired – vice chair, DTE Energy.
Hiram Jackson, chief executive officer of Real Times Media (RTM) and Michigan Chronicle publisher, said that the cross-section of people in the room were there to listen, ask questions, and address the very real happenings in the educational realm. He added that for the last 17 years, many of those forums were dedicated to discussing education matters.
“I would say 10 of those years we’ve done a forum on education,” Jackson said. “It’s something that we’ve been consistent with because it is so important. You can always tell who is really interested in what subject here whether it be education or workforce or automotive.”
Jackson added that while education is “not a sexy topic” it is still needed.
“What’s more important than the education of children in this region, anything? We just think it is really important to have this conversation,” Jackson said.
Archer said that while on the surface, the United States seems to be “doing great” as a whole that is not the case for everybody, especially students in urban districts like in Detroit and Southfield.
“Since COVID it has been a struggle you hear people say, ‘We’re on a struggle bus.’”
In the education report, Still Stalled, many factors like lack of support, pandemic fatigue, and other issues, are causing educators across the state to leave the profession “with dire consequences for children.”
Also, funding alone is not the magic pill to truly transform Michigan’s public education, according to the report.
“Significant improvements in systems, policies, and practices are also needed. This is a moment for radical transparency,” according to the report.
Archer asked the panel if they imagined that the K-12 educational system would be in the predicament they are in today.
Vitti said with his multifaceted background as a teacher, principal, leader, superintendent, and beyond, he “couldn’t fathom” that his school district (among others) would continue to go through what they’ve gone through especially over the last two years.
“In the last two years we have not been able to do what we normally do, which is lift our children up,” Vitti said, adding that while the district has weathered the pandemic storm “relatively well” the students are still behind.
“Now we feel like we’re trying to rebuild after the pandemic,” Vitti said.
Green said that the suburban school district took a community approach to focus on students and the whole family by partnering with healthcare agencies to help their struggling school community.
“If the family wasn’t whole the student couldn’t perform at the highest potential,” she said adding that there were mental health issues even before the pandemic. Also, the school district was the first to go remote and the last to reopen due to high COVID cases.
On a positive note, the evolving school district made indelible connections along the way.
“We realized how dependent we were on the business community. … We forged a lot of partnerships … to ensure we were doing all that we could not only for our students but the community at large,” Green said.
Ivery said that WCCCD had to move forward, pivot during the pandemic and think about things from an “equity lens and framework.”
“This pandemic really exposed those equities in a new way,” Ivery said adding that many times he had to answer equity education gaps where students almost dropped out of school for lack of funds, and he found help to assist them. “I have a soft spot in my heart for young students struggling to overcome barriers that are consistent.”
Meador, co-founder, and chairman of the Autism Alliance of Michigan said on the panel that his family began their journey with autism over 20 years ago when his daughter Bella was diagnosed with autism. His passion and involvement with autism and education are reflected in his K-12 education in Michigan, which he said is colored with “examples of excellence.”
Yet, there is always more work to be done.
“If you look at statistics it is not very good,” he said adding that the education system is “sugarcoating things” and the state is in a “tailspin.”
“We’re not improving but other states are,” Meador said adding that Black and Brown students have had it even worse statistically.”
Meador also said that students with special needs are not faring much better statistically either.
“It takes time but we’re all going to have to come together – in this brutal reality we aren’t what we have to be,” he said adding that attracting companies to the state could be a challenge, too. “If they understand what is happening in K-12 they would shy away.”
Initially introduced in 2006, the Pancakes & Politics series has continued to be a staple for the Black community, providing a platform for change-makers, influencers, and government leaders to voice community concerns, share solutions, and bring about change regionally.
The remaining forum is slated for June 16 and will host an audience of invited business, political, and community leaders. They will broadcast each forum to the public later — stay tuned to MichiganChronicle.com for broadcast dates.