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5 things to know about Michigan's education gap

Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

Over at our State of Opportunity website, we've been on Gap Watch: achievement gaps, literacy gaps, technology gaps, gender gaps, etc.

Our latest documentary continues the trend.

It's called The Education Gap.

I hung out in two very different 5th grade classrooms over the course of a month and a half.

One school is made up of middle to upper middle class kids (Novi Meadows), the other classroom is filled with kids in poverty (the school didn't want to be identified, so we call it School X.)

The goal? To see how these two classroom experiences differ, and whether or not schools can level the playing field.

Here are 5 things to know that came out of our documentary, The Education Gap:

1) Learning environments are not the same

You can see the disparities between the two schools the minute you walk into the classrooms. School X is filled to capacity with high-needs kids, the room is loud, and the teacher is brand new to 5th grade. The middle class school in Novi is well-stocked and spacious, and the teachers have been teaching 5th grade for pretty much their entire careers.

2) Teacher turnover cuts into education

Like a lot of high-poverty schools, teacher turnover plagues School X. The principal says she has to replace 60% of her staff every year. Studies show high teacher turnover can have drastic effects on student achievement, especially for at-risk kids.

3)  The school with more needs gets less money

Novi receives about $750 more in per pupil funding than School X. As MSU education policy wonk David Arsen points out, "one might think that in the district where the children are coming less well-prepared from the home for academic outcomes, that they receive additional resources to make up. We don’t do that in Michigan."

4) Solutions are hard to come by

Some say poor schools need more money, others say schools get enough money, they just need to figure out how to better use it; some say we need to re-think the way schools are used so that they stay open late to provide health and human services for kids and their families.

5) Economic integration in schools might help

Studies suggest that economically integrated schools are more successful at boosting student achievement than improvements to high-poverty schools alone. But economically integrated schools are hard to come by; often poor kids go to school with poor kids, rich kids with rich kids. One Harvard scholar says if people wanted, they could change that. She says states could change school district boundaries to get a mix of inner city, older suburb and new suburb. The glitch? "It’s not going to happen politically," says Jennifer Hochschild, "but it’s not technically difficult to do."

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.