Detroit Today: The opportunity gap for Black students in Michigan — and how to close it

Education disparities are wide among demographic groups in Michigan, where Black children lag far behind their national peers in several educational measures.

Students doing school work at a desk.

A recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that African American children face the steepest obstacles to opportunity compared to other demographic groups, resulting in poorer educational outcomes.

That disparity is especially stark in Michigan, where Black children lagged far behind their national peers when it comes to several educational measures — ranking last among 46 states in a state-to-state comparison of well-being for Black children, the Race for Results report showed.

So why is Michigan lagging so far between when it comes to childhood and student equity outcomes, and how do we close those significant opportunity gaps? Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti and Jon Valant, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, joined Detroit Today on Thursday to discuss.

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Dr. Nikolai Vitti is the Detroit Public Schools Community District superintendent. He says while there have been improvements in outcomes for Detroit’s public school students, Black children in the city have to deal with many issues — from housing insecurity to poverty and food access — which leads to poorer educational outcomes in comparison with students in richer school districts.

“When are we going to recognize that investment matters, and that we are okay with investing more in children that need more? I think that, fundamentally, is the issue,” he said.

Jon Valant is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a left-of-center think tank. He’s also the director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings. Although educational achievement gaps won’t close entirely if America were serious about addressing poverty, Valant says they would be significantly narrowed.

“A huge part of this and really, like, the place I would start is trying to get kids out of poverty and address some of those core structural problems, but we shouldn’t have the illusions that is all we need to do,” Valant said.

Listen to Detroit Today with host Stephen Henderson weekdays from 9-10 a.m. ET on 101.9 WDET and streaming on-demand.

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