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Heard on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

On First Day of School in Michigan, Teachers, Students Face Uncertainty and Growing Problems

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Image credit: Jake Neher/WDET

The lack of an education budget, a growing dependence on untrained teachers, and the state’s third grade reading law are significant problems for schools.

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Tuesday is the official start of the school year here in Michigan. And as the new school year gets underway, students, educators and parents have a lot of challenges ahead.

Lori Higgins is Chalkbeat Detroit’s new Bureau Chief.

Ron French is a Senior Reporter with Bridge Magazine. 

They came on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson to talk about the challenges schools and students face going into the new year.

RelatedIs It Time To Get Rid Of Michigan’s Law Requiring Schools To Start After Labor Day?

Problems they highlight include: 

  • No budget agreement in Lansing means this is the first school year in nine years that districts have started without knowing how much they have to spend. That has been causing problems for hiring, union contracts, and other spending in districts across Michigan.

    “We are are hearing a lot of frustration right now, school districts had to approve their budgets by the end of June and so they had to make a lot of assumptions about what they’re going to get for state aid,” Higgins says. “They are making assumptions about what the Governor has proposed and also what the Senate has approved. Right now we are beginning the year with a lot of districts don’t actually know what they can negotiate — what they can offer.”
  • This is also the first year under a 2016 law that third graders who don’t pass the state’s reading test are held back. But as French recently reported, three in ten third graders last year were not proficient in reading. What would this mean for Michigan schools next year if almost a third of all third graders have to repeat that grade?

    “This started as a well intentioned law, there’s a lot of studies that show that how your reading ability in third grade kind of predicts how you’re going to do in life,” says French. But, he adds “they decided the way to do that is to flunk kids until they can read. When this law was first passed there was a fear there would be as many as 50,000 third graders that would flunk, because about 50 percent of third graders are not proficient readers on the state standardized test. Well, they kept scaling that back and now they’re saying about 5 percent… so that’s still 5,000.”
  • Michigan districts have also become more and more reliant on long-term substitute teachers. How concerned should we be about that?

Click on the audio player above to hear Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson talk about the challenges schools and students face going into a new year.

Detroit Today

Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.

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