Are suburban schools as good as parents think?

Are the Michigan public schools that serve mostly middle-class students performing well? Lots of parents think so.

But many middle-class, suburban schools are not as good as parents think. That’s the finding of a new study from the Pacific Research Institute, which found evidence of widespread underachievement in Michigan.

The PRI study looked at 677 Michigan public schools where 33 percent or fewer students are classified as low-income — what many parents might consider “middle-class schools.”

Among these schools, 316, or 47 percent, had half or more of their students in at least one grade level fail to meet or exceed proficiency on the 2013 Michigan Educational Assessment Program or the Michigan Merit Exam. Students in grades three through eight took the MEAP in 2013; the MME was administered to 11th graders.

Take Schoolcraft Middle School. Only 22 percent of the school’s students were classified as low income in 2013.

Yet 71 percent of Schoolcraft sixth graders and 59 percent of seventh graders failed to meet or exceed the proficient level on the 2013 MEAP math exam. Among eighth graders, 68 percent failed to achieve proficiency on the math exam.

The news is more worrying than the numbers indicate. To reach the proficient level on the MEAP, students had to get roughly 65 percent of questions correct. That’s a relatively unchallenging definition of proficiency.

Northeast of Kalamazoo in Richland, just 15 percent of students at Gull Lake High School were categorized as low income in 2013.

Yet 63 percent of Gull Lake High 11th graders failed to meet or exceed proficiency on the 2013 math MME.

Large proportions of non-low-income students in Michigan also underperform on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam.

On the 2013 NAEP eighth-grade reading exam, 55 percent of non-low-income Michigan eighth graders failed to score at the proficient level. Fifty-eight percent failed to reach proficiency on the NAEP eighth-grade math exam.

Such student performance results should cause parents to consider school-choice options that better meet their children’s needs.

Nevada just enacted a program where the state deposits 90 percent of the average statewide support per pupil, or roughly $5,100, into education savings accounts that parents can use to pay for private-school tuition, online education, tutoring and other education services. For parents who earn below the low-income level or have children with special needs, the state will deposit 100 percent of the average statewide support per pupil, around $5,700.

Illinois has a universal education tax credit, which allows parents to claim tax credits for expenses such as private-school tuition.

Every child has a right to a good education. If the neighborhood public school isn’t providing it, the child should have the right to go somewhere else.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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