Suburban Detroit schools underperform


Are the Michigan public schools that serve mostly middle class students performing well?

Lots of parents think so. They may believe that student performance problems are limited to Detroit or other poor inner city areas.

But many middle class, suburban schools are not as good as parents may think.

That’s the finding of a new study from the Pacific Research Institute, which analyzed school performance in Michigan using a number of different methodologies — and found evidence of widespread underachievement.

The PRI study looked at the pool of 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 predominantly non-low-income 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 take the MEAP; the MME is administered to 11th graders.

Many of these “not as good as you think” schools are located in some of Michigan’s most desirable neighborhoods.

Take Grosse Ile High School in Grosse Ile Township, an affluent Detroit suburb where the 2012 median household income was 80 percent higher than the statewide median. Less than 1 in 10 of the school’s students was classified as low income in 2013.

Yet 53 percent of Grosse Ile 11th graders failed to meet or exceed proficiency on the 2013 MME math exam.

In the fast-growing suburb of Macomb, only 15 percent of students at Mohawk Elementary School were categorized as low income in 2013.

On the 2013 MEAP math exams, 52 percent of Mohawk third-graders and 58 percent of fourth- and fifth-graders at the school failed to meet or exceed the proficient level.

Such results are disturbing on their face. But the news is actually more worrying than the numbers indicate. To reach the proficient level on the MEAP, students have to get only roughly 65 percent of questions correct.

Further, many middle class schools did not do well when compared to schools with similar income demographics. Among the 677 public schools with 33 percent or fewer low-income students, 534, or 79 percent, had at least one grade in 2013 where the percentage of students achieving proficiency on a state reading or math test was below the average performance of schools with the same proportion of low-income students.

At Cheyenne Elementary School in Macomb, just 9 percent of students were classified as low income in 2013. On the 2013 third-grade MEAP math exam, 51 percent of Cheyenne third-graders met or exceeded proficiency. That’s 14 percentage points below the average performance of schools with similar student-income demographics.

Large proportions of non-low-income students in Michigan also underperformed on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, which is often referred to as the nation’s report card.

On the 2013 NAEP eighth-grade reading exam, 55 percent of non-low-income Michigan eighth graders failed to score at the proficient level. Some 58 percent failed to reach proficiency on the NAEP eighth-grade math exam.

Such student performance results should cause middle class Michigan parents to consider school-choice options that would allow them to choose alternatives that better meet the needs of their children.

Arizona has implemented an education savings account program where the state deposits funds into a student’s account. The student can then use those funds for educational expenses, including 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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