Mike Gallagher, Editorial Correspondent
The president/CEO of the Washington D.C.-based Education Trust called it “one of the most energetic and inspiring gatherings of educational experts” focusing on new and successful initiatives devoted to improving achievement by P-20 students across Michigan and the nation.
The event – entitled “Education Matters: Student Achievement for Life-Long Success” – recently drew more than 120 attendees, including foundation and nonprofit leaders, state legislators, Michigan Department of Education officials, school superintendents, principals and teachers, and local government and business leaders to Lansing.
Hosted by the Council of Michigan Foundations’ P-20 Education Affinity Group and the Governor’s Office of Foundation Liaison, the event was a convening of philanthropic, government, education and community partners to discuss strategies for:
- having young students meet reading proficiency by third grade
- closing the achievement gap for young boys of color
- providing all students – regardless of income or geography – with the opportunity, skills and tools to succeed in life.
Sponsors of the day-long conference included the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Kresge Foundation and The Skillman Foundation.
Guest speaker Kati Haycock, president/CEO of Education Trust, addressed part of her presentation to the need for changes in the way the U.S. provides financial assistance to those seeking a college education.
“The federal financial aid system must adapt to the needs of today’s postsecondary students who are increasingly older, students of color, and balancing the demands of work and family with academics,” said Haycock.
“The financial aid system desperately needs to be modernized to recognize the growing costs of a postsecondary degree and the financial realities of many of the students.”
Other national experts joining Haycock on the dais and in individualized break-out sessions included Arnold Chandler, co-founder of the social- and equity-change research company Forward Change Consulting of Oakland, CA; Ron Fairchild, director, Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in Washington D.C.; David Mansouri, executive vice president, Tennessee SCORE in Nashville; and Ron Walker, executive director and founding member, Coalition of Schools of Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) in Boston.
Dick Posthumus, senior advisor to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, opened the event by welcoming the attendees and sharing the governor’s vision and support for enhanced educational opportunities for children of all ages, race and economic backgrounds.
Michigan State Superintendent Mike Flanagan offered his insights to the challenges facing educators today, saying, “We have impediments felt deeply and embedded in America that are making it very difficult for (educational) reforms to actually get traction.
“We’ve got to get past this idea in our culture that academics are not the key to success – they are the key – and our kids are paying the price for us not rallying around this in a way that is not beyond the blah blah!”
Offering his insights, Fairchild told conference attendees, “We know that if we care about high school graduation, college and career success readiness, one of our best predictors for whether or not kids will be successful…is (students achieving) third grade reading competency.
“That has proven to be a major mobilization effort and opportunity and it engages philanthropy and government. We also need to see quality teaching in every context, policies strengthened and better aligned and integrated so there are systems of care for kids, and create actual solutions on the ground in communities to eliminate barriers and obstacles for kids.”
Noting the two “biggest levers of change” that Tennessee has used to make improvements to help the state’s children succeed academically, according to Tennessee SCORE’s Mansouri, are: “One, we have focused intentionally and aggressively on every piece of the teacher pie: how do we identify and how do we support effective teachers and get them the tools they need in the classroom.
“And secondly, (we are) consistently raising expectations for students across the board throughout the K-12 spectrum,” he added.
COSEBOC’s Walker said he is continually concerned about one group that is a “flashpoint” for school reform across the nation: boys of color (black and Latino).
“This is the epicenter of what needs to happen in public education,” warns Walker. “There has to be change. All the data shows we need to increase our academic focus, dollars and efforts to improve this important sector of our youth.
“Crime, indigence, drug use, out-of-wedlock babies, all can be traced back to the failings of our schools to meet the educational needs of boys of color from pre-school to third grade,” noted Walker. “Here is where new programs, new metrics and new focus have to be implemented if we are to succeed.”
Forward Change Consulting’s Chandler joined Flanagan and La June Montgomery Tabron, president/CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, for a luncheon plenary panel entitled: “My Brother’s Keeper & Boys of Color” and provided a wealth of data on core trends that lead to “a vicious cycle of male disadvantage that is particularly pronounced for African-American and Latino males.
To offset those trends, Chandler said he, along with several California-based organizations, are focusing on developing and strengthening “a life-form framework” on improving population outcomes for boys of color.
“When you are talking about changing population outcomes every issue impacts that and is important,” noted Chandler. “We need to identify those issues, find mechanisms of change to eliminate barriers to success and achieve buy-in by all the sectors on how best to achieve positive change.”
The day’s events also included several concurrent breakout sessions that included “deep dives” into each of the guest speaker’s core programs, issues, ideas and their potential replication in Michigan, including Boys of Color, Tennessee SCORE, Campaign for Grade Level Reading, and local perspective- sustaining positive change.
Foundation Liaison Karen Aldridge-Eason summed up the event saying the national experts made it clear “we all need to collaborate and work around early childhood and reading by third grade.”
Noting a key emphasis of the day’s presentations was on helping boys of color, Aldridge-Eason added, “While some of the data we heard is not good in our state, there is hope and opportunities as a group to improve reading scores to close their achievement gap.”
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