Michigan policies must create opportunity and remove barriers for kids of color, immigrants

For Immediate Release
October 24, 2017

Contact:
Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517.487.5436

2017 Race for Results report shows Michigan has lowest child well-being score for African-American children in the country

LANSING—A new national report on child well-being released today shows that African-American children in Michigan fare worse in key indicators than in any other state in the country. The report also shows that Latino children in Michigan fall behind children of other ethnic groups on key milestones. The report, 2017 Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows that all Michigan kids are struggling academically, but children of color are doing worse in nearly all indicators across education, health, family and community, and economic security.

The report also indicates that Michigan children in immigrant families are doing relatively well, but uncertainty and outright hostility in state and federal policies continue to pose threats to their well-being and the stability of their families. Additionally, not every group of immigrants has the same experiences, with many struggling with housing, financial security, education and language barriers.

“Seeing how our kids in Michigan fare compared to national numbers is startling. We are failing all of our children, especially our kids of color, and we need policies to remove barriers that have created systemic inequities.

“Some policies like stringent immigration changes are specifically targeting certain kids, some policies are perpetuating historic racial disparities generation after generation, and some policies are just having inadvertent or unintended consequences. If we want Michigan to be a diverse and vibrant state, we have to start doing more to better take care of all of our kids,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count in Michigan Project Director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

This is the second Race for Results report by the Casey Foundation; the Foundation released the first report in 2014. The report measures children’s progress on the national and state levels on key education, health and economic milestones by racial and ethnic groups. The report’s index uses a composite score of these milestones on a scale of one (lowest) to 1,000 (highest) to make comparisons.

The 2017 Race for Results shows that Michigan’s overall index score for White children, 667, is lower than the national average of 713, and the state score of 260 for African-American children is the lowest score in the country—far below the national average of 369 for this group. However, Michigan’s scores for other ethnic groups were higher than the national average. The well-being of American Indian/Alaska Native children in Michigan was scored at 511 compared to 413 nationally, and Asian and Pacific Islander kids in the state scored 804 overall compared to 783 nationally. The report scored the welfare of Michigan’s Latino children at 446, while nationally this group’s score was 429. The index scores for Latino children across the country are alarming, with the vast majority, including Michigan’s, below 500.

“Michigan is not the best state for meeting the needs of African-American kids,” said Alice Thompson, CEO of Black Family Development, Inc. “At a time when racial tensions are running high in our nation, our government and our society are letting these kids down and leaving them behind. ‘Separate but equal’ was a foolish and flawed policy, but so is ‘Together but inequitable.’ We need to help all kids move up together, and we’re going to need an overhaul of our policy approach to do that.”

Regionally, Michigan had the second lowest score for White kids in the Midwest. The lowest score in the Midwest for White children was Indiana with a score of 664, while Minnesota had the highest at 789—the fifth highest score in the country.

The academic indicators continue to be some of the lowest and most distressing for Michigan. The percentage of fourth-graders proficient in reading is lower in all racial and ethnic groups in Michigan than the national average for each group. The starkest difference is among African-American fourth-graders in Michigan, where nine percent are proficient in reading compared to the national average of 18 percent. This is the lowest rate of any state. White and Latino kids in Michigan fall into the bottom five states nationally for the rate of fourth-grade reading proficiency. Similar struggles are seen for all racial and ethnic groups in eighth-grade math, and the math proficiency rate for African-American eighth-graders in Michigan is tied with Alabama for the worst in the country.

“As we work to help Latino children in Michigan thrive, we need to take a broader, two-generation approach to better support their parents,” said Angela G. Reyes, Executive Director and Founder of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation. “Over a quarter of our Latino kids live with a householder without at least a high school diploma, and their parents’ struggles to finish school affect their own reading proficiency and ability to learn.”

Around 284,000 immigrant kids currently live in Michigan. Some children face the same struggles, whether they were born in the United States or abroad. More than 20 percent of children in immigrant families live with a householder without at least a high school diploma compared to only eight percent of children in U.S.-born families. More than 25 percent of Latino children in Michigan live with a householder without at least a high school diploma. Conversely, all the other U.S.-born racial and ethnic groups have rates between nine and 15 percent.

“Not all immigrants are the same, and our experiences are as varied as the countries and cultures we come from,” said Aamina Ahmed, Executive Director of Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote – Michigan. “Gov. Rick Snyder is trying to bring more immigrants to Michigan, President Donald Trump is trying to keep more immigrants out of the country, and policy approaches to immigration sway with the political winds. Immigrants come here in search of a brighter future, but right now, that search is clouded with fear and uncertainty, leaving them very vulnerable.”

Other indicators showed some significant differences in family structure. Eighty-seven percent of children in Michigan’s immigrant families live in two-parent households, a significantly higher rate than the 66 percent of children in U.S.-born families. Michigan immigrant kids are in the top five nationally in this category. Only 69 percent of all children in Michigan live in two-parent families (just above the national average of 68 percent), ranging from a low for African-American children of 33 percent to a high of 89 percent for Asian and Pacific Islander kids.

While this data is eye-opening, it also raises questions about how policies are affecting children of color and in immigrant families. Michigan policymakers in Lansing and Washington should embrace the following policy recommendations to address the low scores for child well-being and drastic racial disparities for kids of color identified in this report:

  • Use a racial and ethnic equity lens in evaluating and developing public policies, like the Raise the Age effort to keep kids out of adult prisons;
  • Keep families together and in their communities;
  • Increase economic opportunity for all parents, especially immigrants and people of color; and
  • Provide a quality education to help all children meet key developmental measures.

The Michigan League for Public Policy continues to make racial equity a focal point of all of our policy work, recently analyzing the state budget’s impact on Michigan kids and residents of color. The League also strives to lift up the contributions of immigrants and their families to our state at a time when they are coming under severe attack from policies out of Lansing and Washington. A new report, Immigrant Families in Michigan: A State Profile, analyzes Michigan’s immigrant population and the positive impacts they have on our economy and labor force. The League has also compiled immigration profiles for all 83 Michigan counties in conjunction with the Race for Results release.

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Release Information

The 2017 Race for Results report is available at www.aecf.org/raceforresults. Additional information is available at www.aecf.org. The website also contains the most recent national, state and local data on numerous indicators of child well-being. Journalists interested in creating maps, graphs and rankings in stories about Race for Results can use the Data Center at datacenter.kidscount.org.

About the Kids Count in Michigan Project

The Kids Count in Michigan project is part of a broad national effort to improve conditions for children and their families. Funding for the project is provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, The Skillman Foundation, Steelcase Foundation, Frey Foundation, Michigan Education Association, American Federation of Teachers Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, DTE Energy Foundation, Ford Motor Company Fund, Battle Creek Community Foundation and the Fetzer Institute.

About the Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org. KIDS COUNT is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Help Wanted: Michigan lacks teacher diversity

As part of our U.S. history unit on the Progressive Era, my co-teacher and I have included a project called “Be the Change.” Through this, we ask students to tackle some of the major issues facing young people in our nation, including environmental problems, economic disadvantages and racial inequities.

The students read articles, watch videos and listen to podcasts to educate themselves about the problem. They then develop a plan to “be the change,” modeling their actions after activists from the progressive era.

As I curated sources for the project a couple years ago, this article struck me. It highlights the utter lack of diversity when it comes to teachers in the U.S. And sharing it with my students, many of whom are from the very races and ethnicities that are so underrepresented in teaching, prompted some powerful discussions. So when I read the League’s recent report on the state budget as a tool for racial equity, I was not surprised to see the statistics on teacher diversity, but I was again troubled.

quote 1In Michigan, students of color made up 33% of the population of public schools in 2015-2016. But 91% of teachers are White. Study after study after study has shown that having at least one teacher of the same race increases the likelihood of school success for children of color. But that’s not happening in Michigan.

I care deeply about this issue and want to learn more about its roots. But I am a white female high school teacher. Part of being an effective teacher or an effective advocate is knowing what you don’t know, and being open to learn from others’ experience and expertise, so I sought answers from people working more closely on diversity in teaching.

I first went to Dr. Terry K. Flennaugh at Michigan State University. Flennaugh is an Assistant Professor of race, culture and equity in education and the coordinator of urban education initiatives at the university.

“We know that greater diversity is better for all students, not just students of color. The folks who help usher in learning shouldn’t look like just one person,” Flennaugh said.

quote 3Why do teachers look the way they do? As with most issues involving race, place and ethnicity, it’s complicated, says Flennaugh.

He made clear that the problem is caused by things beyond the scope of academics—that people from underrepresented backgrounds face many barriers. But he did pin down some issues that crop up at the university level.

“Teaching is a highly regulated profession—it has to be. But we’re held to all these standards, and some of the accreditation requirements have disproportionately negatively impacted communities of color,” Flennaugh said.

The biggest requirement that falls into this category is the standardized test. Right now, the state of Michigan uses the SAT as its “test of basic skills.” In order to begin student teaching, it’s required that a student meet or exceed the career and college readiness benchmark on that exam.

Leah Breen, Director of Educator Services with the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), agrees that the test is not an ideal measurement.

“We know that standardized tests are going to show racial bias—any standardized test shows a disparity between White students and students of color. We also don’t have any research that definitively shows that success on these tests indicates that someone is going to be a successful teacher,” Breen said.

Breen’s department, which oversees teacher preparation, is well aware of the lack of teachers of color entering the teaching profession.

children-of-color-white-teacher350x232According to Breen, MDE consistently examines its internal policies and procedures to see what might be creating barriers to anyone who might want to teach but feels disenfranchised.

“Michigan’s stats mirror the nation’s stats when it comes to diversity in the workplace, and that’s an issue,” Breen said. “We’re working every day to make this profession more desirable for young people.”

One approach they’re taking involves the standardized test.

“One benefit of the SAT is that all students in Michigan are able to take it free of charge during their junior year of high school. So that means one less hurdle for students as they try to begin their student teaching program.”

Another way the department is using the standardized test to its advantage is through a campaign to reach out to high school students.

“We’re implementing a plan to send letters home to any student who earns the ‘career and college’ readiness cut score on the test their junior year. The letter will congratulate them and let them know they’ve already met a benchmark…that their path to becoming a teacher has already begun. We do feel like this is a way to reach out to a wider body of candidates.”

Of course, only 10% of African-American students and 19% of Latino students in Michigan met or exceeded the SAT benchmark for college readiness in 2015-16. So we can’t depend on these measures to increase diversity among teachers.

“We can’t just blame a screening test, though,” said Flennaugh. “Students who have positive experiences with a profession tend to go into those fields. Black students don’t always have those positive experiences with teachers.”

Diverse Classroom600x337

There’s also the practical side of the issue, says Flennaugh. Teaching is not a moneymaker, so students who come from a disadvantaged background and want to rise up don’t see a teacher prep program, with its four years of classes and fifth year unpaid internship, as a lucrative option. Plus, the starting salary is less than desirable for someone looking to find a way up the economic ladder.

“We also have asked universities to increase clinical experiences in urban areas—giving future teachers the opportunity to work with more racially diverse students and perhaps provide better access for student teachers of color,” Breen said of the state’s motion toward greater diversity.

But, Breen adds, teacher diversity can’t come from one department. It’s got to come from the districts. And the universities. And the Legislature. And the communities.

Flennaugh agrees.

“This is a systemic problem. We’re not going to solve it by tweaking something only at the university level,” he said.

And as students in districts around the state become more diverse, the problem will only become more conspicuous.

Both Breen and Flennaugh realize there’s no quick fix toward increasing teacher diversity; they also agree that more must be done to improve lives of people of color beyond the scope of academics.

quote 2Viewing the state budget through a racial equity lens would go a long way in identifying gaps early on, giving our students a much better chance of seeing a teacher who looks like them. It’s something I’m working on in my job at the League that could inform my job as a teacher, even as a white woman.

A dictum of many teachers is “They don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” and it has always been true in my case. When it comes to diversity, it seems applicable, as well.

One of Flennaugh’s biggest points was this: “I worry about the idea that representation alone will solve the problem. The teacher, regardless of whether he looks like me, needs to make an attempt to understand me,” Flennaugh said.

As a secondary teacher, I am committed to understanding my students better each day. But I think our broader commitment should be to do what we can to make sure our students look to the front of the class and see teachers who better reflect our society.

The League will continue to work on identifying racial disparities in Michigan, including the lack of diversity in teaching, and how we can change public policy to address them. And I personally will continue to do my part to support my students, my school and my profession, including exploring some of the solutions that experts have developed to recruit and retain teachers of color.

— Laura Millard Ross, Communications Associate

From Charlottesville to Lansing, we must tackle racial equity

Like so many across the country, I struggled with the racism laid bare in Charlottesville. While I was not surprised by its existence, I couldn’t help but recoil from the highly personal nature of the hate language that was heard around the world, and the sense of entitlement with which it was expressed.

ClassroomIt is yet another reminder of how far we have to go in this country and it can feel overwhelming. At times like these, I believe that we all need to find actions that we can take—however small they may appear—to address the deep divides in our country, state and neighborhoods.

At the League, we are scrutinizing state budget and policy decisions to see if they are helping to create more equity for children and families of color or are actually contributing to the problem, even if unintentionally.

What is clear is that state budgets and policies that are “colorblind” can perpetuate pervasive and unacceptable outcomes for the state’s children of color.

One example is the passage in Michigan of a law that allows—under some circumstances—for third-graders to be held back if they are not reading proficiently. The law was well-intentioned. Lawmakers understood the importance of early reading to future school success and adopted a law to focus public schools and resources on the problem of low reading proficiency.

BB-Chart 13However, without sufficient funds to invest in the early years—from birth through third grade—the retention law could actually contribute to growing racial and ethnic disparities. In the 2015-2016 school year, 56% of African-American and 38% of Latino third-graders were not reading proficiently and could have been subject to grade retention if the policy had been implemented that year, compared to 21% of their White peers.

To avoid an inequitable outcome from the third-grade reading bill, state leaders will need to simultaneously provide schools the resources they need to improve reading skills, and address realities outside the classroom that are inexorably tied to student achievement and success in reading, including the well-documented impact of poverty.

So far, too little has been invested to overcome the historical and cumulative impact of discrimination and poverty on children’s ability to learn and achieve. The data show that women of color are more likely to lack access to timely prenatal care, and their children are consequently born too early and too small—increasing their risk of learning problems. Many women of color struggle to find healthy food for their children in the many “healthy food deserts” in both urban and remote rural communities. And, there are big holes in the state’s early learning system—including a shortage of high-quality child care that is affordable.

The reality is that outcomes for children are tied to race, income and zip code, and this must be changed for Michigan to move forward. The state budget is a potent tool for addressing the structural barriers to equity for all children in the state, but its potential won’t be realized until Michigan residents demand it.

— Pat Sorenson

Helping all kids get the right start

As someone working in this field, I am far too familiar with the importance of maternal health to child development. During my pregnancy, I was constantly stressing myself out trying to make sure that I was eating all of the right things, exercising enough, gaining enough weight—but not too much. I tried my best—with all of my resources and supports—to increase the likelihood of a healthy birth. It’s hard to imagine smoking during my pregnancy—even back in 2008 when my daughter was born. Yet, in Michigan nearly one in five births in 2014 was to a mother who smoked during her pregnancy. That’s actually an increase from 2008.

Why, in 2014, were so many expectant moms smoking and why has it increased? The Right Start: 2016 Annual Report on Maternal and Child Health – Mothers Smoking During Pregnancy Increased Since 2008, Disparities Exist by Race & Place reveals that state efforts targeted to help pregnant women quit smoking are very minimal. Tobacco Settlement dollars continue to be redirected to support unrelated activities and the tobacco industry spends nearly $190 on marketing for every $1 dollar spent by the state on smoking prevention. The American Lung Association grades Michigan an “F” in funding for smoking prevention and cessation and for access to these programs. (more…)

It’s time to end racial inequity in education

My father, a man of Norwegian descent who grew up on a small farm in southern Minnesota, was one of many beneficiaries of the GI bill. As part of the first generation in his family to attend college, with public financial support he excelled and launched a career as a professor of economics. The opportunity given to my father changed the trajectory of my parents’ lives and mine.

While ostensibly race-neutral, the G.I. Bill did not have the same effect on educational attainment for Black and White veterans after the war, in part because of admission policies that limited access to colleges and universities. As a result, a public policy that appeared to increase equality and opportunity actually did little to overcome consistent institutional barriers and inequities in access to education and housing for veterans of color. (more…)

League forum brings hundreds of residents together to discuss solutions to poverty and racial inequity in Michigan

For Immediate Release: October 10, 2016

Contact: Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517.487.5436

League issues new report on race and education in conjunction with event

LANSING—The Michigan League for Public Policy held its annual policy forum today, Race, Poverty and Policy: Creating an Equitable Michigan, bringing together more than four hundred residents and state and national experts from advocacy, business, government and media.

The current national climate on race, the Flint water crisis, the ongoing struggles of Detroit Public Schools and other recent policies that have made it painfully clear that policymakers, advocates and residents needed to have an honest discussion about race equity and statewide policy change. The forum included a keynote address by Rinku Sen, president and executive director of Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation, followed by five breakout sessions to discuss challenges and possible solutions to racial inequity and poverty in Michigan. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician whose discovery of elevated lead levels in Flint’s children made policymakers address the Flint water crisis, was honored with the League’s Champion for Kids Award at the forum today. (more…)

Census data shows Flint and Detroit poverty worst in nation, people of color still struggling statewide

Contact: Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517.487.5436

Michigan’s economic “recovery” still dependent on zip code, skin color

LANSING—Data released by the United States Census Bureau today shows that Flint and Detroit have the highest poverty rates of comparable cities in the United States and that Michiganians of color are struggling, issues the Michigan League for Public Policy has been working hard to address. (more…)

More needs to be done to address economic disparities for kids and families

As we approach the beginning of the state’s 2016 budget year, the League’s latest report weighs in on whether or not lawmakers have made the investments needed to give all Michigan residents a chance to succeed. It concludes that more needs to be done to ensure that children get a healthy start in life and a high-quality education, and their parents have the skills and resources required to succeed in the workplace.

The report outlines both wins and losses for Michigan children and their families in the 2016 budget, but the greatest concern raised is the ongoing failure to invest in programs that can lift children out of poverty and create the economic security needed to overcome deep and discouraging disparities based on income, race and place. (more…)