Legislative and Policy News
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Hello... Is Anybody Listening?
Grace Velchansky, Ph.D.
MRA Legislative Committee Chair
While there is never a short supply of education legislation being proposed in Lansing, it has been a quieter year on the literacy front. The third grade reading requirements are in full swing with no proposed alterations to the language. The biggest topic of conversation outside of the Michigan House and Senate, surrounds Michigan’s continued lackluster performance on the M-STEP and NAEP assessments. Even with all the headlines, it doesn’t appear that legislators are willing to address what needs to be done given it’s an election year.
So, is anybody listening? On March 22nd, I had the opportunity to attend the Education Summit in Detroit hosted by Bridge. There were a number of panel sessions that included participants from business, local non-profits, and education including guests from two of the nation’s top performing states: Massachusetts and Tennessee. What came through was clear; we need to be intentional and make a deep investment in education if Michigan will ever be a top 10 state. Other states have laid the groundwork for improving achievement and we have a lot to learn from them. Based on Bridge’s analysis of a dozen studies on how to improve Michigan’s schools (see the full article here), these are the top four things we learned:
With this information in hand, it is now up to all of us to get to our legislators and start having serious conversations about education. Our elected officials use the summer to make contact with constituents and the best conversations are those that occur face-to-face. Don’t take pat answers to your questions. Ask the follow-up questions: What does that mean? How does that look? When can we expect action? How will you reach out to others across the aisle to get this work done? In other words, don’t let them off the hook until you receive an answer that has some meat to it. Be polite in tone, firm in your conviction, know the facts, and always express your appreciation for having the opportunity to engage in critical dialogue.
If you would like more information on the state of education in Michigan, I highly recommend subscribing to Bridge as well as reading the reports from the Education Trust-Midwest. Both are non-partisan organizations dedicated to providing relevant facts regarding critical issues we’re facing in Michigan.
Michigan Reading Association
668 Three Mile Road NW Suite A
Grand Rapids, MI 49544
June 20, 2018
Representative Tim Kelly
N-1198 House Office Building
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909
Dear Representative Kelly,
The Michigan Reading Association (MRA) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower all Michigan students and educators through literacy. MRA was incorporated in 1956 making it one of the oldest literacy organizations in the country. Since its inception, MRA has been a leader in providing educators, parents, future teachers, and leaders with knowledge related to literacy practices that significantly impact student achievement.
MRA supports the Michigan House Bills 5909, 5910, and 5911. Each of these bills moves toward restoring what the majority of schools have lost; a school library that is staffed by a certified media specialist and a designated individual to supervise students when a certified media specialist is not present.
All Michigan’s students deserve equal access to effective school library programs staffed by certified school library media specialists*. There are studies in more than 20 states, including Michigan, that show students with access to such programs have higher student achievement including higher reading scores. In particular, students who are economically disadvantaged, black, Hispanic, or have disabilities benefit proportionally more than general education students from the presence of a full-time certified school library media specialist. For details on these studies, please see the document found at: .
Unfortunately, currently only 8% of Michigan schools employ a full-time certified school library media specialist and only an additional 10% employ a part-time certified school library media specialist. Michigan is ranked 47th in the nation in the ratio of students to school library media specialists. Not coincidentally, Michigan is also ranked very low nationally on reading scores. On the 2017 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), Michigan fourth-graders ranked 35th; far below its ranking of 28th in 2003. Between 2003-2015, Michigan was 1 of only 5 states to show a negative improvement on NAEP 4th-grade reading. Not coincidentally, Michigan lost more than 60% of its school library media specialists during this time.
In addition, only 44.1% of Michigan’s third-graders were proficient on the state’s 2016-2017 English Language Arts (Reading) M-STEP test. Based on Michigan’s current reading proficiency rate, more than half of our students are now at risk of retention under the new Third Grade Reading law. Ensuring that all students avoid retention by attaining grade level proficiency in reading will require supportive services for parents and teachers that can be provided by well-equipped and properly staffed school libraries. School library media specialists are a necessary component of the new reading program mandated for all schools.
A secondary role of the school library media specialist is to support technology at their schools. They provide support for teachers and students to integrate technology in meaningful ways into the approved district curriculum. As we prepare students for the 21st century, the meaningful integration of technology is an important consideration and one that can be fulfilled by the school library media specialist.
Finally, in today’s age of widespread use of social media and “Fake News”; certified school library media specialists teach students critical digital citizenship and information literacy skills that will prepare our students for college and career as well as becoming informed citizens within our democracy.
School libraries staffed by certified school library media specialist positively affect student achievement and provide necessary resources to their school community. Thus, MRA respectfully requests that as the chair of the Education Reform Committee, you support Michigan House Bills 5909, 5910, and 5911 and guarantee full funding within the school aid budget.
The Michigan Reading Association is a willing partner to help improve literacy across the state. We are an invaluable resource for information including evidence-based practices and literacy research. Please do not hesitate to contact us as you move forward in shaping the future of education in Michigan.
Elizabeth Gates, President Grace B. Velchansky, PhD, Legislative Chair
Michigan Reading Association Michigan Reading Association
In 2016, the Michigan Reading Association (MRA) created the Advocacy Award to recognize a current sitting legislator (state or federal), or someone who advocates for Michigan children or adults to legislators, that has demonstrated leadership in supporting positive literacy legislation for Michigan.
MRA is pleased to announce Daniel Schultz, the Senior Policy and Program Advisor for the Office of K-12 Outreach in the College of Education at Michigan State University, as this year’s recipient of the Advocacy Award. He leads the Michigan Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP), preparing educators to advocate for sound educational policy. This program is designed to provide a forum for exploring public policy issues, link participants to key figures who shape and influence the process, and develop new leadership skills for education and community leaders. As a result of their participation in this program, many graduates are now playing integral roles in the changing landscape of Michigan literacy. With his guidance and leadership, Dan has indirectly impacted the education field by helping to inform our leaders and opening important lines of communication for the policy work related to Michigan schools.
We applaud Dan for his dedication in working with educators so they become active voices in education policy and wish him continued success with the Michigan Education Policy Fellowship Program.
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Detroit Public Schools Community District
Read the 1984 Michigan Reading Association Position Paper "Reading Redefined"
As a worldwide advocate for excellence in literacy instruction, the International Literacy Association actively participates in advancing thought leadership for the literacy profession and shaping sound public policy on education.