Report finds ‘significant lack of equity’ in K-12 education, Michigan Civil Rights Commission says

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission released a 62-page report Wednesday, Sept. 30, describing inequities in Michigan’s K-12 education system. The report also detailed recommendations for policy makers and educators to implement to make achieving educational equity a priority in all Michigan schools.

The adoption of the report passed unanimously at a Wednesday Michigan Civil Rights Commission meeting.

Stacie Clayton, Chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, said the report revealed a “significant lack of equity” in Michigan’s K-12 education system.

“This Commission believes that an adequate education is the key to unlocking a lifetime of opportunities and also is a basic civil right,” Clayton said. “We learned during our education hearings that not all children receive the kind of education they deserve as their birthright. We urge policy makers, educators and other stakeholders across the state to view this report as a roadmap they can follow to help schools achieve educational equity and give all Michigan children – regardless of household income, race, residency or ability — the education they need to lead productive and fulfilling lives.”

The report is the culmination of a series of public hearings and a year-long examination of disparities in K-12 education in Michigan. From May 2018 through the end of March 2019, the Commission held five public hearings around the state and heard from dozens of subject matter experts, school administrators, teachers, parents and students on the ways Michigan is falling short in its obligation to effectively educate all its children.

The Commission became increasingly concerned about educational disparities in 2016 during their examination of the racial implications in the causes of, and response to, the Flint water crisis, according to a Wednesday news release. The decision in 2018 to launch an exploration of inequity into Michigan’s education system came after learning about the water crisis through examination hearings, it states.

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The report found the effectiveness of public school systems is directly determined by the racial and economic makeup of the community. The commission found that the Michigan education system leads to disparities between high-performing districts and those considered “failing,” according to the release.

The full report is available on the Michigan Department of Civil Rights website.

State Superintendent Michael Rice tuned into the meeting as well.

“Education is most assuredly a civil right,” he said.

The report will go to Gov Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist, the Michigan Department of Education, all Michigan Board of Education members, all superintendents across Michigan, all school board members, all of the Michigan House and Senate, Michigan U.S. House and Senate Representatives, all Michigan Department of Civil Rights Staff, community engagement workers, all intermediate school districts and all Michigan Civil Rights Commission education for equity members.

The report found the following obstacles contribute to inequity:

  • Lack of access to early childhood education.
  • Varying degrees of parental involvement.
  • Funding based on declining enrollment that leaves schools grossly underfunded.
  • Food insecurity.
  • Lack of specialized instruction, after school and summer school programs.
  • Lack of qualified, experienced minority teachers.

To achieve equity, the report says public school systems must recognize differences and distribute resources based on an understanding of how differences impact equitable access, according to the news release. They must also implement strategies to break down biases and barriers to equity, including:

  • Educating on implicit biases.
  • Developing racially conscious strategies for school integration.
  • Changing per-student funding and Proposal A.
  • Eliminating competition between schools.
  • Increasing teacher pay.
  • Eliminating legacy debt.
  • Increasing special education opportunities and funding.

The report concludes with a list of recommendations for action, starting with the expansion of the Council for Government and Education on Equity and Inclusion, an MDCR-led initiative, to include representatives of the Michigan Department of Education and establish the Council as the entity responsible for implementing and overseeing the following additional recommendations:

  • Develop a Statewide Educational Equity Plan to enhance policies and accountability.
  • Ensure that all data collected by government entities be disaggregated by race and ethnicity.
  • Encourage schools to create local equity plans and contribute information and resources to support equitable practices.
  • Provide year-round cultural competency/race and equity education and coaching.
  • Increase internet access for students and families.
  • Support a quality teacher training program, encouraging diversity in teaching roles and student enrollment.
  • Encourage the placement of affordable public housing only in school districts that are educationally successful and can support new students who have additional needs.
  • Recognize the overlapping roles that housing discrimination, employment discrimination, environmental racism and other racial disparities play in perpetuating educational inequity.
  • Create a multicultural, student-led component of the Council for Government and Education on Equity and Inclusion to engage students and parents/guardians on the local level.

“This report provides a framework for the Department of Civil Rights to engage with our educational partners within state government and beyond and to begin the work of building the kind of education system in Michigan that all children deserve,” said James E. White, Executive Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the operational arm of the commission.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was created by the Michigan Constitution to safeguard constitutional and legal guarantees against discrimination. The Commission is charged with investigating alleged discrimination against any person because of religion, race, color or national origin, sex, age, marital status, height, weight, arrest record, and physical and mental disability.

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