By EDITH ZHOU
Capital News Service
LANSING – Michigan has 1.2 million families, with 2.3 million children, 42 percent of them live in low-income families, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.
And an achievement gap between them and wealthier children is widening, according to new research.
That achievement gap is measured primarily by scores on standardized tests, said Pamela Davis-Kean, director of the Center for the Analysis of Pathways from Childhood to Adulthood at the University of Michigan.
Davis-Kean, who studies influences of family environments on children’s development, said, “Parents’ income does have indirect influences on children’s school achievement since they don’t have extra money to pay for private day care or tutors.”
Davis-Kean’s research found that home environments are one cause of achievement gaps.
“What’s more important are parents’ education levels. The higher parents get educated, the more possibly they can talk to their children, read to them and teach them before they enter school,” she said. “So children from different family environments don’t start at the same level.”
The National Center for Children in Poverty’s figures show that 88 percent of children whose parents do not have a high school degree live in low-income families.
Davis-Kean’s research indicates that school districts’ different education quality also can widen the achievement gap.
“The price of housing in a good school district is much higher than in others. Families with better income move to those better places which the lower-income families cannot afford,” Davis-Kean said.
According to the Michigan League For Human Services, while more than 60 percent of children in Clare and Crawford counties are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, only 25 percent in Clinton County qualify.
David Zeman, the managing director of content and communication for the Education Trust–Midwest in Royal Oak, said that a new teaching assessment and evaluation system developed by the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness and U-M researchers would help narrow the gap.
The trust a state-wide education policy and advocacy organization.
“There are more sit-down conversations, class observations and collaborations between younger teachers and more experienced teachers,” Zeman said.
Zeman said the new system would help young teachers collaborate with experienced teachers and make them more professional.
Liz Margolis, the director of communication at Ann Arbor Public Schools said her district is implementing many programs to narrow the gap.
The district is on the list of “focus schools” listed from the Department of Education.
According to the department, focus schools are in the 10 percent on the Top-to-Bottom list with the largest achievement gaps between their top 30 percent and bottom 30 percent of students.
“We have been working for years on this,” she said. “What we are doing is to make sure we have a variety of study plans for every individual student. For example, we have math support, and a reading program.”
Margolis said some other districts in Washtenaw County are learning from the Ann Arbor Public School.
“Because we are working together on both higher achievement students and lower ones, we have narrowed the gap, but we couldn’t totally eliminate it,” Margolis said.
Both Zeman and Davis-Kean said that preschool education is also important to narrow the gap especially for children from 3 to 5.
Davis-Kean said that it’s important to focus on younger children, “The older children are, the less influence they get from their parents.”
Zeman said, “These children are already there. We cannot change their families, but we can pay more attention to pre-K education. Some of our districts are doing a very good job on this.”
By EDITH ZHOU