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Learning Matters

The Education Trust CEO Kati Haycock discusses challenges facing nation’s schools

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As CEO of The Education Trust, a national nonprofit that encourages high academic achievement for all students pre-K through college, Kati Haycock is no stranger to the gaps in opportunity that students of color and students in low-income households face each year.

With urban education as a pillar at the 2016 Mackinac Policy Conference, the Detroiter connected with Haycock about the challenges facing schools across the country, and the policies and actions that can help close the achievement gap.

1.) How can we fund education in a way that gets the academic results we’re looking for and avoids fiscal disaster?

While Michigan spends roughly the national average per pupil in terms of elementary and secondary education, its funding is among the most inequitable in the country. Districts that serve high concentrations of students from low-income families get considerably fewer dollars than those that serve middle- and high-income kids. Clearly, this is not a strategy that is giving Michigan children the education they need and deserve.

2.) What’s the biggest challenge facing schools across the country?

The biggest challenge facing schools across the country is low expectations. We have too low expectations for what children should know and be able to do. Until we expect more of young people, we will continue to get less than we should. This is a particular challenge for schools serving large populations of low-income children and children of color, where oftentimes expectations are even lower than they are for other children. But it’s a challenge in all schools.

3.) What can we do to help close the achievement gap for students of color and students living in poverty?

The two most important things are: No. 1 higher expectations of students and No. 2 high-quality, effective teachers. But we also need to make sure that teachers have the resources and support that they need to provide struggling kids with help to reach high standards.

4.) What type of national or state policy might be beneficial to schools across the country?

First, we need to recognize that policies alone will not improve schools. We need great implementation in the classroom, too. But there are two things that Michigan ought to be thinking about — a more equitable funding system, where students with greater needs receive more dollars instead of the other way around, as it is now. And along with this funding has to come more accountability for school improvement because learning matters in the lives of students and should matter for schools, as well. Improvements need to be happening the fastest in the schools that serve the large numbers of low-income kids.

5.) What are some models Michigan leaders can look to when trying to replicate or create properly funded, quality schools?

Roughly half the states have funding formulas that direct more funding to their high poverty districts, so there are plenty of places to look. One is Massachusetts, which is also one of the highest performing states in the country.

6.) If you could make one change in education policy, what would it be?

Implement an equity-oriented, improvement-focused accountability system that sends clear signals to schools about the improvements they need to close longstanding gaps in opportunity and achievement. All students need and deserve a great education — and we should expect nothing less.

7.) What are some of the takeaways of education reform over the past few decades that we need to consider moving forward?

There are several key takeaways that merit mention. Most important of all: Low-income kids and kids of color absolutely can achieve at high levels. What’s measured matters. Quality teachers and school leaders are the most important ingredients for improvement. Standards and tests alone don’t change expectations. We need a lot more support for teachers in the implementation of standards.

8.) How can businesses engage in addressing the shortfalls of funding education?

By supporting efforts to address those shortfalls and by communicating to the public about why addressing these funding gaps is essential for the state’s future.