September 12, 2016

DETROIT—With public schools in decline statewide and Michigan tumbling from national leader in public education to faltering also-ran, the ACLU of Michigan today kicked off a major reform campaign aimed at ensuring the state honors its obligation to provide quality education to all its schoolchildren.

Dubbed “MPowerED,” the campaign—which will include a series of reports, policy papers, videos and other content related to public schools—is designed to spur dialogue and change by bringing a broad range of educational expertise, outlooks and strategies to bear on the most-pressing problems confronting Michigan classrooms. The campaign kickoff also includes the release of an expert report published by the ACLU of Michigan that calls for a much-needed boost in literacy education.

Read More About the ACLU Campaign to Empower Education in Michigan

“We launched this campaign because we believe that education is a fundamental right for all children, and yet our policies keep failing the most vulnerable children,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “We fail to invest in the facilities that children learn in; we fail to invest in the services that children with special needs are entitled to by law; we fail to invest adequate resources in programs such as high-quality literacy interventions. ‘MPowerED’ is an urgent call to reshape the landscape to ensure that our most-vulnerable children are no longer ignored and disenfranchised. We are demanding that our state do better because our children deserve better.”

As part of the start to the campaign, the ACLU has issued "Raising Readers: Improving Literacy Education for Michigan’s Most Vulnerable Students," a new, downloadable report that offers a sweeping, often-grim assessment of the state’s inadequate efforts to shore up reading skills among at-risk students and schoolchildren in low-performing districts. Accompanying the report are a five-part video series examining educational inequality in Michigan and several downloadable policy briefs culled from the report.

The report acknowledges the state’s effort to upgrade some of its programs--but also takes the state of Michigan to task for lack of a comprehensive literacy-education strategy. With no such strategy in place, the report notes, many public-school students have seen their reading skills severely stunted: “Although Michigan’s Constitution recognizes the obligation of the state to provide free public education, and the Michigan legislature enacted a law to ensure struggling young readers receive literacy intervention needed to put them on the path of reading at grade level, thousands of Michigan children are denied the resources that we know can put them on the path to achievement and prosperity.”

For More About ACLU Education Reform Work, Download Our Fall 2016 Mailer

Turning on both hard statistics as well as anecdotes, the report draws on expert analysis, case studies and vignettes to highlight particularly egregious instances of failed literacy efforts—most notably in the Detroit enclave of Highland Park, where fewer than 10 percent of students in 3rd through 8th grades were graded as “proficient” or above on the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP).

Four years ago, the ACLU of Michigan filed a landmark “right to read” lawsuit against the state and the Highland Park School District for failing to make sure that public-school students in the district were reading at grade level.

Noting that the ACLU suit was eventually dismissed, the report laments that the students named in the suit “and many of their classmates continue to lose vital access and opportunity by being denied the literacy instruction and intervention entitled to them by law.”

The report points out that Highland Park is "far from unique," just one glaring example of how far Michigan has fallen in terms of reading education.

"While Michigan once rested comfortably on its respectable education outcomes, today the picture is quite different," the report reads. "Our schools consistently fall in the bottom ranks of national testing metric and college assessement."

Moss said the MPowerED reform effort will address a range of critical issues and advocate for the state's schoolchildren, especially neglected and at-risk students, in some distinctive ways: "We are assembling a diverse array of experts to assess the state’s overall performance and call for a more comprehensive approach to literacy education. We are challenging conventional ideas about school funding, student assessment, school discipline and special education. And we are reiterating the state’s legal obligation to an adequate education for all public-school students."