Grantee Profile: Education Trust-Midwest, Royal Oak
Project Description: With WKKF support, Education Trust-Midwest works to reduce educational achievement gaps for low-income Michigan students and enhance educational quality and achievements of all students. Grant: $1.5 million over three years
Timing: November 2011 – August 2014
Impact: Education and Learning
Education Trust-Midwest An advocate for Michigan’s children
A little more than two years ago, Amber Arellano and her colleagues at Education Trust-Midwest set up shop in southeast Michigan to take on the devastating educational achievement gap in Michigan – the state’s low-income eighth-graders ranked behind low-income students in 46 states on the national math exam, and higher-income eighth-graders trailed similar students in 37 states.
Today the nonpartisan policy, research and advocacy organization is becoming a statewide leader in the fight to improve urban education and ensure that low-income students and students of color receive the high-quality education they deserve.
“We saw a need in Michigan for a voice for students, particularly low-income students,” said Arellano, executive director of Education Trust-Midwest, an affiliate of the Washington, D.C.-based education reform group Education Trust. “Bringing Education Trust to Michigan would absolutely not have happened without the trust, vision and support of philanthropic leaders like the Kellogg Foundation.”
With funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation – as well as support from the Skillman Foundation – Education Trust-Midwest is working with educators, policymakers, parents and community organizations throughout the state of Michigan to put into place a common-sense agenda to revitalize Michigan's public education system. In its inaugural 2011 report, Becoming a Leader in Education: An Agenda for Michigan, Education Trust-Midwest laid out six critical steps to improving student outcomes:
- Provide honest information for parents and the public – assuring that parents and the public have clear and honest reports about how well schools and colleges are serving our students.
- Learn from success – bringing the lessons from efforts in other states back to Michigan and innovating strategies to suit Michigan’s unique needs.
- Focus on quality, not structure – moving past outdated ideological debates and focusing on what matters most: high-quality teaching and learning in all public schools.
- Improve and support teacher quality – establishing a coherent set of policies, systems and practices that focus squarely on teacher effectiveness — from preparation through recruitment, placement, compensation and evaluation.
- Focus on college access and success – setting aggressive goals for the state and higher education institutions in order to increase both college-going and college success.
- Support innovation and revamp state bureaucracy – empowering civic innovators to work with the public sector and solve longstanding public problems in new ways to bolster education innovation in Michigan.
Arellano and her policy team help to put these steps into action by providing lawmakers on both sides of the aisle with research and recommendations on best practices from other states. As a result of their advocacy, the Michigan Legislature approved groundbreaking teacher tenure and evaluation reforms in 2011 that had been strong barriers to ensuring all Michigan students are taught by effective teachers.
“There were powerful influential voices on both the right and the left, so we tried to find a research-based, moderate position that was not only politically feasible, but also just made good sense for teachers and students,” Arellano said. “It was an enormous amount of work, but we worked night and day to get that passed. We are proud the resulting legislation and are dedicated to seeing it implemented in a common sense sort of way.”
The team at Education Trust-Midwest also partners with more than two dozen community organizations around the state that are interested in improving their local schools, but need help when it comes to finding a solution. One example is the Harriet Tubman Center in Detroit, which utilized research from Education Trust-Midwest in its campaign to make sure both charter and public schools were putting teachers in classrooms who certified in the subjects they teach.
Whether it’s a grassroots organization, teacher or state lawmaker, Arellano said the key to EdTrust-Midwest’s advocacy work is finding a common vision around what is best for Michigan’s children.
“We try to be pragmatic and to listen,” Arellano said. “Michigan is a deeply politically polarized state, but we navigate it the best we can. We stay true to our mission and partners by trying to build relationships across the political spectrum to find common ground.”