10 Stories of Policy Wins and Change

A young girl holding a pencil smiles in her classroom

Building Coalitions, Convening Partners, and Building a Movement for Educational Equity

Knowing that our work is stronger and better when it is done in partnership, ETM has built impactful coalitions centered around the need for an educational system that meets the needs of historically underserved student groups, with a deep focus on Black and Latino/a students and students from low-income backgrounds — and more recently, English Learners and students with disabilities and those living in rural and geographically isolated communities.

Most recently, as the pandemic commenced, Ed Trust-Midwest began building a strong coalition of diverse leaders and organizations from many sectors: civil rights, business, grasstops, philanthropic and civic, all of whom began working to promote educational equity for all Michigan students. Our bipartisan table — the Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity (MPEO) Coalition— is comprised of more than 30 organizations — and growing. The MPEO has led pandemic educational recovery issues and has served as the state’s leading champion in the transformational legal reforms that were made to Michigan’s school funding system in 2023.

Serving as the tri-chairs of MPEO are: Alice Thompson, chair of the Detroit Branch NAACP education committee, CEO of BFDI Educational Services, Inc., and former CEO of Black Family Development; Mike Jandernoa, founder and Chairman of 42 North Partners and Chairman of the West Michigan Policy Forum Policy Committee who is a corporate and philanthropic leader; and Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest.

In 2023, Arellano and Thompson served on Gov. Whitmer’s PreK-12 Workgroup of the Growing Michigan Together Council. The workgroup was charged with making recommendations to the Council which will develop a statewide strategy to grow Michigan’s population and economy, including through education systems improvement. Ed Trust-Midwest through the past ten years has served as a convener to build knowledge among partners, allies, and advocates about equity-centered policy and best practices for students who are most underserved. ETM has successfully hosted summits drawing hundreds of people, webinars, press conferences, action days in Lansing, and much more.


Fair Funding: Shaping Policy and Scoring Historic Funding Wins for Students who are Most Underserved

Michigan has long been among the worst in the nation for school funding gaps between wealthy and low-income school districts. Ed Trust-Midwest’s seminal report, Michigan’s School Funding: Crisis and Opportunity, showed that, for far too long, the state’s K-12 funding system has been neither adequate nor equitable — with the harshest burden falling on students from low-income backgrounds, English Learners, students in isolated, rural schools, and students with disabilities.

Providing a fair funding system for all Michigan students has been a longstanding priority for The Education Trust-Midwest and its partners. Following a multi-year campaign — including convenings, multiple reports highlighting best practices from leading states, coalition and knowledge-building, advocacy, and more — Ed Trust-Midwest and the Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity (MPEO) coalition scored a historic systemic school funding win for students who are the most underserved.

A young black boy with braids smiles
In 2023, Michigan joined the nation’s first ten states with state school funding formulas that include an index —  the Opportunity Index — for concentrations of poverty, among states with similar funding systems. These changes also include historic progress for school funding for English Learners and students with disabilities.

Pandemic Advocacy and Students’ Educational Recovery

Together, Ed Trust-Midwest and its many partners in the Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity (MPEO) coalition advanced an equity-centered policy and investment agenda starting in the first weeks of the pandemic. The collective efforts scored major policy change and wins for students who are the most underserved. Those include increased food security amid the pandemic, quality instruction during school closures, transparency in continued learning plans and school finances, and equitable school funding.

Michigan students fell behind by an alarming rate during the pandemic. To address this unfinished learning, ETM strongly supported Governor Whitmer’s MI Kids Back on Track initiative which provides $150 million in grants to districts for high dosage tutoring. Research has shown that when done well, this is one of the most effective tools to accelerate students’ learning.

In addition to advocating to the legislature to include that funding in the most recent budget, we partnered with other advocates in drafting language to provide guardrails that ensure the money will be invested in effective, high-quality tutoring based on research. Specifically, the tutoring must be conducted by a trained tutor and be provided to groups no larger than four students at least three times a week. In addition, schools must use a reliable assessment tool to set goals and monitor progress and report that progress to the state.

Working with our MPEO colleagues, we successfully secured this language in the final budget that was passed in June 2023. ETM also led the way to protect that program this fall after an attempt was made to water down and weaken the language before the grants were even awarded.

An elementary school girl smiles while wearing her mask during the pandemic

Top Ten Education State Campaign: Changing Narratives, Building Urgency

In 2015, The Education Trust-Midwest launched the Michigan Achieves campaign to make Michigan a top ten education state by 2030. Before the campaign, many public education stakeholders had been unaware of how much Michigan’s educational performance had declined compared to the nation’s leading states in terms of performance and improvement since 2001, according to the national assessment. The new campaign not only changed common narratives about how the state’s education system was doing just fine, but also emphasized reasons for hope, pointing to the lessons to be learned of the country’s fastest-improving states and highest performers such as Massachusetts.

Before the campaign, Michigan education stakeholders also often had lacked a common “North Star” goal and common benchmarking by which to measure success and the state’s educational progress. In the years that have followed, organizations across the state — including the Michigan Department of Education, major business organizations, and many others — have set a goal of becoming a top ten state for public education.

The common goal now helps guide some of the most critical leaders in the space. The campaign also called for a “grand bargain” in Michigan: dramatically more investment in the education system in return for significantly more accountability and transparency, and systems change that will lead to major improvement in student outcomes. Over time, that concept has become an active goal among some important leaders in the state.

In many ways, the campaign continues as Ed Trust-Midwest reports annually on how Michigan is making progress toward that top ten goal based on both student outcome performance metrics and “opportunity to learn” equity-centered metrics that signal the health of the conditions that Michigan is creating that help support — or stagnate — teaching and learning in Michigan public schools.

Three women smiling at the camera

Third-Grade Reading Success for All Students

Reading is the foundation upon which all other learning takes place. Unfortunately, too many of Michigan’s students are struggling to read. Ed Trust-Midwest’s work on this issue goes back many years, as it was one of the first organizations in the state to call for research-based systemic changes to ensure schools and educators have the supports, training, and evidence-based practices they need to support young children’s reading mastery.

Ed Trust-Midwest also has long advocated for research-based policies to address Michigan’s reading crisis, including working to advance legislation to address one of the most common barriers to reading: dyslexia.

Over the previous two legislative sessions — and building upon years of research — we have worked with policymakers and early literacy advocates to create a better system to identify and support students with dyslexia. In 2023 and 2024, Senate Bills 567 and 568, advancing in the legislature, are a continuation of this ongoing hard work.

In addition to simply screening and identifying students with dyslexia, the legislation spells out specific supports that must be used that have been shown to be effective in teaching students with dyslexia. These supports are grounded in structured literacy and the science of reading.

One key piece of this legislation is the focus on educating and equipping both current and new teachers with knowledge about effective literacy instruction based on the science of reading. All teachers should be empowered with the knowledge of how the reading brain works, effective instructional strategies, and how to support students with dyslexia. This change in practice has the potential to create systemic change and help ensure that all students become proficient readers and writers.


Empowering Parents and Families Most Impacted by Policy Decisions

As Michigan began to implement a new third-grade reading and retention law after its passage by the state legislature in 2016, organizations across the state saw a need to provide greater information and support to parents and families who would soon be faced with the challenge of navigating a new, high-stakes education landscape. In close partnership with Detroit Parent Network, The Education Trust-Midwest launched a new effort, aimed at supporting and empowering parents and families in the city of Detroit.

Ed Trust-Midwest and Detroit Parent Network co-developed a new curriculum and toolkits, and trained parent organizers and coaches who then in turn, trained dozens of parents about the new law across the city of Detroit. Many parents wanted to better understand the law and how to better support their children’s reading improvement — and also how to engage their child’s teachers and principals as schools faced decisions about which students should be retained under the new law. The new initiative was designed to help parents ensure that the needs of their students were being met, and to provide productive ways that they could engage with schools and districts to support student learning and identify existing community resources to help students learn to read.

Ed Trust-Midwest’s and Detroit Parent Network’s staff and volunteers also launched a web portal developed by parents, for parents, making early literacy tools available to any parent with internet access. Feedback from parents remained consistently strong, and many families reported the work helped them help their children improve their early reading acquisition.

A teacher and a student work at a laptop together. The teacher is smiling at the student.

Advancing Equitable Outcomes and Improvement in High-Poverty Schools: The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Partnering with the Steelcase Foundation, the Bosch Community Foundation, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Grand Rapids Public Schools, and many other partners across West Michigan, Ed Trust-Midwest launched a new center to apply some of the practices and strategies proven to work in leading states across the country and explore whether they could raise student achievement in Michigan’s highest-poverty public schools.

Led by veteran urban educators from its start in 2015, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) went on to partner with many elementary and middle school leaders and teacher leaders to develop an innovative new approach to improving student outcomes and building distributed management and teacher leadership models. By building the capacity and support for teachers and principals in high-poverty schools — in close partnership with district and school leaders — CETL provided instructional support, coaching, consulting, data analysis, and other technical assistance to P-12 schools and educators.

CETL showed that it is possible for schools to see clear gains in student learning. Its impact included supporting some schools to become among Michigan’s fastest-improving, high-poverty elementary schools for certain subject areas. The work of The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning proved more applicable and relevant than ever when schools shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The CETL team quickly pivoted to meet the needs of each unique school, supporting schools to center equity and accelerate student learning, whether they were in-person, hybrid, or remote. However, over time, the center’s work was greatly slowed down by the pandemic, and ultimately could not continue to be implemented well due to the pandemic’s massive disruption in teaching and learning.

Thankfully, the leaders and coaches of the CETL team continue to serve in influential leadership and coaching positions in schools and districts across West Michigan — and the lessons that they learned carry on in many schools.

A young black boy smiles at the camera in his classroom

Ensuring High College- and Career-Ready Standards and Aligned Information

Top-performing and high-growth states began their educational transformation with higher performance standards for teaching and learning in schools. The Education Trust-Midwest was among the many organizations across Michigan that understood the importance of the implementation of new national college- and career-ready standards and Michigan’s leadership in the development of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which allowed Michigan to adopt an assessment system that could tell Michigan parents how their schools are performing compared to national standards — and to more than 20 other states who participate in the same assessment system. When a small minority of state lawmakers raised concerns about Michigan’s adoption of new higher standards and an aligned assessment system, Ed Trust-Midwest — in partnership with major business and K-12 organization in 2013 convened a statewide coalition of more than 146 organizations to work together for full implementation of the new standards and aligned systems.

Indeed, organizations across the spectrum worked closely and productively — and ultimately, successfully — for more than three years to ensure the Great Lakes State stayed on course.

High school boys study together at school

Advancing Efforts on Educator Effectiveness

Teaching quality is one of the most powerful levers to improve student learning. Of all the variables that schools can control — including class size, curriculum, and textbooks — the quality of teaching that a child receives is the strongest determinant of student achievement.

For years, Michigan has lacked a coherent strategy to improve and support our state’s teaching quality and school leadership. We believe that the roles and responsibilities in which many teachers serve—such as mentor, coach, master teacher and others — should be formally recognized and given opportunities for higher pay and greater recognition.

Since ETM’s inception, supporting and improving the teaching profession — and developing innovative new ways to ensure all Michigan students have access to highly effective teachers — has been a priority for the organization. Today, Ed Trust-Midwest is particularly focused on how access to strong educators can be improved for Black, Latino/a students, and students from low-income backgrounds, as well as English Learners.

Three girls smile in their middle school classroom

Advancing Policies to Ensure Educational Transparency and Equity-Centered Accountability Systems

All parents deserve to know how their child’s school is performing and receive the information that they need to make the best choices for their child’s education. To best support our students’ success, we first have to be honest about student performance. That starts with reliable data.

The Education Trust-Midwest long has been committed to working to ensure honest, transparent, and reliable data is available to Michigan parents and families. Through the years, we have worked closely with the Michigan Department of Education in thought partnership and technical support roles, including while the MDE and many other states worked to update their ESSA plans and later, when new ESSA plans were developed with input from stakeholders across the state.

Ed Trust-Midwest served and will continue to serve as an important, informed, equity-centered voice at the table for Black and Latino/a students and students from low-income backgrounds.

In 2011, Ed Trust-Midwest also was the first organization in Michigan to call for rigorous performance standards for charter school authorizers in Michigan. This work led to Ed Trust-Midwest’s leadership on the development of innovative, evidence-based policy solutions to make the state’s charter school authorizer system much more transparent and more accountable to stakeholders.

As The Education Trust-Midwest commemorates our 10+ years of impact, it is only through the support of a generous community that we have been able to call for educational equity and excellence for Michigan’s most underserved students.

As we reflect on more than a decade of advocacy work for students who are most underserved including children of color, English Learners, students with disabilities, students from rural and geographically isolated areas, and children from low-income backgrounds, we can’t help but to think ahead and prepare for the work that is yet to be done.

And as we continue to strive toward a system of education that truly provides opportunity for all, ETM is grateful for your support and ongoing partnership.

A smiling mother works with her child in the classroom