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March 17, 2016

MSU’s roots in Flint education run deep

For more than a half-century, Michigan State University’s education scholars have worked closely with Flint students, educators and community members to support and strengthen the city’s school system.

Whether helping expand the city’s revolutionary community education model 50 years ago, or working to boost student achievement through a new $2 million project, MSU’s roots in Flint education run deep.

“We see this as a very successful ongoing relationship,” said Barbara Markle, assistant dean for K-12 Outreach in MSU’s College of Education. “It’s a collaborative effort with teachers, principals and central office leaders to transform research into practice and improve student achievement across the district. This is really what outreach and the land-grant mission of MSU is about.”

Community education

One example of MSU’s many education projects in Flint was an effort in the 1950s and ’60s to help spread the community education model to school districts nationwide. The concept, in which school facilities are opened to the community for youth clubs and myriad other purposes, was created by Flint philanthropist Charles Stewart Mott and educator Frank Manley.

The late Ernest Melby, MSU education professor from 1956 to 1975, worked with Mott and Manley to develop and expand the model. Their goal was to develop an educational program for urban areas such as Flint that were plagued with poor academic achievement and high dropout and unemployment rates.

MSU received a number of grants from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to develop the model in Flint and elsewhere. Melby was a driving force in establishing community education on a broader level.

“There are now so many community schools in America, so much community education going on, that this kind of education has become the measuring stick for all education,” Melby wrote in 1972.

Flint: a catalyst

Another project that impacted Flint was the Michigan Partnership for New Education, which was led by Judith Lanier, former education dean at MSU. Formed in 1989, the partnership brought together business leaders, state officials and educators to improve student outcomes and teacher training in the state.

Markle came to MSU in 1991 from the Michigan Department of Education to work on the project. For several years she and MSU colleagues worked closely with teams of principals and teachers from Flint Community Schools to enhance educators’ professional development and, ultimately, student achievement.

Sonya Gunnings-Moton, assistant dean of education who coordinated some of the Professional Development Schools, as they were called, said the engagement with Flint became a catalyst for the college’s urban education commitment. That commitment continues today through programs to recruit and prepare teachers to serve in urban schools, including Detroit and Chicago.

Currently, the College of Education’s Office of K-12 Outreach has more than 25 specialists and faculty members in Flint schools and in the district’s central office. MSU’s roles range from improving classroom instruction and outcomes to helping the district meet its regulatory requirements with the state.

Structural change

Under the new $2 million project – a two-year initiative funded by the Mott Foundation – MSU will build on its current work in Flint Community Schools by striving to produce long-term structural change and cohesion in the district.

The project, called “Comprehensive System for Rapid District Intervention,” focuses on a host of issues that affect student achievement, including early childhood education, curriculum support and alignment, and teacher and administrator training.

“We’re taking research and using it to put best practices into the classrooms, the schools and the central office,” Markle said. “We’ve worked with a lot of school districts, but find the educators of Flint are very dedicated to the students there and are eager to be part of this collaborative effort.”