It’s easier to go to jail than it is to go to school, and that’s sad.” — The Rev. Richard Wilson, head of the Empowerment Academy program
In November, Michigan Radio presented “Grading Michigan Schools,” a 20-part series that took an in-depth look at education in the state. Lead reporters Sarah Hulett and Tracy Samilton, along with reporters Kaomi Goetz, Lester Graham and Samara Freemark, produced long-form features that covered a variety of education issues.
The objective was three-fold: share with listeners the difficulties facing Michigan schools; provide information about educational opportunities; and determine how Michigan schools are preparing students for the future.
The series revealed little that was positive about the Michigan school system.
Hulett said, “We hear a lot about the issues these stories tackle in the abstract: Low-performing schools. The trouble with accountability standards. Dropouts. But I think the stories in this series really put our listeners on the ground and into the schools where these issues are being sorted out.”
Producing the series was complicated by the complete refusal of the Detroit Public School system to cooperate with the staff of Michigan Radio, including preventing them access to administrators, teachers or staff after the superintendent put a gag order on all district employees.
The series told success stories as well. News Director Vincent Duffy said he was gratified to discover “how hard so many people are willing to work to help kids learn. Despite bureaucratic obstacles and budgetary constraints, amazing things happen in Michigan schools every day.”
Judges said the series “was comprehensive and absorbing. This look at the issues and difficulties facing students, teachers and administrators in a diverse and economically challenged state was most valuable to parents and to the educators themselves.”