While the state continues to struggle with severe budget cuts, the introduction of an education program may spark a glimmer of hope for the state’s recovery. On Thursday, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and officials from six Michigan colleges, including the University of Michigan, announced the creation of a fellowship program to train students for their master’s degrees in education and place them in some of Michigan’s most underprivileged school districts. The program will help to fill the needs of these struggling districts. The University should encourage enrollment in the program and encourage the state to expand its support to improve all levels of education.
The program, called The W.K. Kellogg Foundation Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship, is expected to be a competitive program that will accept 240 students from the six participating universities in Michigan, according to an article in the Daily on Friday. The fellowship took shape after the W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded $16.7 million to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation last November. The program will allow teachers to receive their master’s degrees in either science, technology, engineering or mathematics, known as STEM fields. At the completion of the program, the new teachers will work for at least three years in one of five of the state’s struggling school districts, including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Benton Harbor.
Programs like the teaching fellowship are a chance for the state to support an educational system that will revitalize Michigan’s economy. The state’s economy is shifting toward a basis in developing technologies. But to make this change successful, Michigan residents will need more education opportunities to prepare them for knowledge-based jobs. Since it is the goal of Michigan to expand education in the STEM fields, the fellowship’s focus on these academic areas will improve the quality and quantity of the type of teachers Michigan needs. This will compound the benefits of the new program as a new wave of well-trained and engaged teachers will inspire even more students to take up studies in STEM fields.
The new teaching fellowship is an investment in education. It provides teachers to districts which are most desperately in need of resources. Often, struggling districts can’t obtain the resources they need to improve. And each time a school fails to make “Adequate Yearly Progress,” as defined by the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, it loses more government support and sinks deeper into the hole. But the way to improve a school is to give it more resources, not to punish failure with loss of income. The fellowship offers a valuable resource to struggling schools.
At the same time, early placement in underfunded districts is a valuable learning experience for teachers who may have never experienced the more troubling aspects of the public education system. And education of teachers prepares them to tackle the problems that education faces.
Sending aid to underprivileged school districts will also help to narrow the socioeconomic divisions in institutions of higher education. When students in underprivileged schools receive insufficient educations, they are less likely to attend institutions of higher learning. But college should be accessible to people from all backgrounds. Efforts to give schools more resources — like highly-educated teachers from successful colleges like the University — are the only way to help bridge the gaps between wealthy districts and traditionally under-performing districts.
Because it is an institution of higher learning, it’s the University’s responsibility to encourage all forms of education. This fellowship is one way to do that. But the state can — and should — go further by protecting education funding and expanding programs that invest in education.