e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


The Kalamazoo Promise

One of the remarkable and fabulous things about the Kalamazoo Promise is that nobody (including whoever funded the program) wants to TEST the students who go to college on KP moneys. KP provides four years of free college tuition to kids graduating from Kalamazoo public schools. Any student who goes to school in the district from Kindergarten through 12th grade--regardless of grades and SAT scores--gets a one-hundred percent free ride at any in-state college or university. Students who transfer to the district get less than one-hundred percent depending on what grade they're in when they move to Kalamazoo; for example, if you move to Kalamazoo in third grade you get ninety-five percent, in ninth grade you get sixty-five percent.

The money comes from private, anonymous sources who attached no strings aside from the requirement you graduate from the district. No calls for high-stakes testing. Students get the free ride regardless of grades, but they do have to maintain at least a 2.0 in college while receiving the scholarship. But no standardized test to determine the success of the program. Amen to that. The program bucks the trend for testing the hell out of students at all levels and then cutting funds based on the scores. Here in Michigan, it's the dreaded MEAP tests and the new Michigan Merit Exam, the latter being a new required test for high school students that includes a controversial Work Keys section that tests students' ability to do clerical tasks. Elsewhere, it's decisions to drop laptop programs based on their alleged failure to aid student success...as determined by some reductive standardized test or another.

Of course it goes without saying that these tests are big business. The companies who create and administer them make BIG BUCKS by virtue of the fact that the exams become required and have a captive audience. Ironically, small-government types--thinking the tests foster school accountability--often support testing even though their tax dollars pay for them and are then funneled into the pockets of the exam companies. It also goes without saying that the state uses these test scores to justify decreasing funding of programs. Not just laptop programs either.

Happily, the Kalamazoo Promise doesn't fall into this trend. Today's Free Press story on KP highlights several students from Kalamazoo who are going to college on KP's dime and suggests increased interest in college among kids in the district. Further, the article points to increased enrollment and increased home sales in the city. I wonder if other districts might pay attention to the economic things happening in the city and consider widening access to higher education as an investment. On the pessimistic tip, I also worry that politicians might use KP as another justification for private interests doing it better than the state.

Currently listening to:
The Detroit Cobras, "Tied & True" (2007)
The Nightwatchman, "One Man Revolution" (2007)

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