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Unfiltered: Greg Taylor on Making Our Schools Stronger

You want a better Michigan? Then you better start looking at the schools.

We all know Detroit and many other districts are struggling. That is why programs such as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship is a great model for what has to change around here.

The Fellowship's goal is to inspire students to excel in math and science. Five public school districts - including the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) - and six Michigan universities are participating in the Teaching Fellowship. The 240 graduates of the Fellowship will reach almost 90,000 low-income Michigan students with better science and math education.

Here's some more from Greg Taylor, vice president of Kellogg's Youth and Education program. He will fill you inn on the Fellowship, and its ramifications for teacher education, low-income youth and Michigan residents who lost their jobs in the recession.

Some background: The W.K. Kellogg Foundation-funded Fellowship program provides promising future teachers with an exemplary, intensive master's degree program in education and places those Fellows in hard-to-staff middle and high schools for a minimum of three years. The Fellowship will prepare 240 teachers for two years beginning in 2011. Through this program, approximately 90,000 students will receive high-quality instruction in critical subject areas from Fellows during their first three years in the classroom.

As part of their commitment to the program, these universities will match a $500,000 enrichment grant from the Kellogg Foundation that can be used to hire new faculty, contract with consultants, purchase equipment or make other changes that are necessary for this transformation to take place. In addition, the universities will each receive $6,000 per Fellow which will be used to provide the new teachers with mentoring during their first three years in the classroom.

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By Greg Taylor, Vice President for Programs, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Have you ever lit a light bulb with a potato? As a kid, I relished science experiments like this one. Who can't love learning about electrical circuit flow from copper, zinc and, of course, a common spud? It's exciting! It's intriguing! It's bizarre!

But when it comes to science and math today, U.S. students lag behind our international peers in these areas now known as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). President Obama has emphasized repeatedly the importance of moving our children from the middle to the top and the critical role teachers play in that through high quality STEM education.

So urgently we must bring that emphasis home to Detroit. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, three out of four children in Detroit are poor. According to the Census Bureau, as of 2005, 48 percent of children in Detroit were living in poverty. Detroit's unemployment rate is the highest in the country at almost 30 percent. These challenges are tremendous, but not insurmountable.

At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we believe that the future of children and the future of our nation are intertwined. We believe that when we improve education, health care, and economic stability for children, our nation as a whole is strengthened.

So we at the Kellogg Foundation are determined not to sit back and wait until we think all the economic indicators are moving in the right direction. There is a tendency to view problems in categories; issues that can be sorted into orderly silos – education in one pile, hunger and lack of nutritious food in another; economics a third, and so on. Of course, that is not at all how this really works and as an organization, with a long history of concern for children, families and communities, we see many of the problems facing Detroit and other places as overlapping and interlocking, and our approaches tend to be integrated, touching many of the city's systems simultaneously.

In Detroit particularly, our funds have supported programs to improve school food, increase farm-to-school programs, farmer's markets and urban gardening; we have supported the New Economy Initiative to increase entrepreneurship and grow new industry, and we are continuing to focus on partnerships to improve education.

A unique role that foundations can offer is to test and demonstrate innovation and figure out ways to move in to systems we care about – like education and schools – and try on or try out new strategies or approaches, and then to upload these to improve the quality of school systems.

So we are excited about a recent partnership with the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation to establish a new statewide teaching fellowship program that will work at both ends of the education spectrum – 1) to redesign the preparation of teachers at six schools of education in Michigan; and 2) to create partnerships with five school districts where fellows will teach in the hardest-to-staff middle and high schools.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship will provide 240 future middle and high school teachers in Michigan with an exemplary, intensive master's program in education, with an emphasis on the critical “STEM” subject areas. Over the next five years, almost 20,000 public school students in our state's hardest-to-staff middle and high schools will receive the education they need to be ready for college and to compete for today's high-tech careers.  Participating in the Fellowship program are six university partners, including Detroit's own Wayne State University, and five school districts, including Detroit Public Schools. (Others include: University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Eastern Michigan University, Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, Battle Creek Public Schools, Kalamazoo Public Schools, Benton Harbor Area Schools and Grand Rapids Public Schools.)

What's also important to note about this program is the potential for talented engineers, mathematicians, and scientists who have been squeezed out of the workforce by the economic downturn, to change careers and share their knowledge with students.

We have long way to go to create the conditions in every community to ensure success for all children,  but efforts like the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship program make us hopeful about the future of children and the future of Michigan.

In the coming months, check back on this blog for updates from me and others involved in this innovative program.

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The Fellows, who will be announced in the spring of 2011, will receive a $30,000 stipend while they complete the program. They will study a curriculum that is rooted in subject matter, but that also covers adolescent development and learning, working with parents and communities, and classroom management.

The Fellows can be college seniors, recent graduates or career changers. The current market downturn in Michigan has forced many experienced engineers and professionals out of the workforce, making available a talented pool of workers who can share their knowledge and depth of experience with the state's students in formal learning settings.

Note: Interested Fellowship applicants can contact wwteachingfellowships@woodrow.org for more information.

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