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Education Trust - Midwest


Small but mighty, Education Trust - Midwest, headquartered in Royal Oak, is pushing to close the achievement gap and raise learning levels for all Michigan students. With a focus on what’s best for students, the organization is making headway in reforming teacher policies that will boost educator effectiveness.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Amber Arellano, Executive Director of the Education Trust - Midwest: We are Michigan’s only statewide organization committed to closing the achievement gap and raising student learning for all Michigan students.  As a source of honest and reliable, non-partisan information about Michigan education, our work is driven by data and research, not ideology or partisan politics. That’s a rarity in a polarized state like Michigan. And we are focused on what’s best for students and their learning, particularly low-income students. Being nonpartisan, we collaborate with educational and civic leaders, philanthropy, grassroots organizations, parents and policymakers on both sides of the aisle to improve the lives of Michigan students. We provide information and expertise; conduct research and real-time data analysis; serve as a watchdog; work with schools and lawmakers; and do other work on a variety of educational issues.
 
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
That a small, start-up nonprofit can have a major influence on education policy if it works like hell and produces credible work. Few people believed it would be possible to reform teacher tenure, lay-off, and evaluation policies in our state anytime soon, but it is happening. Our challenge going forward is to ensure the reforms in teacher evaluation actually help teachers improve their practice and raise student learning. That’s what our educator effectiveness and support work is all about.  We are not going to raise student learning in Michigan without focusing on this critically important area of need. 
 
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
Building an organization from scratch is hard, humbling work, even when a 20-year-old national organization is behind you. As in life, good colleagues and partners make the journey more productive and enjoyable.
 Building an organization from scratch is hard, humbling work, even when a 20-year-old national organization is behind you. As in life, good colleagues and partners make the journey more productive and enjoyable.
 
What really differentiates this program?
We are different because we don’t have a partisan agenda. We use data and rigorous research to drive our advocacy on what education policies, investments and practices work best for students. We’re also a rare educational reform organization that works alongside educators and parents. They shape our agenda on a regular basis.  We truly believe in teachers and school leaders – and their importance in the lives of students.

What are the keys to success for your program?
We are talent driven.
Every member of our team brings expertise in a different discipline, making our staff small as it is versatile, responsive and collaborative. We don't hire divas, we don't care who gets the credit, and everyone here is devoted to our mission.
Every member of our team brings expertise in a different discipline, making our staff – small as it is – versatile, responsive and collaborative. We don’t hire divas, we don’t care who gets the credit, and everyone here is devoted to our mission. 
 
We are also a learning organization. We continually learn and adapt, and we are willing to change our approach and work based on lessons learned.

How does race or diversity affect the work of your program? 
AA: Race and diversity are central to our mission and our approaching in hiring. Closing longstanding achievement gaps between poor and minority children and their more affluent peers in Michigan is our mission. We believe low-income students and students of color have as much right to high-performing schools as any other children. And we believe our vision for closing gaps in achievement and opportunity is a realistic, long-term goal for Michigan.
 
How do you innovate programming? Where do the ideas come from? How do you know if they are going to work?
AA: We have tested our programming in our national office, which is more than 20 years old, and our California office, which is more than a decade old. In terms of innovative new programming, we believe strongly in piloting work, creating measures of success and evaluation, and working with partners and others who can provide expertise in these areas when we may lack it. 

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  • Education Trust - Midwest
    The Education Trust-Midwest’s mission is to work for the high achievement of all students, particularly low-income, African American, Latino and American Indian students in Michigan. As Michigan’s only state-wide policy, research and ...

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