U-M, MSU to study state education reforms with $5.9 million federal grant

April 29, 2010
Researchers at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University—in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Education—will use a five-year, $5.9 million grant to assess two education reforms designed to promote college attendance and workplace success.

U-M's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy received the grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences to study the effects of the Michigan Merit Curriculum and the Michigan Promise Scholarship on student outcomes. Researchers from the Ford School and U-M’s School of Education will work with investigators at MSU’s College of Education on the project.

"We are particularly interested in learning whether these reforms are affecting students differently based on their socioeconomic status and other factors, and examining how schools have responded to the policy," said U-M's Brian Jacob, the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Education Policy at the Ford School and director of the Center on Local, State, and Urban Policy.

States and school districts nationwide have increasingly focused reform efforts at the high school level. In particular, states have standardized high school curricula, raised high school graduation requirements and provided increased financial assistance for postsecondary education.

Michigan is leading the way in these reforms: In spring 2006, the state adopted one of the most comprehensive sets of high school graduation requirements in the country, known as the Michigan Merit Curriculum. The new requirements are meant to ensure students have the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and the workplace.

Starting with the class of 2011, the Michigan Merit Curriculum requires all high school students to pass a set of 16 rigorous academic courses, including algebra I, geometry, algebra II, biology and chemistry or physics. The state also developed a new set of content standards, end-of-course exams and a new statewide high school exam to ensure a high level of rigor in the required courses.

During the same time period, the state introduced a new merit-based scholarship program, the Michigan Promise Scholarship, to help students afford to enroll in and complete college. From 2007-2009 (the program is currently not funded), the Michigan Promise Scholarship provided students who meet certain academic standards with up to $4,000 for college. Students qualified for the aid by either receiving a passing grade in all subjects on the Michigan Merit Exam or completing two years of postsecondary education at an approved institution with a cumulative grade point average of at least 2.5.

The federal grant will help researchers analyze the outcomes of eight student cohorts, the graduating classes of 2007 through 2014, including an analysis of various subgroups.

"This is a timely and important collaborative between the state and higher education researchers to connect the impact of academic rigor and successful outcomes in our schools," state superintendent of public instruction Mike Flanagan said. "We need to make sure that the implementation of education policies is having a positive impact on all students."

The study's leadership team also includes Susan Dynarski, U-M associate professor of public policy and associate professor of education at U-M's School of Education; Barbara Schneider, the MSU John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor in the College of Education; and Ken Frank, professor of measurement and quantitative methods at MSU's College of Education.

"The fact that this project brings together the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the Michigan Department of Education makes this a positive initiative for the whole state, and we are very excited about the possibilities it offers," Schneider said.