The city of Flint is in crisis mode yet again, except this time, there’s no water involved — at least not directly.
Just as Gov. Rick Snyder failed to inform thousands of residents they were being poisoned via lead-tainted drinking water, he also failed in his mission to improve the city’s reading proficiency. A Detroit Free Press report found that the city’s third-grade reading proficiency took a nearly three–quarter nosedive, falling from 41.8 percent in 2014 to a measley 10.7 percent in 2017.
“One of the important metrics in someone’s life on the River of Opportunity is the ability to be proficient-reading by third grade,” Snyder said in a 2015 speech. “How have we done?”
The reading issue isn’t just exclusive to Flint. Reading proficiency fell statewide from 70 percent in 2017 to 44 percent last year. The downward trend hit areas of Detroit as well, where third-grade reading proficiency dropped from 11.7 percent three years ago to 9.9 percent this year, according to the newspaper.
Flint school board VP Harold Woodson said this problem certainly didn’t begin with the water crisis and won’t resolve anytime soon unless state leaders consider how poverty, which is widespread in Flint and other state cities, affects children.
“We were able to put a nurse in all of our elementary buildings and we’re investing more in looking at the behavior of the children,” Woodson told the Free Press. “But the impact from the lead might not manifest itself for another year or two.”
Michigan Superintendent of Education Brian Whiston, however, said a slight drop in reading proficiency was to be expected. He attributed the declines to greater standards and a new, rigorous online test meant to help Michigan students better compete with students in other states. Whiston was shocked to hear how low proficiency had dropped in Flint, though. The city suffered a 45 percent dip in reading proficiency its first year following the water crisis.
“That’s not acceptable,” he told the newspaper. “I certainly think that some of the (drop in proficiency) could be due to it (lead poisoning). But some of it could be stress. I’m certainly disappointed that it’s at that level. These families have gone through a lot of stress. … So I wouldn’t be surprised to hear things dropped considerably.”
Flint education officials said they’ve done their best to implement a multi-pronged system of support to address students’ academic and behavioral needs, especially after the water crisis. School Board president Diana Wright said she’s noticed a spike in behavioral issues since the widespread poisoning.
State Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) agreed, saying it its unknown how the contaminated water, coupled with the lack of school funding in low-income areas, might have impacted the trajectory of students’ lives.
“There’s a long way to go,” he told the Free Press. “The psychological impact of this has gone unchallenged. This community is traumatized, and the state has not dealt with the trauma and even though the state says the water is safe to drink, no one’s going to drink the water.”