Teachers will run Detroit school

The Detroit school district — losing students and funding at a rapid rate — is letting teachers run a school, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Barbara Jordan Elementary, will open as a K-4 school and grow into a K-8. The school will receive the same funding as other district schools, but will offer an extended day with music, art and other enrichment programs, and a longer school year. (The Free Press doesn’t explain where the money will come from for the longer day and year; there must be grant money on tap.)

Parents will have to sign a contract promising to support their child’s education and be involved with the school. Admission will be based on parents’ willingness to participate, the Free Press reports.

This first year, the DFT (Detroit Federation of Teachers) will hire the teachers, but Barbara Jordan teachers will eventually take over that task. There will be no principal. There will be a building administrator, probably with experience as a principal, to handle the administrative duties that teachers aren’t familiar with. That position is expected to be phased out in about three years, with teachers taking over those duties, as well.

School governance will come from teacher committees. Teachers will meet in small groups to make decisions for their students.

Running a school by committee could prove challenging, though I assume the school will be staffed by teachers who are committed to the model — not by those with the most seniority. With a dedicated staff and the right to admit only students with motivated parents, Barbara Jordan is likely to be a success.

In Los Angeles, teacher-led teams are taking over 29 low-performing schools. This is a great experiment. I’m eager to see if teachers can make a difference.

About Joanne


  1. This will be interesting to watch. A couple of questions: Will the teachers request additional pay for taking on administrative duties on top of their teaching duties? If the teachers are in charge of the school, how does the whole teacher vs. management play out in the union contract?

  2. (Ruth): “If the teachers are in charge of the school, how does the whole teacher vs. management play out in the union contract?”

    I wonder about this, too. Employee ownership of any business generates serious conflict of interest issues. Who does your shop steward represent when an employee has a problem with management in a union-owned firm (like United Airlines)?

    In a sole proprietorship, the manager/employee does not have this problem. In a traditional unionized firm with a union in the normal adversarial role, the employees’ representatives do not face a conflict. In a union-owned firm or a unionized, government-owned enterprise, the bargaining agent faces conflict-of-interest issues directly proportionate to the union’s political success.

  3. I wish them luck but I do not predict success. The policy may yiels some early positive results, then teachers who want to teach will occupy themselves in their classrooms and the parasites will ascend into management. Good teachers will find that they carry more than their share of the load while managers attend training institutes in Aspen or Miami, and will leave, and performance will fall. That’s my prediction.

  4. Back in the day, I ran a small school with four other teachers.

    We loved running it ourselves but we encountered a few problems.

    One problem was that we didn’t always reach consensus and the whole decision making process took a lot longer than it did under a dictatorship.

    The second, greater problem was, we greatly underestimated how much work administration is. Even with our small school, administration was a lot of work. On average, I think it increased our workload by 3 hours per day.

    It was an interesting experience and I’m glad it’s in the past.

    Now I just have the likes of Robert Frost and Charles Dickens to contend with. And since I’ve got them to do all the heavy lifting, my job is a lot more enjoyable.

  5. Mike Sullivan, J.D. says:

    1.) What management-union issues?? A well designed teacher-run school ought to look more like a limited liability partnership (LLP) than a sole proprietorship. Just about every law firm as well as many accounting firms, engineering firms and medical practices in the U.S. are organized as LLP’s. Obviously, it’s an effective model of running large complex organizations.

    2.) Malcolm, you’re missing the point. The “parasites” can’t ascend into “management” because under this model there won’t be any management for them to ascend into.

    It’s the current system that allows/encourages the parasites to go into administration. This is one of the biggest problems with the status quo. A lot of people who hate teaching enter the profession anyway with hopes of “moving up” in a few years to the greater salary. Eliminate administration and a lot of these bad teachers will leave the profession.

    3.) As for additional pay for longer days/years – this should be more than covered from the savings realized from eliminating administrative positions. I teach in an urban middle school south of Boston and in my building alone we have a principal, asst. principal, assoc. principal and instructional resource specialist all of whom make between $80K- $100K a year.

    At the district level we have numerous administrators (superintendent, asst. super., head of curriculum, dept. heads, etc.) These guys are costing us a fortune!

    Lastly, I have to believe that many teachers would accept a longer day and year without a big raise if it meant they had more power in setting policy and didn’t have to deal with a bunch of corporate wannabe bureaucrats in the main office!!

  6. I think they’re overlooking a lot of clerical work needed to keep up with state and federal mandates. OTOH, there’s no reason the clerks should run the school or make as much as the teachers. I do wonder how that management by committee thing is going to work out.

    I wish them luck. They’ll need it. But remember, “better than the Detroit Public School System” is a very low target.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JoanneLeeJacobs, RiShawn Biddle. RiShawn Biddle said: RT @JoanneLeeJacobs: New blog post: Detroit #AFT local will run #DPS school http://bit.ly/b1adYx #edreform #turnschls […]