Detroit schools compete for students

Detroit schools — district-run, charter and suburban — are competing for a “dwindling poool of students,” reports Bloomberg News.  “The prize is the $7,200 in state funding that follows each student in the bankrupt city.”

Detroit Public Schools has turned a closet into a “war room” for attracting students after losing about two-thirds of its enrollment during the past decade. Charters advertise smaller classes and tablet computers or gift cards to woo children. A state authority that took over low-performing schools is fishing for pupils, as are suburbs whose enrollment is declining, too.

Detroit Public Schools enrolled 80 percent of the city’s children a decade ago. Now only 42 percent attend district schools, which post abysmally low test scores and a high dropout rate. Another 42 percent go to charters, 9 percent attend schools in nearby suburbs and 7 percent are enrolled at schools run by a state agency created to take over low-performing schools.

Middle-class parents are fleeing Detroit:  The city lost 25 percent of its population between 2000 and 2010, while the number of children ages 5 to 9 dropped by 47 percent.

Charters are advertising on radio and television. They attracted Chanel Kitchen, 16. She left a city high school last year where there were 42 children in a Spanish class for a charter with about 14.

Detroit Public Schools, which has closed more than half its buildings, is advertising its new, improved offerings.

That includes music and arts offerings and schools combined with social-service centers, such as at Marcus Garvey Academy on the east side. Besides instruction for elementary students, it offers a health clinic, pool, food bank and a parent resource office with computers and classes such as one last week on household poisons.

“You’ve got one-stop shopping,” said Principal James Hearn.

The competition for market share is “disgusting,” said Sharlonda Buckman, chief executive of the Detroit Parent Network, a nonprofit offering development programs. Nobody is managing the education market, she complained.

The Detroit Future City recovery plan calls for “thriving schools as anchors for neighborhoods,” reports Bloomberg. “Hypercompetition” for children is no help, said Dan Varner, chief executive of Excellent Schools Detroit, a group of education, government, community and philanthropic leaders. He wants the state to regulate the education market.

Competition is forcing schools to offer what parents and students want. Advertising helped Chanel Kitchen find a school with small classes. Would less competition create “thriving” neighborhood schools?

About Joanne


  1. PhillipMarlowe says:

    Perfectly sound idea.
    I used the same methods to raise my children.
    I made them compete for my time, affection, and money.
    None of them turned out to be criminals or school shooters.

  2. The question I’ve posed around here, and to a couple of elected officials, including a former member of the state board of education, is when does the state throw in the towel? When should a school district, due to abandonment by parents, be shut down?

    It seem to me that attracting only 50% of the kids in the district would be a pretty good indicator the district’s dreadful but Detroit’s already below that percentage and it’d be lower yet if there were more seats in the local charter schools.

    So when is enough, enough? Or rather, when is not enough, enough?

    If a district’s only getting 30% of the kids within its geographic area is that enough reason to start the process of dissolving the district? How about 20%? 10%?

    This is an issue that’ll have to be addressed before too long so how to go about shutting down a district and what the factors lead up to the decision ought to be hashed out.

    So far there seems to be little appetite for the discussion but that’ll change.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    We need the kids to go to lousy schools to anchor thriving communities.
    Got it.

  4. @allen

    Never. One of the lessons of the recent downturn is government never shrinks. In Detroit, GM shuttered two divisions during the downturn. Meanwhile, hardly any municipalities went threw with their threatened downsizing, much less consolidation of services or even entire governments. Two school districts were were dissolved. It should have been dozens.

    • Oh, “never” is a bit of an overstatement although I’ll grant shrinking the size of government’s not done nearly as often as it ought to be.

      But in a world where the phrase “when the Berlin Wall falls” has gone from a synonym for “never” to a historical fact I think the evidence is there to believe that the problem posed by districts that have been depopulated by the rise of charters, and other alternatives, will be dealt with.

      Some of those efforts will be in defense of the current system like providing incentives to consolidate districts abandoned by the parents who live within its boundaries with adjoining districts that are still viable. But that’ll result in some brisk battles at the state levels as municipalities seek to appropriate the taxes formerly levied by the now-gone district.

      In fact, I’m beginning to wonder whether municipalities might not be an important political ally in the coming fight to end the district-based public education system.