Who destroyed Detroit?

Who destroyed Detroit? asks Deborah Meier, calling it a “bombed-out shell of a city.”

“It was first and foremost the fault of some quite well-educated, high test-scorers in the management of the auto industry and in high places in Washington D.C.,” she concludes on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

Don’t blame “corporate reform,” responds Robert Pondiscio.

There is an idea at loose in overheated corners of the edusphere, which I pray you do not share, which sees a manufactured “shock doctrine” conspiracy to drive American education onto the rocks in order to seize control and make a buck.  It’s a lovely, comforting illusion, isn’t it?  We are capable, wise, and all would be well if the malefactors of great wealth were not aligned against us.  That is far easier to accept than our own shortcomings, low expectations, failed notions about schooling, and stubborn refusal to adapt.  Perhaps we were as complacent about our schools as Detroit’s auto execs were about their factories.

Test scores are “not a definitive measure of ‘intellectual prowess’,” writes Meier. Pondiscio agrees, but asks “what of it?”

Testing did not destroy schooling. It revealed the rot and complacency within too many schools, especially those serving our poorest children, like Detroit’s.

We adapt, we grow, or else we stagnate and decay. The factories that employed generations in Detroit stand empty.  One hundred years ago, they didn’t stand at all. A generation hence, maybe two, something else will stand in their place.  But not if we pretend nothing’s wrong, Deb.  Not if we choose not to run the race.

Pittsburgh was the Detroit of the late ’70s when the steel industry collapsed, writes Pondiscio.  “Today it’s a lovely and livable city, with a diversified economy built on education, technology, and finance.” Pittsburgh adapted.

Revving up for Detroit’s rebound

Detroit is losing jobs and people. The city is bankrupt. Hopes for an economic rebound center on job training for the city’s low-skilled workforce. Community colleges are focusing on manufacturing, information technology and health data management.

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?

Urban progress? Scores are very low

Some big-city districts are making progress, according to the new NAEP TUDA (Trial Urban District Assessments) results released by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Despite the “cheerleading,” gains are minimal and scores are very low for low-income and minority students, responds Fordham’s Andy Smarick.

In fourth-grade reading, eighth-grade reading, and eighth-grade math, about one out of every four students reaches proficiency in the average large city. The brightest spot is fourth-grade math, where one in three are proficient. Specific examples: In Baltimore, 16 percent of eighth graders read proficiently. In Philadelphia, 18 percent of eighth graders score proficient in math.

. . . Only eight of 21 cities had even one statistically significant gain; two saw a drop in one area; and 11 cities made no significant gain whatsoever.

Washington, D.C. improved the most, followed by Los Angeles and Fresno. But all three remain below the urban average.

Detroit is the lowest performing city in all four categories (fourth and eighth grade reading and math) and it’s getting worse. In eighth grade, 3 percent of student are proficient in math and 9 percent in reading.

Cleveland is next worst with Milwaukee in third place. “We should all hang our heads in shame if we don’t dramatically intervene in these districts,” writes Smarick.

“White students in these cities do quite well—even better than white students elsewhere,” Smarick observes. “They and non-poor students significantly pull up district averages. For example, 71 percent of Atlanta’s white eighth graders are proficient readers.” Low-income, black and Latino students are way, way behind.

Charlotte, North Carolina schools do fairly well, writes Julia Ryan, but overall urban schools are “a mess.”

As urban charters grow, where’s the tip?

Urban students are choosing charters in growing numbers, according to a new report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Nationwide, one in 20 students now attend charter schools. In post-Katrina New Orleans, 79 percent of students attend charter schools. Detroit has hit 51 percent. Washington D.C. is at 43 percent. Flint, Mich., Kansas City, Mo. and Gary, Ind. each have 30 percent or more of students in a charter school. More than 10 percent of students are enrolled in charters in Philadelphia and New York City.

But charter competition hasn’t had the effect once expected, points out Andy Smarick, a former Bush administration official who now works at Bellwether Education Partners.

Ten years ago, he recalls, proponents of the nascent charter school movement came to a consensus: If charter schools could reach 10 percent of market share in big cities, the movement would reach a tipping point and create enough pressure to spur public schools to improve in order to compete for students.

“That tipping-point pressure never materialized the way I expected,” he said. “We have not seen districts drastically improve even when charter school market share gets to 25 percent.”

In the face of fierce opposition, charter schools”are proving to be the toughest, most enduring of all education reforms,” writes Paul Peterson on Ed Next.  “Charter schools are gaining in respect, numbers, and political adherents, mainly because they are digging deep roots in local communities.”

Detroit schools offer Count Day bribes

Wednesday was Count Day for Michigan public schools. Ninety percent of state funding is linked to how many students show up on Oct. 2.

bikesHit hard by declining enrollment, Detroit Public Schools offered prizes to students who showed up, including iPad Minis, gift cards and bicycles.

Schools served a special menu: barbecue chicken, baked macaroni and cheese, seasoned green beans, cornbread muffins and peach cobbler

Bunche Academy made Count Day a no-uniform day and scheduled a dance for middle-school students and an ice cream social.

One lucky DPS student won an Xbox. Nearly one in four students received a prize of some kind.

A majority of school-age children in Detroit choose charter schools or district-run schools in the suburbs.

21 Detroit schools are open 7 days a week

Twenty-one Detroit schools will stay open 12 hours a day, seven days a week to provide tutoring, recreation, health care, parenting classes and other social services.

State funds and donations from local businesses will help pay the cost.

Motor City meltdown

Detroit’s incompetent school board could regain control of the city’s worst schools, reports the Detroit News.

The state’s Education Achievement Author, modeled on Louisiana’s Recovery District, took control of the lowest-achieving schools last year under a contract written by Roy Roberts, the emergency manager. When Michigan voters repealed the state’s “emergency manager” law, the Detroit Board of Education canceled the contract, writes Education Gadfly in Meltdown in the Motor City. The Detroit school board, which one newspaper columnist said was “sauced on power and staggering with incompetence,” now wants to take back the schools, which are in the lowest 5 percent of Michigan schools in achievement.

Detroit students protest missing teachers, easy A’s

Detroit high school students walked out to protest absent teachers and the principal’s removal at an all-boys public school, reports the Detroit Free Press. Fifty students were suspended.

As recently as last month, students spent weeks passing time in the gym, library or cafeteria due to a lack of teachers, parents said.

. . . “Theyre failing these young black men,” said Sharise Smith, who has two sons at Douglass.Smith said her son received an A in geometry during the first semester without taking a final exam.”It was by default, just for showing up. It wasnt because he earned an A,” Smith said.

Students chanted, “We want an education.”

All Detroit students will get free meals

All Detroit students will get free breakfast, lunch and snacks as part of a federal pilot program.

“Some students would skip important meals to avoid being identified as low-income,” said DPS Chief Operating Officer Mark Schrupp.

Really? Aren’t low-income students the majority in Detroit’s public schools?

The Free Press photo of a school lunch shows something cheesy (deep-dish pizza?), cherry pie, chocolate milk and lettuce. If the program eliminates meal skipping, it will boost the demand for federal anti-obesity funding.


WILLIAM ARCHIE / DFP