Tag Archives: Detroit Public Schools

All States Need to Shore Up Literacy Instruction After the Detroit Decision

There has been a lot written about the 6th Circuit’s decision in Detroit’s right-to-literacy case, the latest in a long line of lawsuits bringing state and federal constitutional challenges to the quality of education opportunities provided to public school students. The court held that the Constitution protects a right to a minimal education opportunity: the right to literacy. This decision is an unmistakable signal to schools and districts about the importance of meaningful literacy instruction. 

And although the facts in this case are specific to Detroit’s unique relationship with Michigan’s state government, that will not excuse another state or district from falling short in their obligation to provide an education that offers a genuine opportunity for literacy.

three young black girls and one black adult looking at a table of books, Knight Arts Challenge Detroit: Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History The Charles H. Wright will use the arts to foster an interest in reading by weaving interactive cultural experiences throughout the museum’s Children’s Book Fair.

Photo of Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History via Knight Foundation on Flickr

The path to good literacy instruction isn’t a mystery. There is relevant science and resources to help schools, districts, and states. Good instruction is described in a set of practice guides produced by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, which are based on reviews of research, the experiences of practitioners, and the expert opinions of a panel of nationally recognized experts. States and districts can encourage the use of these resources by administrators, teachers, school specialists, and families.

To identify which specific programs and interventions have been effective at improving student outcomes, state and district leaders can search the What Works Clearinghouse, with particular attention to programs that have been independently evaluated. Reading interventions may impact a variety of outcomes, including alphabetics, reading fluency, comprehension, and general reading achievement. Since some interventions may be more effective than others for certain types of literacy skills, states might encourage the use of needs assessments to better understand which interventions are the best fit for a school or district. Continue reading

Detroit Schools Bill Passes, Misses Huge Opportunity

Deflated balloon

Image via Pando.com

The Michigan legislature passed a bill last night that provides $617 million in debt relief and restructuring for Detroit Public Schools; calls for the creation of an A-F school grading system; prevents “authorizer shopping;” allows DPS to hire non-certified teachers; and includes penalties for teachers who engage in sickouts. Here’s a good Washington Post overview and two Detroit News write-up’s. The bill summary is here.

Notably, the Detroit Education Commission (see below), was not included in the bill. Instead of being a big step forward for Detroit, it’s a huge missed opportunity.

Here are my quick reactions:

  • Without the DEC to bring order to Detroit’s chaotic education landscape, the current bill falls WAY short of what’s necessary to improve options for all of the city’s families. While imperfect, the DEC was a good first step in modernizing Detroit’s education governance model. Detroit could have joined the ranks of DC, Denver, and New Orleans as cities taking proactive steps to manage their dynamic city-wide systems of schools. Instead, the idea of the DEC has been reduced to a toothless advisory council that produces one report per year on facilities, siting, and transportation. It’ll be part of the new DPS.
  • Read between the lines and you’ll see the empowerment of the State School Reform/Redesign Office (SRO), which was created when Michigan competed for Race to the Top funds but lay dormant while the precarious Education Achievement Authority (EAA) ran under-performing schools instead. The SRO will lead the A-F grading system and intervene when DPS  and authorizers fail to act on chronically under-performing schools. This is important because it signals a shift in power from the state board of education, the state superintendent, and the EAA to an office under the direct control of the governor — a good thing when difficult decisions have to be made quickly.
  • The politics behind the passage of this bill are ugly. I’m not on the ground in Michigan and I’m more interested in policy design and implementation, so I’m not going to get too far into it. But it seems like the bill — which had widespread bipartisan support, including Michigan’s republican governor, Detroit’s democratic mayor, and the Detroit Caucus — should have trumped the one bankrolled by two far-right special interest groups that put ideology over compromise and pragmatism.
  • Governor Snyder helped get the current bill passed by showing lawmakers how much a DPS bankruptcy would cost the state (and their home districts) should legislation fall apart, but one has to wonder why he didn’t take a more commanding posture to get his version of the bill passed by members of his own party.
  • Standing up an A-F grading system for Detroit schools and eventually the entire state is a good thing if designed well.
  • Preventing authorizing shopping is good, but the provision was used as a low-stakes bargaining chip for the far-right charter lobby. It could have been part of a more comprehensive charter law improvement bill that’s been discussed, but deprioritized in favor of this one.
  • The provisions around hiring non-certified teachers and penalizing teachers engaging in sickouts just seems like a stick-in-the-eye for Detroit democrats. Nothing more.

So what’s next? The difficult work of getting an accountability infrastructure in place and setting up a new district in Detroit will begin immediately. And I wouldn’t put it past Mayor Mike Duggan to keep pushing for the DEC or something like it when the timing is right. In the meantime, Detroit’s leaders should be thinking about what they can do on their own to rein in their charter sector’s authorizer environment and make sure the new DPS doesn’t look like the old DPS.

Follow me on Twitter @jasonweeby

Eight Questions for Rick Snyder About the Future of Detroit’s Schools

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (via time.com)

Tomorrow, Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, plans to unveil a new plan for Detroit’s schools, which he previewed a week ago. The three-part plan is expected to call for significant changes to handle the Detroit Public Schools’ persistent $350 million debt load and, more importantly, revamp the governance and oversight model for the city’s schools.

[Update: Coverage of Snyder’s press conference here and here.]

The first part will call for a bankruptcy-management strategy (previously employed by General Motors) through which Detroit Public Schools would be divided into two entities. One would operate schools (the “new company”); the other would resolve the district’s debt (the “old company”).

The second part will call for the DPS school board to remain with the “old company.” The district is currently run by a state-appointed emergency financial manager, an arrangement that is likely to continue until the district is solvent, so any board’s role would be limited for the foreseeable future.

The third part would establish the Detroit Education Commission, a new body that would oversee Detroit’s portfolio of district and charter schools. Early reports indicate that the commissioners would be appointed by Governor Snyder and Detroit’s Mayor, Mike Duggan. The body would oversee city-wide education services such as a common enrollment system, a universal performance measure, and transportation. The idea was first introduced a month ago in a report by the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren.

We’ve been following the developments in Detroit closely for quite some time and are heartened to see proposals that get into the DNA of the system–changing decision-making authority and governance instead of just tinkering with the operations of the district. But there are still a number of important open questions. Here are eight that we hope Gov. Snyder’s announcement will answer, questions we believe are critical to creating a self-improving system of diverse, high-quality schools:

  1. Who will be ultimately accountable for the success of the city’s schools?
  2. What will the relationship be between the Detroit Education Commission and other oversight entities, such as charter school authorizers, the “new DPS” board, the Education Achievement Authority, and the state board of education?
  3. Will Detroit be converted to a “charter district,” similar to Muskegon Heights and Highland Park? If so, will the “new DPS” continue to authorize charter schools?
  4. Who will get control of facilities in the debt divide? Does the DEC manage them for the city’s portfolio or are they assets owned and controlled by the “old DPS”?
  5. Will Snyder address the fixes needed at the state level, like stronger charter authorizing practices, which have a significant influence on Detroit schools?
  6. When fully implemented, what mechanisms will there be for stakeholders like parents, students, and community members to exercise democratic control and have a local voice?
  7. How will private schools be incorporated into Detroit’s system of schools?
  8. How will the state ensure a smooth transition to a new governance model, and how long will it take?