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Week in review: Too many candidates, not enough information

Attendees at last night's CitizenDetroit School Board Candidate Forum hear from candidates Sonya Mays and Ryan Mack in a "speed dating round" on how they would ensure transparency and robust community engagement if elected. (Courtesy CitizenDetroit)

With 18 days until polls open in Detroit, local schools advocates are starting to turn their attention to who will serve on the board of the new Detroit Public Schools Community District. This will be the city’s first school board with any real power (though not complete power) following years of state-appointed emergency managers. But with more than 60 candidates on the ballot, voters might have trouble figuring out whom to support.

"Am I supposed to know these people? Nothing came in the mail about these people here."Maulana Horton, Detroit voter

 

Read on for some guidance, plus the rest of the week’s headlines. Thanks for reading!

Sifting the ballot

In the race to select the first seven-member Detroit school board, endorsements have started rolling in from the Detroit News, the Michigan Chronicle, and the state teachers union.

Candidate forums are being held around town including one that was expected to draw hundreds of Detroiters last night. And news organizations plan to publish reports soon to help voters sift through their options.

Not all of the candidates are doing their part, however. Only 25 of the 63 candidates filled out the candidate questionnaire on the district’s website. When a pair of TV reporters selected 20 candidates to investigate, they found that only seven had campaign websites (one of which didn’t work).

The Free Press hasn’t endorsed in the school board race yet, but the paper is urging voters to support a tax hike that will steer an additional $385 per student to schools in Detroit and other Wayne County districts. Only district schools will benefit, however, which has charter school advocates grumbling.

The Wayne County proposal is identical to one that voters rejected in 2014 and could be a tough sell. For more information on how the Wayne measure will affect Detroit schools, the district posted answers to several questions.

In Detroit schools:

  • In the New York Times, a law professor writes that the federal right-to-read suit filed by Detroit students will be “the opening chapter in a long legal saga.” The question, he says, is whether “a state can constitutionally provide a vast majority of its students with an excellent or at least adequate education while a minority of students receive an education that denies them the chance to acquire … minimum skills.” He adds: “The simple fact is that these schools are a disgrace.”
  • Graduation rates are up in Detroit. But one critic notes that those numbers aren’t very useful. “We are graduating kids who are illiterate and who can’t read their diploma,” he said.
  • A report from a local advocacy group calls for an expanded focus on preschool and other efforts to support children before they fall behind in school. “Our systems are underdeveloped and disconnected,” contends the report.
  • An author and education reformer asserts that Detroit needs a “home-grown education leader and change agent.”
  • An advocate for teacher quality argues that the solution to Detroit’s teaching shortage isn’t welcoming uncertified teachers, as some have suggested, but higher standards.
  • A parent blogger explains why she chose to keep her children in Detroit Public Schools.
  • A local college president is calling for a community-wide push by parents, teachers and residents to “keep the focus on the children” and fix Detroit schools.
  • Five hundred area high schools learned about plumbing, masonry, and carpentry at a Construction Academy event this week.

Across the state:

  • Public spending on private school students is up 51 percent from three years ago.
  • State lawmakers are pushing back on a federal proposal that would require Michigan to prove it spends the same amount on schools that get federal poverty funding as those that don’t. New federal laws are designed to make sure that states aren’t using those federal funds as an excuse to shortchange high-needs schools.
  • Forty-five Michigan schools picked up grants to upgrade their cafeterias and kitchens.

In other news:

  • Members of a Detroit high school’s cheerleading squad have been suspended after a fight was captured on video.
  • The Michigan Supreme Court will convene at a local school.

More from Chalkbeat:

  • Here’s what it feels like when you’re in charge of testing in a Colorado school district and your daughter wants to opt out.
  • Tired of waiting on state test results, one urban school system is considering giving its own exam.
  • Memphis school officials have kicked off a series of community meetings to prepare to close or merge schools.

Week In Review

Week in review: A summer reunion, budget news and musical history

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Music teacher Quincy Stewart incorporates math, writing and history in his music classes at Detroit's Central High School.

As the schools in the state-run Education Achievement Authority prepare to return next week to the main Detroit school district, we took a look this week at an EAA teacher who uses music to expose his students to African-American history, playing the music of Africa, of slavery, and of the Black Power and Civil Rights movements.

“These children have been robbed by this system, from the cradle until right now. They’ve been miseducated, undereducated and misused … They walk in here and they don’t even know who they are.”

— Quincy Stewart, music teacher, Central High School

Read on for more on this story and the rest of this week’s education news. For those who are students or educators now enjoying summer break, congrats! You made it! EAA and some charter schools have a week or more to go before breaking for the summer.

Also, if you’re available Saturday, stop by the Blight Bootcamp at Central High School where education topics planned for the community discussion will include sessions on kindergarten readiness and creating literacy. Chalkbeat will be moderating a panel on school closures and ways that officials can protect children and communities when schools close their doors.

Music and power

At a time when many districts are cutting arts programs to make room for more core subjects like math and reading, this music teacher shows that schools don’t have to choose between the arts and core subjects. They can blend them together.

Two boards and a reunion

  • With the state-run recovery district set to dissolve next Friday, the Detroit school board approved a $5 million agreement to transfer some remaining funds to the main Detroit district.
  • The state district, meanwhile, is seeking an advance on its state aid payments to cover some of its final expenses.
  • The Detroit board brainstormed issues that will be a priority in the next six months. The board intends to hold an off-site retreat in July to begin developing a strategic plan.
  • The board plans to meet tonight to consider asking voters in November whether taxpayer money should fund the Detroit Pistons move downtown. A vote is not likely tonight.

Dollars and sense

In Detroit

  • Two major foundations soon plan to release the details of an effort to expand early childhood education and services in Detroit. “We know we need to increase access, create more centers and more seats, and develop highly skilled teachers,” one leader of the effort said. “How do we co-locate more family services in schools so they become more like community hubs?”
  • When the billionaire Amazon.com founder asked for suggestions for charitable donations, he heard from Madonna who suggested several Detroit organizations. Among them: A northwest Detroit charter school and a boxing gym that tutors Detroit kids.
  • As the main district tries to recruit families displaced by charter school closings, it’s hosting an enrollment fair next week.
  • The district is also ramping up its teacher hiring efforts — but so are some of the charter school networks competing for the same candidates.
  • A Detroit program offers parents a small stipend to work in classrooms and support students and their families.
  • Ann Arbor teachers this week donated supplies to Detroit teachers.
  • One of the Detroit principals convicted of taking bribes last year is fighting to stay out of prison.

Across the state

  • The state of Michigan has no idea how many educators are violating the law by running schools without the proper certification, but the number could be in the hundreds.
  • The state law that bars schools from starting classes before Labor Day is facing mounting political pushback.
  • A former British Prime Minister praised U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, telling her at a western Michigan business forum: “Madam Secretary, let me say how much I admire your stance on school choice.”
  • This western Michigan charter school wants more flexibility to serve students who have been suspended.
  • Students in a suburban district have said goodbye to their beloved therapy dog

 

Week In Review

Week in review: A man, a plan, a budget — and a look at private donations to public schools

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit Pre-K teacher Candace Graham talks to a student on the playground at the Carver STEM Academy. She says her students get "left out a lot" because the school's two other preschool classrooms are in the PNC Grow Up Great program.

We took a look this week at the challenge facing high-poverty districts like Detroit that rely on corporate and philanthropic donations to pick up where the government leaves off. Districts are happy to accept gifts from private donors but that can mean some kids get benefits that others do not. That’s why a west side elementary school has two pre-K classrooms in a popular arts and science enrichment program — and one pre-K that can’t participate.

“We get left out a lot. It’s unfortunate because I feel like all the kids should have the opportunities.”

— Candace Graham, pre-kindergarten teacher, Carver STEM Academy

Scroll down for more on that story and the rest of the week’s education news. The week included the new superintendent’s first school board meeting and a surprising announcement from the University of Michigan that it will extend free tuition to students whose families make less than $65,000 a year. That’s more than half of state residents.

Also, check out this story by Bridge Magazine, our Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner. It highlights a provision in the city teachers contract that could be exacerbating the teacher shortage.

 

A tale of two pre-Ks

All of the pre-K students at Detroit’s Carver STEM Academy are getting a quality education but some kids get to experience a program that shows how much more is possible.

A man, a plan and a budget

Across the state

On DeVos

  • A News columnist says if President Trump and his education secretary Betsy DeVos want to promote school choice, they should stay away from local and state education decisions.
  • The New York Times takes a look at the private western Michigan Christian schools that educated DeVos and her children in search of insight into her policy agenda, as well as a charter school founded by her family.

In other news

Awards and accolades