Headlines

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

9 things you should know about Detroit education this week

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
  • As dozens of Detroit schools are threatened with closure in June, politics poisoned a $700,000 tool that could have helped displaced students apply to new schools.
  • Even as school boards in Kalamazoo and Saginaw joined Detroit in taking steps to sue the state over school closings, one of Gov. Rick Snyder’s key advisors said there is “no way in the world” the state reform office is going to close 38 schools without offering better options to students.
  • The state reform office mailed a list of “better” school options to parents that included districts that don’t even take Detroit kids. Another place parents can look for other school options is a new school scorecard released by an education advocacy organization that recommended 21 K-8 schools in or near Detroit.
  • State school reform district Chancellor Veronica Conforme gets a new job turning around failing schools in Massachusetts.
  • The new Detroit school board approved 11 teacher-backed proposals to improve Detroit schools including a plan to make Southeastern High School — one of the schools on the state’s closure list — an application school that students would have to test into. The proposals also included journalism, art and music programs, as well as honors academies in every K-8 school.
  • As Michigan philanthropist Betsy DeVos begins her job as U.S. Secretary of Education, Chalkbeat invited readers to tell her what they need to know. One Detroiter wrote that many students “took unreliable Detroit city buses to school every day, and if they lost their bus pass, they were required to pay the $200+ to replace it.”
  • A bill to repeal state Common Core standards met with mixed reviews in Lansing but may gain momentum thanks to two new state board of education members.
  • Tell us your story about Detroit schools! Chalkbeat Detroit and The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers are presenting an event called “School Days” to tell the story of Detroit’s changing schools. We are looking for teachers, parents, students and anyone else with a story to tell. We will publish the best entries and choose five storytellers to work side-by-side with storyteller Satori Shakoor to take their story from the page to the stage at the Charles H. Wright Museum. The first 20 people to submit entries will also get a free ticket to the March 17 event. Submit your story here. Or, if you’d much rather listen to stories, buy a ticket.
  • Plus, we’re launching our first-ever national Reader Advisory Board, and we want you to join! Learn more and apply here.

 

Week In Review

Week In review: A new secretary, brewing battles — and a call for stories

We have a new education secretary in Washington, a ramped up legal battle over school closings in Detroit and a budget fight that pits charter schools against district schools in Lansing. Read on for highlights on all of these stories — plus exciting opportunities for you to tell some stories of your own.

Opportunity 1: Chalkbeat Detroit and The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers are presenting an event called “School Days” to tell the story of Detroit’s changing schools. We are looking for teachers, parents, students and anyone else with a story to tell. We will publish the best entries and choose five storytellers to work side-by-side with storyteller Satori Shakoor to take their story from the page to the stage at the Charles H. Wright Museum. The first 20 people to submit entries will also get a free ticket to the March 17 event. Submit your story here. Or, if you’d much rather listen to stories, buy a ticket).

Opportunity 2: Now that Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as education secretary, we’re asking readers what they want the new education secretary to know. What do you want to tell her about your school or your child? We will publish a selection of answers next week.

We look forward to hearing from many of you. Until then, here’s the headlines:

 

Madam Secretary

Michigan philanthropist Betsy DeVos says she tries “not to be cynical” about the way she was treated during her bruising confirmation process, which she joked was a “bit of a bear.”

In an interview that the Detroit News touted as an exclusive sit-down in her new Washington office, DeVos said she’s “disappointed with how some people have behaved” but still remains “very hopeful that if people can unite around doing what’s right for kids we can ultimately find common ground.”

Now that she’s in office — thanks to a historic tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence (and, some say, to a boost from something else) — DeVos says her first order of business is mending fences.

She may also need to touch base with her IT staff. The federal website for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is back online after a brief shutdown that officials blamed on “technical issues.” (The IDEA was the federal law that DeVos admitted she may have been confused about during her Senate confirmation hearing).

DeVos’ critics have warned that she’ll hurt traditional schools by favoring vouchers and charter schools but her power is somewhat limited. She’s taking over an education department with clipped wings.

Experts say she’ll have very little power to mandate vouchers. But she will have influence over other key issues, such as how civil rights complaints are handled and how colleges handle campus sexual assaults.

One Detroit high school student lamented her confirmation. “My first thought was, ‘Oh my gosh, the United States of America is going to look like Detroit,” she said.

Clashing over closings

  • The Detroit school board is getting ready to fight school closings in court — and the district’s former Transition Manager predicts the board will prevail.
  • The board hopes to avoid legal action but it has officially retained a law firm and  “reserves the right” to sue if it needs to.
  • Instead of closing schools, the board believes it can improve them. The district’s interim superintendent has ordered all schools on the closing list to submit a turnaround plan within ten days.
  • Mayor Mike Duggan said he reached out to Gov. Rick Snyder in an effort to ‘derail’ the ‘irrational’ closings. “I said, ‘Governor, what the School Reform Office is doing is immoral, it’s reckless, it’s illegal. You have to step in,'” Duggan said as he announced his re-election campaign.
  • Natasha Baker, who heads the state office that’s overseeing closings, defended the effort. “Some of these schools … they’ve been in this position for 10 years, 12 years, 13 years, regardless of the management of the schools,” she said.
  • Though state lawmakers questioned whether the state has a consistent method of judging schools,  Baker said parents need multiple measures. “The goal is for parents to understand they do have options,” he said.
  • State officials have started visiting the schools threatened with closure while teachers and students have continued to protest. “They’re trying to shut down the best school I ever attended. It’s not like a school, but a family,”  one Detroit high schooler said. Another protest is scheduled for next week.
  • Parents say they’ve gotten letters from the state suggesting their kids attend schools as far away as Ann Arbor. “They didn’t tell me, as a parent, where our children are gonna go. So right now I have no clue. I’m in a puzzle like everybody else,” one parent said.
  • Moody’s Investors Service warns that districts could face dire financial consequences from school closings.

In the capitol

  • A charter school advocate steams that Snyder’s proposed education budget punishes charter schools as “political payback” for the defeat of a Detroit school oversight commission last year.
  • The proposed budget would reduce funding for cyber schools since they cost less than brick and mortar schools to operate. At-risk students and high schools meanwhile would get more money.
  • A new bill in the Michigan House would make “21st-century skills” a high school graduation requirement.
  • A new study says Michigan schools are among the lowest performing in the country.
  • Snyder wants businesses and philanthropic foundations to kick in up to $24 million to boost the Detroit Promise college scholarship program, which sends city grads to college for free.

In other news

  • Detroit schools dangled skating parties, visiting orchestras, TV station tours and guest spots for students on a local radio station in hopes of encouraging attendance on Wednesday’s Count Day, which determines how much money schools get from the state.
  • Two education experts urged the new Detroit school board to focus on big-picture issues like improving schools to avoid becoming “a forum for dispute resolution and a source of patronage.”
  • The head of the state school board association says board members want Washington and Lansing lawmakers to leave them alone.
  • This suburban teacher shares how she teaches empathy in an age of divisiveness.
  • A suburban mom was charged with assault for shoving her daughter’s teacher.
  • A suburban teen claims she was expelled from school after reporting a sexual assault.
  • A non-profit executive and consultant says school choice boosts civil rights.
  • A Detroit charter school is holding its winter student art exhibition, a free event featuring 150 pieces of art.