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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.

Headlines

Week in Review: Amid DeVos ‘Wild West’ critiques, a new charter school says strict state laws are standing in the way of diversity

PHOTO: Ali Lapetina
The new Detroit Prep charter school aims to be the city's first intentionally diverse charter school.

Michigan schools have gotten scrutiny from across the country this week after President-elect Donald Trump nominated local philanthropist Betsy DeVos to be his education secretary.

Among the wide-ranging critiques that have gotten an airing: that DeVos has backed a lax “Wild West” charter school system that has damaged Detroit schools..

So it’s a little surprising to hear a charter school leader say regulations are standing in her way. But that’s exactly the critique coming from the co-founder of Detroit’s newest charter school, Detroit Prep, who says in our latest story that state rules could stop her from enrolling a diverse student body. Her workaround: enroll students in a way that critics call “exclusive” and “sneaky.”

“I think we’re failing our kids if we allow all kids to sit in rooms with kids that only look like them and that are from the same background so if people think we’re going about it in a bad way, I welcome that feedback because we want to hear all perspectives, good and bad.”

Kyle Smitley, co-founder, Detroit Prep

On DeVos, the Michigan philanthropist vaulted to a national stage:

Right to read?

Detroit school children have no fundamental right to literacy, according to Gov. Rick Snyder’s attorneys. While Snyder says courts should recognize the “importance of literacy,” he argues the state isn’t required to give every child a decent education. “Literacy is a component or particular outcome of education, not a right granted to individuals by the Constitution.”

The governor’s arguments came in response to the Detroit schools lawsuit, which claims that deplorable school conditions in the city have violated children’s Constitutional rights. Lawyers for the seven children who brought the suit objected to Snyder’s lawsuit response. “Each day that the state chooses to fight this lawsuit is another day of education lost that may never be recovered,” one lawyer said. “Would the state try to wash its hands of this matter if the students suffering were not children of color from low-income families?”

The Detroit News says the lawsuit put the state “in the awkward position of arguing that students don’t have a right to literacy,” adding “but that doesn’t’ mean Snyder and education officials are indifferent to the quality of students’ education.” The paper called on the state to improve local schools but said, “Trying to force better outcomes through the courts … isn’t the way to do this.” (A local radio host disagrees.)

In Detroit schools:

  • A new charter school is Detroit’s most diverse public school. Here’s why it might not stay that way.
  • The Detroit Promise scholarship program has expanded to include free access to four-year colleges for every Detroit high school grad with good grades and strong test scores. Officials say Detroit is now the largest city in the country to offer scholarships to all of its graduates, with kids who don’t qualify for the four-year scholarships entitled to a free ride at local community colleges.
  • A Detroit teachers union leader got a major raise.
  • A yearlong effort by the Free Press to listen to the challenges facing Detroit children included claims from students that they haven’t been properly prepared for college. “DPS did not prepare me for the ACT,” one recent Cody High School grad said. “It was some stuff on it that I knew, but some of that stuff, I know for sure I was never taught.”
  • The paper is highlighting programs that could benefit Detroit kids, including a curriculum that helps young children learn social-emotional and problem-solving skills.
  • A local foundation is giving Detroit’s main school district a quarter million dollars to help the district grow and harvest vegetables to serve in school meals.
  • Stalled plans to build a large urban agriculture park on the site of the shuttered Kettering High School in Detroit have picked up steam.
  • Wayne County taxpayers will start feeling the pinch from the school tax increase when tax bills go out this week.
  • A network of charter schools in Detroit and Dearborn requires students to complete a career-focused internship and senior project in order to graduate.
  • A local advocate called for expanding after-school programs to help low-income kids in Detroit.
  • Two local philanthropists are funding a program at a Detroit school that helps introduce children to yoga, health, fitness and nutrition.
  • A local non-profit executive says Detroit needs to do two things to fix its schools.
  • The Detroit Public Schools Community District is planning a parade on Monday to toast the high school football teams that won the state’s Division I and Division 2 championships — the first time in state history that both winners are from the same district.

Across the state:

  • An effort to force new teachers out of state pension plans is moving forward in Lansing despite testimony that the move will cost billions of dollars.
  • In a state with low reading scores, this west Michigan effort shows promise.
  • One school choice advocate called on the state to “revamp its school rating system” to better help parents make decisions about where to enroll their children. The state, he wrote, “needs a fairer measuring tool that doesn’t punish schools for enrolling a lot of kids with learning struggles.”
  • A suburban high school teacher is working with students to create a museum to honor his school’s history.

Headlines

Week in review: Right-wing Michigan philanthropist Betsy DeVos reportedly in the mix for Trump education secretary

Harassment and intimidation complaints in schools spiked after last week’s election, and Michigan officials are pleading with “educators at all levels” to help stop the bullying:

“Our schools must be safe havens for our children – free from hate; free from intimidation; free from bullying; and free from fear.”

— State Superintendent Brian Whiston

The election fallout comes as Michigan political watchers wait to see whether an influential figure in state education policy could join the new Trump administration. Read on for more details and the rest of the week’s education news.

Ed sec speculation hits home

As Donald Trump prepares to become president in January, a powerful — and controversial — figure in state education politics is in the mix as a possible education secretary in the Trump administration.

Republican Betsy DeVos helped lead an unsuccessful push to change the state constitution to allow private school vouchers and has been a strong supporter of school choice programs. She sparked criticism this year when together with other wealthy family members, she flooded state lawmakers with campaign cash as they debated whether to include oversight for charter schools in their Detroit schools legislation. They didn’t.

It could be weeks before we know who Trump will choose, but one prominent native Detroiter whose name had been floated says he’s not interested. And while some say that whoever does get the job won’t have much influence under existing federal law, others in Michigan want the U.S. Education Department shuttered completely.

Other names in the education secretary mix include former Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett and New York City charter school mogul Eva Moskowitz, who said Thursday that she doesn’t want the job. As Trump appears to be considering education reformers, they face a stark choice: serve or steer clear?

Election aftermath

After his statement Monday that lamented the election’s impact on the “actions, demeanor and mood in some of our schools,” state Superintendent Brian Whiston followed up the next day with another message, this time issued jointly with the state’s top civil rights official. They called on “every administrator, teacher, staff member, parent, guardian, bus driver and student” to “stand as one in condemning intolerable conduct regardless of message or motivation.” The second statement also included a list of resources and specific guidance for schools.

That effort came as some parents at a Grosse Pointe school were angered by a unity message broadcast after the election by the school’s Muslim principal. And a Birmingham teacher is under fire for tweets that questioned the values of his largely white students in the wake of the election.

Those incidents, which follow high profile events last week like the viral video of Royal Oak students chanting “build that wall” in a school cafeteria, are part of a growing national tally of post-election bullying and harassment in schools.

It’s not all negative though. Students at this Michigan school created a “wall of positivity.” And these middle schoolers are doing their part to spread unity and kindness.

In Detroit:

  • The Detroit News says the new Detroit school board must prove itself. Arguing that “despite a couple of bright spots,” the new board “doesn’t offer a lot of hope for the district’s variability,” the paper urged the board to conduct a nationwide search for a new superintendent. But Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather should be an option, the paper wrote: “She’s done well in her role.”
  • The success of the Wayne County tax hike vote last week might inspire neighboring counties to seek similar votes in upcoming elections.
  • The heads of two prominent local foundations explain why they’re launching a “bold, city-wide engagement to bring the needs of Detroit’s youngest citizens, from birth to age 8, to the forefront.”
  • A local after-school program that teaches low-income children to play classical music was honored this week by the White House.
  • One advocate says Detroit needs more college pipeline programs.
  • The private companies that now run school buses in Detroit have adapted to recent changes and technology.
  • A school bus crashed into a manufacturing plant on Detroit’s northwest side, injuring the driver. No kids were on the bus.
  • A former Detroit Public Schools CEO has died.

Across the state:

  • Without state oversight, dual enrollment programs that are supposed to help students earn free college credits while still in high school are diminishing. While the programs have grown in popularity, not all colleges accept the credits.
  • State officials want public input on how best to respond to changes in federal education law and are holding public forums around the state.
  • What would it cost to pay Michigan teachers the way we pay doctors? A lot.
  • One advocate warns that a teacher pension crisis is looming in Michigan.
  • A suburban teacher’s aide pleaded guilty to charges related to sexaul contact with students.
  • Police at a suburban high school are investigating whether a student threatened to carry out a school shooting.
  • A suburban high school is hosting a “Prep for Success” educational symposium this weekend to help over 1,000 students and their parents get help with study skills, test prep and academic guidance.

From Chalkbeat: