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:

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.