Week In Review

11 things you should know about Detroit education

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum

You’ll find that this week’s news was dominated by school closings, accountability, and the cost of education.   

But first, if you haven’t yet purchased your ticket for the March 17 School Days storytelling event hosted by Chalkbeat and the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, get your tickets here. For a preview, watch Senior Detroit Correspondent Erin Einhorn on stage recently telling the story of how and why Chalkbeat got started in Detroit. We hope to see you there!

Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

DEVOS INFLUENCE: A Detroit lawsuit all but accuses U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of bribery, asserting she used campaign contributions to kill a controversial education commission last year. The suit, filed by the former Detroit school board and Detroit parents, seeks potentially millions of dollars from the billionaire Michigan philanthropist.  

SCHOOL CLOSINGS: Michigan’s school reform leader defended the threatened closings of failing schools in Detroit in front of a state House panel, testifying that there was no transportation plan for students who would be forced out of their districts.

WATER ALERT: Almost 30 Detroit schools were closed after a boil water advisory was issued in the city (though the schools were open for the first day of the crisis).

PARENTS PROTEST: A rally in Lansing by a Detroit parent group urged parents to remove their children from state testing to protest threatened school closings. Parents also protested this week in Detroit and Pontiac.

GRADING SCHOOLS: More than half of Michigan’s schools would earn As and Bs under the the state’s proposed new school grading system, despite the fact that schools across the state are sliding academically. An education advocacy group believes the proposal, which is the state’s effort to comply with a new federal law, has “the potential to be a big step forward” but could undermine the state’s efforts to improve performance. The state’s proposal is open for public comment through March 16.

MONEY ANSWERS: Here’s how Michigan schools spent their money in the 2015-16 school year — and a slew of fascinating pie charts that break down how much districts spend on instruction, administration and other services.

CYBER FUNDING: State cyber schools are fighting Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal to cut state aid to the schools. They could lose $16 million.

COMMENTARY: A Free Press columnist says “legislative complacency is allowing suburban school districts … to continue a dangerous academic and financial slide that’s taking Michigan perilously close to crisis.”

WOLF TRAP PROGRAM: Pairing preschoolers with professional artists in this Detroit program could lead to students with better math, science and literacy skills.

SCHOOL TECHNOLOGY: One school advocate explains why computers and technology are not essential to a 21st century education.

LIFE-CHANGING TEACHER: This Detroit teacher was named “Life Changer of the year” for helping her students advocate for the environment.

Week In Review

Week in review: Controversy about superintendent opening and lawsuits against the state

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum

Who will be the next superintendent of Detroit schools? The board of education did not grant Alycia Meriweather an interview, but many in Detroit are pushing the board to make her a candidate. Another wrinkle: One of the three finalists withdrew from the competition.

If you were not able to attend Chalkbeat’s kickoff event last Friday, be sure to watch our coverage. You can also view the show here.

Read on for more about Meriweather, mascots, and how school lunches affect test scores.

— Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

Interim chief rejected: Detroit schools superintendent Alycia Meriweather is trying to stay focused on the district’s future, like bringing struggling schools run by the state back into the district, but her departure creates another layer of uncertainty for parents and teachers.

Populist support: Meriweather’s exclusion from the search process has triggered angry reactions on social media. Hundreds of people have signed a petition urging the school board to reconsider. And on Wednesday, the union representing Detroit teachers called on the board to give her a shot.

And then there were two: One finalist withdrew, leaving two candidates vying to be Detroit schools superintendent. Both have ties to the area and bring experience from other low-performing districts.  

Opinion: Secretly discussing potential Detroit superintendent candidates and voting behind closed doors to tell 16 schools on the state’s priority list that their contracts may not be renewed was called a disservice to parents and students. One newspaper calls for better accountability and transparency.

Opinion: Another commentator believes Michigan doesn’t have the will to improve its underperforming schools.

Getting that diploma: The state’s graduation rate was down slightly for the class of 2016.  But fewer students are dropping out and instead are continuing school beyond four years.

Who gets the credit: East Detroit is no longer under the control of a state-appointed CEO. Local leaders object to state efforts to credit him with district improvements, which they say happened before he arrived.

Mascot fines: The state superintendent wants the power to fine school districts that refuse to change mascots and logos that are widely seen as offensive.

Lawsuit against the state: Educators, parent groups, and others interested in education sued to stop Michigan from giving $2.5 million to private schools to reimburse them for costs associated with state requirements.

Another lawsuit against the state: Detroit schools officially filed papers to keep the state from forcing the closure of failing schools.

Shuttle bumps: A school transportation system that some Detroit leaders had been exploring for this city faces challenges in Denver. The system won praise from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Pushback: The state board of education spurned a recommendation from Gov. Rick Snyder’s education panel to disband the board, claiming it provides “transparency and continuous oversight” of school policy.  

Transformation: A nonprofit group hopes to transform a neighborhood by turning the former Durfee Elementary and Middle School into a community innovation center.

Eat to learn: One large study shows students at schools that serve lunches from healthier vendors get better test scores.

Harsh measures? A teacher’s aide at a Detroit school has been disciplined after a video appeared to show her throwing a student.

Week In Review

A lawsuit, our exciting event, and 9 other things you should know about Detroit schools this week

PHOTO: Gage Skidmore

Are they on or are they off? Michigan’s letter grades for schools were thrown into question this week as policy makers picked sides about how the state evaluates schools.

One thing that’s definitely on: the School Days storytelling event Chalkbeat is hosting tonight in collaboration with the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers at the Charles H. Wright Museum. We’re expecting an epic night of cocktails and storytelling, designed to both celebrate and elevate the voices of Detroit residents. Tickets are $20 in advance (or $25 at the door). You can still buy tickets here.

Read on for more about accountability, teacher pay, and how Gov. Rick Snyder wants to improve schools.

— Julie Topping, Chalkbeat Detroit editor

School rankings: Changes in Detroit’s school ranking system hurt some of the city’s top schools but helped other lower ranked ones, including a charter school operated by the DeVos family.

Measuring accountability: Letter grades or not was the question this week as the state board of education and the governor split over how to measure school quality. The board wants to see a dashboard of assessments but the governor favors letter grades to evaluate schools. One blogger believes letter grade evaluations actually empower parents to make better decisions.

Non-closure agreements: The heads of most of the 38 schools targeted for closure are drafting agreements that would allow the schools to stay open while collaborating with the state. A template for the agreements is still being created.

A lawsuit anyway: Just to keep options open, the Detroit board of education followed other Michigan school districts and voted to sue the state reform office to prevent it from closing any of Detroit’s struggling schools.

School deserts: One podcast looks at the many difficulties Detroit parents face when trying to keep their children in a quality, stable, and accessible school. (Don’t forget our story about the sacrifices families make to attend strong schools.)

Governor’s strategy for schools: Snyder released his latest recommendations for improving state schools, including eliminating the state board of education, investing more in schools, expanding free preschool, and increasing parent partnerships. His panel believes these charges are necessary to keep Michigan students from falling further behind other states.

Federal budget: President Trump’s proposed budget adds $1.4 billion for school choice efforts, while cutting the overall budget of the education department by 13 percent, or $9 billion. Included in that cut would be funds for City Year in Detroit.

Teacher salaries: The average pay of teachers in the state went down this year, probably because of turnover. Find what Michigan teachers make in your district with this tool.

Graduation requirements: A three-member Senate panel will examine whether high school graduation curriculum guidelines in Michigan should be updated.

Returning to Detroit: New U.S. housing chief and Detroit native Ben Carson visited with students and parents at the Detroit school named for him during his national tour to share ideas about public housing.