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.

home sweet home

‘Finally! Something useful’ or a dangerous mistake? Detroiters respond to city’s housing deal for teachers

PHOTO: Detroit Land Bank Authority
This home on Harvard Road was up for auction the week after Detroit announced a half-off-on-city-owned housing deal for teachers.

Friday’s announcement that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter, or parochial schools — will get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority stirred a lot of discussion.

Some of our commenters on Facebook had high hopes for the deal:

But one commenter wondered if it’s the city of Detroit that’s actually getting the best deal, not the employees — or other people seeking to buy homes in the city:

And others argued that people who already live in Detroit won’t benefit from this deal:

Still, some readers appear to be ready to move — and have even picked homes to bid on (though not necessarily from the Land Bank Authority)!

Week In Review

Week in Review: Discount houses — and new faces at the top of Detroit schools

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum

The big news this morning is the announcement from Mayor Mike Duggan that Detroit teachers and school employees — district, charter and parochial — will now get 50% discounts on houses auctioned through Detroit’s Land Bank Authority. That could help draw more residents to the city — and possibly give school officials another perk they can use to attract teachers in their efforts to address severe teaching shortages.

“Teachers and educators are vital to the city’s future. It’s critical to give our school employees, from teachers to custodial staff, the opportunity to live in the communities they teach in.

— Mayor Mike Duggan

New schools superintendent Nikolai Vitti has said that hiring teachers is a priority. He’s also busily hiring a team of top advisors to help him run the Detroit schools. To do that, he’s drawing heavily from his Florida contacts. Of the 16 cabinet members he’s identified, five are people he worked with in Jacksonville or Miami. Want to learn more about them? We’ve assembled a gallery of who they are, what they’re doing and how much they’ll be paid.

Also this week, we featured the latest installment in our Story Booth series: An educator who says the inspiration she received from teachers in the Detroit Public Schools helped her guide one of her own students through a personal tragedy. If you know a student, parent or educator with a Detroit story to tell for a future Story Booth, please let us know.

In Detroit

  • Mayor Duggan is planning to announce details of the Detroit Land Bank Authority Educator Discount Program at a press conference this morning.
  • The Floridians in Vitti’s cabinet are joined by veterans of the Detroit Public Schools and several officials who worked for the dissolved state-run recovery district. Among them are former teachers and principals, lawyers and a real estate developer.
  • This weekend’s March for Public Education — tomorrow in Clark Park — was organized by a local resident who couldn’t get time off work to attend the march in Washington.
  • Students who attended Southeastern High School last year won’t have to take a test to return in the fall — but new students will. The school will become the city’s fourth exam school. “I’m not going to suggest that in one year Southeastern is going to be Renaissance and Cass,” Vitti said, “but I think we can make it successful.”
  • A revived local restaurant association is working with Detroit schools to train students and grads for jobs in downtown and Midtown restaurants.
  • A Detroit schools advocate explains why the relationship between Detroit and the state is like that of a child and her abusive mother.
  • Detroit’s former “rebel lunch lady” now has plans to shake up school food in Houston.
  • Here’s how the work formerly done by the defunct Excellent Schools Detroit organization will be divvied up among other groups.
  • A convicted former Detroit principal has been given more time before she has to report to prison.

Across the state

  • Districts that sued the state to stop the forced closures of struggling schools are close to reaching a settlement. The state backed down on 38 proposed school closings but maintains the right to close persistently low-performing schools in the future.
  • Michigan is one of 23 states that did not meet all the federal requirements for educating its students with disabilities.
  • A fiscally conservative Michigan think tank has issued a helpful, comprehensive guide to how school funding works in Michigan.
  • These three early childhood centers demonstrate how schools can be community hubs. They offer medical and dental clinics and services such as job training for parents.
  • Michigan schools are changing their zero-tolerance discipline policies to comply with a new state law.
  • A state science and technology advisory council has chosen to invest in six STEM programs that have been proven effective for Michigan schools.

Teachers united

  • The state’s largest teachers union used a collection agency to force teachers to pay $241,000 in delinquent dues between 2013 and 2016.
  • A state teachers union leader says teachers getting summers off is a dated myth. Teachers “work second and even third jobs to support their families, while finding creative ways to prepare for the next school year,” he wrote.
  • A critic of teacher pension changes says the bill Gov. Rick Snyder signed last week will squeeze teachers and cost the state more money.