5 Detroit education stories we’re tracking in 2020

Welcome to a new decade of education in Detroit.

We know that teachers will teach and students will learn in 2020. Beyond that, there are a lot of questions. Will preschool be expanded? What will happen when the new “read-or-flunk” law goes into effect? Where will the Detroit district find $500 million for building repairs?

Here’s a list — in no particular order, and about half as long as it could have been — of the key education issues Chalkbeat will be following this year.

And here’s to making 2020 a great year for Detroit students.

How many third-graders will be held back because they struggle to read?

This May, hundreds of families across Michigan (and especially in Detroit) will receive letters announcing that their third-grader scored below a 1252 on an English language arts exam and the state intends to hold the student back.

That is a distressing letter to receive, especially given that most families haven’t heard about Michigan’s new law. The law’s rollout will be among the biggest education stories in the state this spring and summer.

But a lot could change before May, including the law itself. More than one key Republican lawmaker has expressed doubts about holding back thousands of third-graders, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, wants the law repealed.

Even if the law remains, there will be a lot of unresolved questions. Will schools be able to help struggling readers catch up? Will parents and schools take advantage of tools that could allow their child to advance to the next grade despite their reading score? Will poor families be disproportionately impacted, as they have been in other states with similar laws?

This is a good place to start for basic questions about the law. If you have concerns or uncertainties, please send me an email.

Will every 4-year-old in Detroit get access to free preschool?

Mayor Mike Duggan said it, then said it again: Every 4-year-old in Detroit will have access to high-quality preschool by this fall.

Will it really happen? Key players in the Detroit early childhood sector say it looks promising, and Duggan insists he has the necessary support from Republican lawmakers.

If Duggan manages to bring in new preschool money, it would mark the beginning of a story that will play out for years. If it happens, we’ll keep a close eye on whether the new program would disrupt existing preschools in Detroit, and whether it would have the same quality standards as a highly regarded state-run program for 4-year-olds.

What will it take for these Detroit grads to succeed in college?

Education is supposed to help students get ahead in the world, but that’s increasingly difficult to do without a postsecondary degree. One of the most troubling aspects of Detroit’s K-12 school system is that it consistently graduates teens who aren’t ready for college.

Detroit bureau chief Lori Higgins spent the last six months asking what can be done to improve the situation, and she’ll be telling those stories through the end of the school year.

Her first stories followed the paths of several Detroit grads in their first year of college, showing the challenges they face and the programs and people that can help them bridge the gap.

Keep an eye out for the next installments.

Can the Detroit district find money to fix its aging buildings?

Between promising test scores, a new curriculum rollout, and a looming facilities crisis, the Detroit district had a roller coaster 2019.

As we approach the end of Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s third year on the job, he is focusing on the urgent need to repair the district’s crumbling buildings. But the district doesn’t have the $500 million needed to do the job, and it’s still unclear where the money could come from.

Many Detroit students attend school in classrooms that don’t have heat or windows that open. Something has to change. Will 2020 bring solutions?

How will education issues fare at the ballot box?

Voters will shape the future of education in Detroit in a big way this year. They’ll get a chance to weigh in on three ballot proposals that have major implications for schools in the Detroit area.

One proposal would raise money to expand after-school programming in Wayne County, which includes Detroit.

Another would boost funding to schools countywide, with $19 million on the line for the Detroit Public Schools Community District, for example.

The third would provide revenue for Detroit Public Schools, which exists solely to pay off legacy debt. Officials with DPSCD, which was created in 2016 to educate students, say that homeowners in Detroit could be stuck with higher tax bills if this ballot issue fails.

What’s missing? Your story.

The hopeful, challenging, frustrating, and inspiring story of education in Detroit isn’t complete without the voices of teachers, parents, and students. Your experience matters, and Lori and I (and soon our new reporter Eleanore Catolico) are always happy to talk. You can reach us here.