Here’s which Detroit schools could be closed, as confusion about their future deepens

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Dozens of Michigan schools could get some tough news Friday as school closures loom

The panic is back.

Struggling Detroit schools that breathed a collective sigh of relief this month when Gov. Rick Snyder essentially offered them a stay of execution from tough new school closure requirements were sent reeling again today after the state’s top lawyer stepped in.

But what happens next in the whiplash-inducing school closure fight remains unclear and seems likely to end up in the courts. Here’s what we know — and what we still don’t.

Wait, what’s going on?

The central issue is a law passed last spring as part of the $617 million rescue package for Detroit Public Schools.

The law requires the state school reform office to shut down every school in Detroit — both district and charter — that landed in the bottom 5 percent on state school rankings for the last three years, except in cases where closure would cause “unreasonable hardship” to students.

Chalkbeat broke the story in August that the school reform office planned to use the results of state exams given in 2014, 2015 and 2016 to make closure decisions, even though the test had changed and schools had been told by another state agency that they wouldn’t face high-stakes consequences during the early years of the new M-STEP test.

It looked like dozens of Detroit schools could be doomed. The bottom 5 percent list hasn’t been published yet for 2016, but 27 schools in Detroit’s main school district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — were on the list in both 2014 and 2015.

Many seemed like they were in danger of closing until Snyder, early this month, said he’d accepted a legal finding that took the schools off the chopping block. Essentially, it meant that since DPSCD schools are now officially in a new district, they should get a fresh start. Detroit schools were told their past scores wouldn’t apply to school closure decision until 2019.

What happened today?

Attorney General Bill Schuette, the state’s top lawyer, issued a legal opinion that DPSCD schools can, in fact, be closed, even though their district is new. Schuette had been asked for that opinion by Republican lawmakers who said the intent of their legislation was to see long-struggling schools shut down. “The law is clear: Michigan parents and their children do not have to be stuck indefinitely in a failing school,” Schuette said in a statement. “Detroit students and parents deserve accountability and high performing schools. If a child can’t spell opportunity, they won’t have opportunity.”

Not only can schools be closed, Schuette said, but he asserts that the law demands it. “The SRO is required to close schools in accordance with state law, unless closure would result in an unreasonable hardship because there are insufficient other public school options reasonably available.”

So now what?

That’s hard to predict. It’s not clear if the attorney general has the power to order the governor or the School Reform Office to use his interpretation of the law. That is also in dispute, said Ari Adler, a spokesman for the governor.

“The governor has said all along that it is his intent to follow law,” Adler said. “As different opinions are presented, he will review them and address them accordingly.”

Snyder may decide to accept Schuette’s opinion and proceed with school closings or he could hold his ground, in which case GOP lawmakers, parents, or advocates could take him to court to force him to close schools. Defenders of public schools also say they’re prepared to take this battle to the courts — so the odds of any schools being closed without some kind of judicial review seem low.

What does the district say?

Not much yet. A spokeswoman from DPSCD issued a statement saying: “We have seen the news release issued by the State’s Attorney General in regards to his opinion about DPSCD future school closures and will need to closely and carefully review the opinion with counsel and determine our course of action.”

What about charter schools?

There are five Detroit charter schools that were on the bottom-five list in 2014 and 2015. Three of them — Hamilton Academy, Marvin L. Winans Academy of Performing Arts, and the Michigan Technical Academy — could all be in danger of closing if they land on the 2016 list as well. Two others, Murphy Performance Academy and Stewart Performance Academy, may not be affected since the law applies only to charter schools that have been open for four or more years. Those schools became charter schools in 2012, but the law is vague about when the clock starts on the four-year period.

What about the Education Achievement Authority?

There were 10 schools in the state-run recovery district on both the 2014 and 2015 bottom-five lists. But the law requiring mandatory school closures only applies to the “community district,” which is DPSCD, and to charter schools. State officials said last month that they planned to close any school in the state that was on the bottom-five list for three years, which could include EAA schools, but the EAA has a murky legal status since its schools are expected to revert back to DPSCD next summer. When asked about the EAA schools’ likelihood of facing closure, an EAA spokeswoman pointed out that state law requires the school reform office to take certain steps such as ordering a redesign plan before closing a school. None of the steps have been taken with any EAA schools, she said. (Those steps aren’t required under the new law that applies to DPSCD and to charters.)

Which Detroit public schools are in danger of being closed?

There were 27 schools on the bottom-five list in 2014 and 2015. A third strike on the 2016 list, which is expected around November 1, could spell trouble for these schools. They are:

Ann Arbor Trail Magnet School

Bow Elementary-Middle School

Brewer Elementary-Middle School

Clark Preparatory Academy

Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School @ Northwestern

Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody

Durfee Elementary-Middle School

Fisher Magnet Lower Academy

Fisher Magnet Upper Academy

Gardner Elementary School

Gompers Elementary-Middle School

Greenfield Union Elementary-Middle School

Henderson Academy

King High School

King Academic and Performing Arts Academy

Marquette Elementary-Middle School

Thurgood Marshall Elementary Schools

Mason Elementary School

Osborn Academy of Mathematics

Osborn College Preparatory Academy

Osborn Evergreen Academy of Design and Alternative Energy

Palmer Park Preparatory Academy

Pulaski Elementary-MIddle School

Sampson Academy

Thirkell Elementary School

Western International High School

Coleman A. Young Elementary


Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”


Tennesseans reflect on Candice McQueen’s legacy leading the state’s schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with Arlington High School students during a school visit Tuesday that kicked off a statewide tour focused on student voices.

As Candice McQueen prepares to leave her role as Tennessee education commissioner in January, education leaders, advocates, and parents are weighing in on her impact on the state’s schools.

McQueen 44, will become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching in mid-January after about four years under the outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam administration.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy. But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Here are reactions from education leaders and thinkers across the state:

Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas:

“It was her commitment to transparency, equity, and strong accountability that helped create a nationally recognized framework that places students at its center. Commissioner McQueen’s commitment to inclusion and engagement meant that our partners across the state had the opportunity to weigh in, share their experiences, and to ask hard questions and conduct real conversations with policymakers. Tennessee continues to lead the nation in innovation and improvement in K-12 education, and that is due in no small part to Commissioner McQueen’s leadership.”

Shawn Joseph, superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, who in August co-penned a letter declaring “no confidence” in state testing:

“Since joining MNPS just over two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Commissioner McQueen and her team. She has been a strong advocate for Tennessee’s children, and I especially want to thank her for her support of the work that is taking place in Nashville. We send her our very best wishes — and our hearty congratulations for accepting her new role.”

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee:

“Commissioner Candice McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration. She took over the department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the department, particularly in the infrastructure. Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital. There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state. It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction. The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.”

Sharon Griffin, leader of the state-run Achievement School District:

“I have truly appreciated Dr. McQueen’s leadership and vision for the Department of Education.  From a distance and even closer in recent months, I have clearly seen the integrity and passion she brings to the work of improving student outcomes.  We have absolutely connected around our shared belief in how what’s in the best interest of students should guide our work.”

Jamie Woodson, CEO of SCORE:

“Tennessee students have been served very well by the steady and strong leadership of Commissioner McQueen. Her priorities have been the right ones for our children: improving student achievement, with a specific focus on reading skills; advocating for great teaching and supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instruction; and emphasizing that students and schools with the greatest needs must receive targeted focus and support in order to improve.”

Sarah Carpenter, executive director of parent advocacy group Memphis Lift:

“Memphis parents want decision makers to be accessible, and we appreciate that Commissioner McQueen made a point to build relationships and hear concerns from the entire community. Hopefully, the next education commissioner will bring parents to the table for conversations about our kids’ education.”

Mendell Grinter, leader of Memphis student advocacy group Campaign for School Equity:

“In our collaborative work and position in the educational landscape, we have witnessed firsthand how Commissioner McQueen has served as a tireless advocate for students and families in Tennessee. Over the past two years her leadership has inspired school leaders, and teachers alike to recognize the sense of urgency for improving school equity and academic outcomes for more students.”

Andy Spears, author of Tennessee Education Report and vocal critic of state test, TNReady:

“After what can charitably be called a rocky tenure at the helm of the Tennessee Department of Education, Candice McQueen has miraculously landed another high-level job. This time, she’ll take over as CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, an organization apparently not at all concerned about the track record of new hires or accountability.”

Beth Brown, president of Tennessee Education Association:

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”