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.

 

Detroit week in review

Week in review: Young children in the spotlight

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Evangelina De La Fuente, worries that the Head Start her 3-year-old twin grandsons attend could close or change. "The babies are secure and they’re happy and they’re well fed and they’re well taken cared for. It’s scary to think it could change," she said.

Hundreds of vulnerable Detroit families are bracing for change in the wake of the announcement last week from a prominent social service organization that it can no longer operate Head Start centers. Other social service providers are stepping up take over the 11 Head Starts that have been run by Southwest Solutions but their ability to smoothly pick up the 420 children who are affected and find classroom space for them is uncertain. That’s added stress to lives of families already in crisis.

“The babies are secure and they’re happy and they’re well fed and they’re well cared for. It’s scary to think it could change.”

—  Evangelina De La Fuente, grandmother of twin three-year-olds who attend a Southwest Solutions Head Start

Given the impact that quality early childhood programs can have on preparing children for kindergarten, advocates are calling for a better support system. That’s one of the missions of the new Hope Starts Here initiative, which was rolled out this morning. The coalition of parents, educators and community groups, led by two major foundations, spent the last year assessing the needs of Detroit children before unveiling a ten-year plan for how Detroit can improve the lives of young children.

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

Birth to eight

Students, teachers, learning

In Lansing

Across the state

In other news

Detroit week in review

Detroit week in review: Payrolls and proficiency

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit supertintendent Nikolai Vitti talks with students at Durfee Elementary/Middle School on the first day of school, September 5, 2017.

This week, we used district salaries to see how the central office has changed since Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti started in the spring: It turns out there are fewer people in the central office but more highly paid administrators. We sorted through the data and created several searchable databases. Click on any of them to learn more, including full district payrolls as of June 1 and Oct. 1.

The city district got more bad news when 24 more of its schools were added to the partnership program, which requires them to improve or face possible consequences. Nine other district schools can choose whether to participate in the program, which comes with additional support and resources. (Two city charter schools were also added to the list.)

And just in time to welcome those schools, a new state reform officer was appointed this week to lead the partnership program.

Hope you have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

PARTNERSHIPS: Nobody is scheduled for closing yet, but the state added three school districts and four charter schools statewide to the partnership list this week. Potentially, almost half of Detroit’s district schools could be participants. Statewide, almost forty schools were added. (See the complete list here.) The state also named a superintendent to lead the newly formed partnership office and become the state school reform officer.

GET IT DONE: A columnist writes that impressive economic gains will be hampered by the state’s poor quality of education. While one editorial page writer urges the state to decide on a course of action for improving schools and do it, business leaders say a piecemeal approach won’t work. This columnist thinks what’s needed is political will at the top.

ALL OVER THE BOARD: A state house committee barely approved a proposal to eliminate the state board of education. Two insiders explore the issue. For the proposal to become law, both houses must approve the resolution by a two-thirds majority and then it must be approved by voters in the next general election because it would amend the state constitution.

CHARTER WARS: An editorial in a major newspaper says it’s a myth that charter schools are performing more poorly than city district schools. Another editorial supports allowing all public schools — charter and traditional — to benefit from property tax hikes.

KEEPING TEACHERS: One columnist blames state lawmakers for the teacher shortage. But a recent study shows you can keep teachers longer with bonuses and loan forgiveness. An advocate wants to encourage efforts to recruit more black male teachers.

YOUR INPUT: Fill out this survey to help shape the state’s new school transparency tool.

CAREER BOOSTS: Several districts will share a $1 million grant to boost career counseling. And the governor invested almost $3 million to support career tech education.

VOICES: How this group of Detroit parents was called to action in the state capitol.

POPULATION SHIFT:  At least one suburban district is hiring staff after the number of students who are learning English nearly doubled.

FOR A SONG: This Detroit teacher produces hip-hop videos to teach his students to read.

THE UNEXPECTED: In an unusual twist, the Hamtramck district reclaimed a charter school building.

DISAPPOINTMENT: A high school student in a special education program was denied an academic achievement award.

RESTRAINTS: A lawsuit alleges a Washtenaw County teacher taped shut the mouth of disabled student. District leaders say the parents waited a year to respond.

BOOK REVIEW: A teacher from a Detroit nonprofit wrote a book about his year-long experience teaching poetry to children in Detroit.