Week In Review

Week in review: A morning in a crowded classroom and 13 other things you should know about Detroit education

Swooping in: Wth several charter schools closing this year, Detroit's main district is seizing on the opportunity to try to lure displaced students. Signs like this have sprouted at major intersections.

There was a lot to read about Detroit schools this week including our peek inside a Detroit classroom where 37 first-graders have no music, art or gym. Meanwhile, the sudden closure of a charter school weeks before the end of classes angered teachers and advocates and sent parents scrambling.

Also this week we featured a short film that asked Detroit teachers to say how they would change schools to make them better. Some offered some radical suggestions. What changes would you make ? Email us at [email protected] or comment on Facebook.

— Julie Topping, Chalkbeat Editor, Detroit

GETTING REAL: As new Superintendent Nikolai Vitti aspires to transform Detroit schools, a classroom with 37 first-graders who get no music, art or gym shows what he’s up against. Our story on that classroom led a Free Press columnist to argue that the school’s problems are a direct result of school choice policies. The district’s former interim superintendent meanwhile called for a focus on kids to improve education in Detroit.

STRAIGHT TALK: Vitti talked candidly about race and his interracial family in an interview in the Michigan Chronicle. “We should be proud of our identity,” Vitti said. “Far too often, whites try to erase race, which is linked to an identity. Idealistically, I look forward to a world where we recognize each other based on race because that’s linked to a history and a culture, experiences and values.”

ABRUPT SHUTDOWN: The surprise closure of a Southfield charter school left parents in the lurch and angered charter school advocates. “This was totally disrespectful and sad for families who trusted the school to inform them and educate their children,” a local advocate wrote. A state charter association has created a website to help parents and teachers find a new school for fall.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Another sign from Detroit’s main district, which is seizing on the opportunity to lure displaced students.

PENSION COMPROMISE: Gov. Snyder and GOP leaders reached a tentative deal that would steer new hires toward 401(k)-style retirement savings plans but retain a hybrid pension option for teachers, paving the way to finalizing the state’s $55-billion budget by the end of the month.

OTHER BUDGET BATTLES: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was told by a Senate committee that proposed cuts to education in President Trump’s budget likely wouldn’t happen. DeVos suggested more money was not the answer for schools, but studies show otherwise. Local students react to the news that the Trump budget would slash their federally funded after-school program.

PAYING FOR CHOICE: Although school choice supporters are celebrating the Trump administration’s plan for funneling private school aid to the states, experts say Michigan would face huge legal obstacles in qualifying for the federal money.

TEACHER STABILITY: Detroit’s severe teacher shortage mirrors a mounting national problem. One problem locally is low teacher salaries in Detroit’s main district. Teachers protesting wages and conditions outside the district headquarters could have a new ally in Vitti who said after the protest that protesters’ complaints “all have merit.” But the teacher shortage could be compounded next year when the schools in the state-run recovery district return to the main district. Only about half of teachers in the state-run district have applied to stay on, stoking fears of a teacher exodus that could destabilize those schools.

EDUCATION EQUITY: With so much left unfinished 63 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, a local schools advocate called for a conversation to “bring these stark realities out of the shadows and ensure that every conversation begins with an open conversation about educational equity.”  

POOR RESULTS: A new study shows that Michigan’s school improvement efforts since 2012 haven’t worked.

SPECIAL NEEDS: A Detroit parent advocate tells the story of a mom who is now home-schooling her special needs child after her child’s school threatened too many times to throw him out.

WHICH DETROIT? One public education advocate says she sees two Detroits: One caused her to enroll her children in 22 different schools in search of a quality education. The other Detroit is the one sold to outsiders as a hip and gritty town ripe for revival.

SUCCESSFUL GRADS: It’s graduation season and schools are celebrating success stories including the main Detroit district, which honored top students at its excellence awards ceremony. A state charter school association touted inspiring stories of charter school grads. And one charter school boasted that all of its graduates were accepted into college, trade school or the military.

COLLEGE READY: These 50 Michigan schools have the state’s top college readiness rates.

LOW-COST MEALS: Get information about a nearby food service program to find healthy meals when school is out for the summer. Families can also find information about this program by dialing 211 or texting “Food” to 877-877

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The state’s year-round scramble to fill teaching jobs

Miss Michigan Heather Heather Kendrick spent the day with students at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science in Detroit

While much of the media attention has been focused this year on the severe teacher shortage in the main Detroit district, our story this week looks at how district and charter schools throughout the region are now scrambling year-round to fill vacant teaching jobs — an instability driven by liberal school choice laws, a decentralized school system and a shrinking pool of available teachers.

The teacher shortage has also made it difficult for schools to find substitutes as many are filling in on long-term assignments while schools try to fill vacancies. Two bills proposed in a state senate committee would make it easier for schools to hire retirees and reduce the requirements for certifying subs.  

Also, don’t forget to reserve your seat for Wednesday’s State of the Schools address. The event will be one of the first times in recent years when the leader of the city’s main district — Nikolai Vitti — will appear on the same stage as the leaders of the city’s two largest charter school authorizers. For those who can’t make it, we will carry it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

Have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The State of the Schools address will pair Vitti with the leaders of the schools he’s publicly vowed to put out of business, even as schools advocates say city kids could benefit if the leaders of the city’s fractured school system worked together to solve common problems.

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: The city’s teacher shortage mirrors similar challenges across the country but the problem in Detroit is exacerbated by liberal school choice policies that have forced schools to compete with each other for students and teachers.

Hiring efforts continue at Detroit’s main school district, which is planning another job fair. Head Start centers are also looking for teachers. Three new teachers talk about the challenges, rewards and obstacles of the classroom.

WHOSE MONEY IS IT? The state Senate sent a bill to the House that would allow charters to receive a portion of property tax hikes approved by voters. Those funds have historically gone only to traditional district schools.

UNITED THEY STAND: Teachers in this southwest Detroit charter school voted to join a union, but nationally, union membership for teachers has been falling for two decades.

COLLEGE AND CAREERS: A national foundation based in Michigan granted $450,000 to a major Detroit business coalition to help more students finish college.

High school seniors across the state will be encouraged to apply to at least one college this month. The main Detroit district meanwhile showed off a technical center that prepares youngsters and adults for careers in construction, plumbing and carpentry and other fields.  

STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT: A prominent news publisher explains why he told lawmakers he believes eliminating the state board of education is the right thing to do. An advocate urged Michigan to look to other states for K-12 solutions. And one local newspaper says the governor is on the right track to improving education in Michigan.

This think tank believes businesses should be more engaged in education debates.

LISTEN TO US: The newly elected president of a state teachers union says teachers just want to be heard when policy is being made. She wrote in a Detroit newspaper that it takes passion and determination to succeed in today’s classrooms.

A PIONEER: Funeral services for a trailblazing African American educator have been scheduled for Saturday.

Also, the mother-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died in her west Michigan home.

FARM-TO-SCHOOL:  A state program that provides extra money to school districts for locally grown produce has expanded to include more schools.

BETTER THAN AN APPLE: Nominate your favorite educator for Michigan Teacher of the Year before the 11:59 deadline tonight.

An Ann Arbor schools leader has been named the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by a state group of school administrators.

MYSTERY SMELL: The odor from a failed light bulb forced a Detroit high school to dismiss students early this week.

EXTRA CREDIT: Miss Michigan encouraged students at one Detroit school to consider the arts as they follow their dreams. The city schools foundation honored two philanthropic leaders as champions for education.

And high school students were inspired by a former college football player. 

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The target on the back of the state board of education

State lawmakers this week began a push to eliminate the state board of education and replace it with an appointed superintendent. But before anyone starts writing the board’s obituary, note that the controversial effort would require approval from two-thirds of the legislature and voters in a statewide voter referendum.

Detroit schools, meanwhile, continue to struggle with hiring enough teachers to fill classrooms. The main district has taken the unusual step of putting some counselors and assistant principals in classrooms. Leaders hope the short-term measure won’t interfere with meeting the district’s  ambitious goals.

Read on for more on these stories and the rest of the week’s school news. Also, mark your calendar for the city’s first State of the Schools address, which will be held on October 25. Seats are available for people who want to attend in person. For those who can’t make it, we will be carrying it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Senior Detroit Correspondent

In the district

Across the state

  • The proposal to get rid of an elected state school board won praise from one editor but got a mixed response from lawmakers during a hearing this week. Eliminating the board, which one lawmaker called “irrelevant,” would require amending the state Constitution.
  • A senate committee has approved a bill that would allow charter schools to get a cut of tax increases that have traditionally benefitted district schools.
  • Trained college grads who give high school students advice about getting into college are relieving pressure on school counselors.
  • A federal court will now consider the legal case filed by a state teachers union against a right-wing spy. Read the union’s complaint here.
  • One educational leader called on the state to develop a way to recruit and retain 100,000 qualified teachers who could serve low-income children in cities and rural communities.
  • A state commission has ruled that a union cannot force the firing of a public school teacher who resigned from the union and stopped paying dues.
  • Career and technical education is on the rise in Michigan — but many students who enroll in those programs don’t complete them.
  • A new survey shows Michigan voters support their local school districts — but are less sure about the quality of instruction across the state.
  • A suburban mom says her son got 8 years of English as a Second Language instruction even though he’s a native English-speaker.