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 detroit.tips@chalkbeat.org 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: 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.