Week In Review

Week in Review: Frank talk on race, history — and what Detroit teachers deserve

School may be out for the summer but Detroit teachers are busy reviewing the tentative contract deal their leaders announced last week. The deal could mean two years of pay bumps but it’s gotten mixed reviews from teachers who were hoping to see salaries return to where they were before a 10 percent pay cut in 2011.

Also busy this summer are the community leaders behind the Coalition 2.0 effort, which aims to address some of the unfinished business of last year’s Detroit education fight. This time, the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren is focused on improvements that can be made locally. They’re hoping to avoid the legislature that last year crushed the hopes of advocates who wanted a powerful Detroit Education Commission to oversee district and charter schools.

“Our intentions and energy will look to Detroit, not Lansing. Detroiters must develop a vision, a plan and execute it with fidelity if we are to improve education practices in our city.”

— Tonya Allen, co-chair, Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren

Read on for more on these stories and the rest of the week’s education news. Also, this interview with new Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is worth a listen. He talks frankly about race, history and the “two sets of expectations,” that for too long have let people outside Detroit think it’s okay for problems to persist here that would never be allowed somewhere else.

Coalition 2.0

  • A year after the tearful defeat of the Detroit Education Commission, local leaders are looking for other ways to bring order to Detroit schools. District and charter school leaders are meeting in hopes of “designing a process in which many of these DEC-like functions can occur.”
  • One schools advocate called the conversations “a good start,” adding “hopefully these longtime rivals can come together to address issues such as school/community logistics, enrollment and transportation.”

“Never going to get what we deserve.”

  • A tentative deal for a new contract would raise Detroit teacher pay 3 percent next year and 4 percent the following year, though teachers would have to wait longer to reach the top of the pay scale.
  • The deal must be approved by teachers, who have mixed feelings about whether the raises are enough. They’ll be voting by mail-in ballots that must be postmarked by July 19. A city financial oversight board must also sign off on the deal.
  • Some of the teachers who are most disappointed by the offer are those who, until last week, worked for the state-run recovery district. The deal would credit them for just two years of experience regardless of how many years they’ve been in the classroom. Advocates for the former recovery district schools fear this could trigger a teacher exodus, especially as other area districts give teachers more credit for their experience.
  • Vitti called the deal a “first step” toward higher pay raises, while a union leader said negotiators tried for more money but settled for what they could get. “We’re never going to get what we deserve to get,” she said.

All about Vitti

  • In an interview on WDET’s Detroit Today, Vitti talked about why he, as an educator, has a different approach to fixing the schools than the state-appointed emergency managers who preceded him. “The system has been run as if it was a system in bankruptcy where you were just releasing assets without an overall vision for how to build student performance,” he said.
  • He also talked frankly about his role as the first white man to lead the majority-black Detroit schools in a generation. “It brings forth a great deal of responsibility and pressure that I embrace,” he said.
  • One schools advocate encouraged Vitti to consider charter schools as he works to improve the district. “More people must realize that half the children in Detroit attend charter schools,” he wrote. “You can’t ignore them, you can’t cut them off and you can’t act like they live in another city.”
  • Vitti won praise this week from a Florida newspaper that noted that many Jacksonville schools got higher grades from the state this year thanks to Vitti’s leadership. “He replaced a large number of principals, which caused some angst, but it was based on a sense of urgency,” the paper wrote, adding that Vitti “took a school system that was already on the rise and led it to new heights.”
  • Closer to home, Vitti also won praise from Mayor Duggan for quickly cutting through red tape to help turn 16 Detroit schools into recreation centers this summer — something the mayor said emergency managers wouldn’t do. The “summer fun centers” will have free meals for kids.

Lansing, leaders and lawsuits

  • Gov. Rick Snyder has ended his brief reign over the office charged with holding schools accountable. Two years after he took the state School Reform Office from the state Board of Ed to make it a gubernatorial office, he has given it back. The move comes four months after the reform office aborted a badly executed effort to close 38 low-performing schools.
  • Some school groups applauded the Lansing education shakeup. Others were steamed.
  • Leaders of school districts involved in lawsuits against the state object to a provision in the state budget that would penalize schools that use public dollars to sue the state. The provision, which critics called an “overreach,” came in response to districts suing to stop the closings.
  • State officials have been barred from spending public money to help private schools comply with state mandates — at least for now. A judge plans to revisit the issue next month.
  • The state’s top lawyer says education officials can’t withhold funds from schools that have culturally insensitive mascots.
  • A state business group is researching strategies to improve Michigan schools.
  • Two supporters of the state’s recent teacher pension changes explain why they think pension reform will help Michigan teachers. But aspiring teachers and the heads of several colleges of education say that the changes feed the narrative that teachers aren’t valued.
  • Michigan virtual charter schools are growing in numbers, but lagging in achievement.

In other news

  • One of the Detroit’s most struggling high schools is getting an overhaul — and a new name. The school will become the fourth Detroit high school to admit only students who score well on an admissions exam.
  • Leaders of a program that puts tutors into Detroit classrooms say schools that participate in their program are more likely to see their test scores climb.  The program also encourages young people to become teachers.
  • As a seven-year-old school advocacy organization closes its doors, one former staffer reflects on the group’s accomplishments including its role in launching a long list of organizations that push for better schools. One organization she didn’t mention but could have: Chalkbeat. We launched this year in part thanks to support from Excellent Schools Detroit.
  • A northwest Detroit charter school that Chalkbeat wrote about last fall has now officially joined the list of Detroit charters closing their doors forever.
  • An organization that trains district, charter, and nonprofit staff is recruiting Detroit education leaders to join Peer Learning Communities starting this fall.
  • A boxing gym that tutors Detroit students has gotten a $100,000 grant from 100 women.

 

Detroit week in review

Week in review: Two schools in Detroit were excited to show off shiny new spaces

PHOTO: Detroit Public Schools Community District
J.E. Clark Preparatory Academy's new basketball-themed library, courtesy of the Detroit Pistons.

It was a week of big reveals and big donations. A charter middle school unveiled new classrooms and science labs made possible by a $6 million renovation. An area mortgage company made a large contribution to City Year Detroit. And a local sports team’s donation helped build a new library at a Detroit district elementary school.

Unfortunately, more than money is needed to figure out how to reuse the scores of vacant schools that dot Detroit’s landscape and destabilize its neighborhoods. We wrote about the challenges of repurposing those buildings this week.

In other news, watch our own Erin Einhorn on Detroit Public TV’s American Black Journal. She talks about the three days she spent behind the scenes with Detroit schools chief Dr. Nikolai Vitti.

Finally, we are hiring! If someone you know is interested in being a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit, contact us.

Have a great week!

— Julie Topping, Chalkbeat Detroit editor

LET’S GET IT TOGETHER: A new report says Detroit’s main district and charters must work together to ensure students get a good education. Vitti, who is openly competitive with charters, says he’s an advocate of choice but not without “guardrails.”

TOUGH JOBS TO FILL: The main Detroit district has hired more teachers, but still needs to fill almost 200 jobs. Most leave teaching because — surprise! — they are dissatisfied with the profession. Union leaders on a listening tour said teachers were concerned most about testing, pay and lack of funding for education.

RENOVATION CITY: University Prep Academy middle school cut the ribbon on nine new classrooms and six new science labs made possible by its $6 million renovation. 

PHOTO: University Prep Academy Middle School
University Prep Academy celebrated its $6 million renovation this week.

And the Detroit Pistons give an elementary school library in Detroit a basketball-themed makeover

NO LOANS HERE: Quicken donated $700,000 to a group that places young adults in schools to support students.

GREEN SCHOOLS: A group of Democratic state lawmakers introduced a package of bills designed to reduce schools’ environmental impact, lower energy costs and teach kids about sustainability.

AT WORK MORE OFTEN: Charter school teachers are less likely to be chronically absent than their peers in traditional district schools.

WHO NEEDS ‘EM: Editorial says get rid of the state board of education.

OPINION: An education advocate notes, during Hispanic Heritage month, that Latino students have lost ground in recent years.

DIGITAL MOVEMENT: Michigan schools are closing the digital divide, report says.

RACIAL SHIFT: A merger flips the demographics at two Ferndale elementary schools.

Week In Review

Week in review: A ‘poor choice of words’ from the state schools boss, Grosse Pointe considers lightening up

The state superintendent was under fire this week after telling a TV interviewer that school choice had taken the state “backwards.” It was a comment he later called a “poor choice of words.”

Scroll down for more on that story and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news. That includes insight into why Grosse Pointe is reviewing its tough enforcement of its residency rules and the latest on Detroit’s new schools boss, Nikolai Vitti. He was the subject of a major Chalkbeat story this week that looked at his plan to bring order to a district that he says lacked basic financial and academic systems.

Also, if you weren’t able to attend the forum featuring Vitti and the Citizens Research Council this week, you can watch the full video here. If you’re still looking for more, please tune in to American Black Journal on Sunday when I’ll be talking about Detroit schools.

Oh, and we have some exciting news: We’re hiring! If you know any thoughtful reporters who’d be interested in covering one of the most important stories in American education, please tell them to get in touch. Thanks for reading!

The Detroit schools boss

The state schools boss

  • Michigan schools boss Brian Whiston stressed in his clarification about his controversial school choice remarks that he’s a strong supporter of choice but believes giving parents options can’t be the only fix for schools.
  • Whiston’s comments come as advocates lament declining test scores across the state. Among them: a news publisher who blasts Lansing for fiddling while public schools “go to hell” and an advocate who urged Michigan parents to stop telling themselves that their child’s school is probably fine. “In fact,” she writes, “Michigan is one of only five states that has declined in actual performance in fourth-grade reading since 2003 for all students.”
  • Still, the head of the state board of education says it’s “irresponsible” to suggest that Michigan schools are in crisis.
  • The school choice supporters who were miffed by Whiston’s comments are also still steamed about a New York Times Magazine piece on charter schools last week. One critic said the article failed to tell the whole story about the challenges to education in Highland Park and Detroit. A news site that strongly supports choice scrutinized the way the story characterized the number of for-profit charter schools in Michigan.

In Detroit and across its borders

  • Grosse Pointe schools officials are reviewing their aggressive approach to enforcing residency rules that keep Detroiters and other non-residents out of the district’s schools. In the past three years, the district has spent $74,528 on investigations and legal fees related to out-of-district students and has made all parents jump through burdensome hoops to prove they live in the district.
  • A Detroit teacher (and Chalkbeat reader advisory board member) set out to talk with other educators to “build a more nuanced narrative of Detroit schools.” Among teachers he featured is Janine Scott who the writer discovered when she appeared last spring in a Chalkbeat/Skillman Foundation “Story Booth.” (If you’re a parent, educator or student who wants to be featured in a future Story Booth, please let us know).
  • A principal who moved a Detroit charter school from the 8th percentile on state rankings to the 51st explains how it’s done.
  • Detroit’s main district plans to spend up to $57,000 to establish Parent Teacher Associations in all of its 106 schools.
  • The head of a Detroit high school engineering program explains how it aims to change lives.
  • An organization that places young adults in Detroit schools to provide support got a major gift from Quicken Loans that will help it expand.
  • The construction boom has highlighted the shortcomings of the city school system.
  • Wayne State University’s leaders pushed back against an article last week that highlighted a dramatic decline in African American enrollment — particularly graduates of Detroit schools.

In other news