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: 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.