Detroit

Week in review: A testing surprise, deja vu and debates

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Surprise! Detroit students are set to take fewer exams this year after an announcement by new Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. Of all of the changes he’s made since joining the district in May, it’s the one most likely to make a concrete difference in students’ experiences in school.

Others getting unexpected good news this week: teachers at a closing charter school who learned they might get paid after all, and a Detroit educator who got a shout-out from a student who is making it in Hollywood. Read on for the details and have a great weekend.

— Philissa Cramer, Chalkbeat managing editor

DOWN WITH TESTING: Educators and parents who have long pushed back against what they say is excessive testing in Detroit schools found an ally in Vitti. On Thursday, he announced that the district would reduce the number of required tests from 186 to 57 — a 70 percent drop.

“We have whittled it down to essentially what is required at the state level … and what is required for teacher evaluations,” Vitti said. The superintendent “listens to teachers,” national union chief Randi Weingarten tweeted. The Free Press expressed cautious optimism. One principal had a less nuanced take: “This is awesome.”

BACK TO SCHOOL: Detroit launched pop-up enrollment centers to help families find schools this week; they’ll be open until Aug. 18. A credit union that planned to take teachers’ requests for donated school supplies until Sept. 9 closed the request line after everything was claimed in two days. A law firm that gives out backpacks to students every year is adding 3,000 “Teacher Totes” this fall. And more districts than ever have gotten permission to start before Labor Day (but not Detroit).

DEJA VU: For Detroit families, finding a good school is a struggle with lots of uncertainty. The same idea, from a year ago. The state’s forthcoming plan to comply with federal education law could help the situation — but will it?

ABOUT THAT PLAN: Michigan education officials checked in with the U.S. Education Department this week in an ongoing process of overhauling the state’s school accountability system. Next, the feds will give formal feedback on the state’s plan, which will detail what information is shared about schools and what happens to low-performing ones.

DEVOS DESCENDS: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was on her home turf of Grand Rapids this week to visit a community college and a private summer program for middle schoolers. Five teachers who met with her said they oppose the Trump administration’s proposed teacher training cuts. Superintendents also weighed in, but Vitti said he couldn’t make it.

MONEY MATTERS: Everyone agrees that Detroit teachers deserve more than the 7 percent raise over three years included in their new contract. On the upside, teachers at a closing charter school who were told they wouldn’t get paid now might.

RACE TO MANOOGIAN: Jeffery Robinson, principal of Detroit’s Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy, is a write-in candidate for mayor, one of 13 people hoping (probably quixotically) to unseat Mayor Mike Duggan in Tuesday’s primary. Inside Robinson’s school on Vitti’s first day.

ART COLLECTION: Detroit’s leading museum, symphony, and opera are working together on a plan to bring more arts to city students. What they’re up against.

FRESH LOOK: Fifteen city schools will get spruced up during the annual ARISE Detroit! Neighborhoods Day on Saturday. Another fix-up program, Life Remodeled, launched this week with a base at a school building it controversially leased from the city for $1 a year.

DEBT DEBATE: Two years after the Detroit school district was ordered to pay a contractor $24 million, the two parties are still fighting over the money.

HISTORY CLASS: Fifty years ago, a program called the Neighborhood Educational Center had success educating poor students in Detroit. But when an initial grant ran out, the initiative disappeared.

SMALL AMBITIONS: Meet the man trying to launch a charter “micro-school” with just 35 students per grade in northeast Detroit next year. More about the trend.

DISAPPEARING TEACHERS: Since 2008, the number of Michigan college students preparing to become teachers has fallen by half, in line with national trends. “We can’t identify causation,” a state education official said. “And we don’t know yet if it’s a good thing, or not.”

EXTRA CREDIT: Shawntay Dalon, the east side native who stars in “Detroiters,” shouted out her high school English teacher this week on Instagram. Kristen Marschner LaMagno taught Dalon at Finney High School before it closed; she now works at Western International High School.

Actress Shawntay Dalon, and her high school English teacher Kristen Marschner LaMagno

 

Week In Review

Week in Review: A final push to fill classrooms before the start of school

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit schools superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

With the start of the school year now just over two weeks away, pressure is mounting on schools to hire enough teachers before classes begin. That pressure is especially intense for new Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who has been trying to fill hundreds of vacancies ahead of his first full year as the district’s leader. The new contract approved by the school board this week could help by raising salaries, but the district is still listing nearly every teaching category as an area of “critical need.”

As teachers prepare to return to class, some may be thinking of ways to talk to their students about last weekend’s violent attack on demonstrators protesting white supremacists in Virginia. Chalkbeat has been gathering ideas from teachers about how to help kids through these difficult conversations. Check them out — or add some of your own ideas.

Also, this newsletter is available as a weekly email that can be sent directly to your inbox every Friday morning. Please sign up here.

The final countdown

  • As it tries to recruit enough teachers, Detroit’s main district is using several new tactics. Among them are job fairs like one yesterday that drew 150 candidates. Another job fair is scheduled for Aug. 31.
  • The Detroit News urged Vitti to take his time to make sure the people he hires are up to the task.
  • The head of the city teachers union says the teaching shortage is the direct result of recent state policies.
  • The teachers’ new contract was approved by the school board on Tuesday. If it wins final signoff from a state financial oversight board, first-year teachers in Detroit could soon make more than their peers in Grosse Pointe and other suburbs.
  • The school board Tuesday also approved a $28 million settlement with a contractor as well as an agreement with the Highland Park School district to educate some Highland Park students — as long as the school board of the tiny district agrees.
  • If you missed the board meeting, you can review contracts, hiring decisions and other actions considered by the board by clicking here. For the first time in recent memory, that information will now be posted online days of ahead of scheduled board meetings.
  • Among teachers joining the Detroit district this year are 11 who’ve come from Spain to teach Spanish.
  • Teachers are not the only target for recruitment. The district is also trying to recruit students, hosting a free day at the Michigan Science Center tomorrow for district families, as well as a special “Slow Roll” bike ride, among other events.

The new boss

  • Vitti says he draws on his memories as a child with dyslexia as he relates to Detroit children with special needs. He and his wife, who are co-hosting a forum for special education families next week, talked with the Free Press about their experience as special ed parents.
  • One school advocate took Vitti to task for a district Tweet that quoted him saying poverty shouldn’t be an excuse for poor school performance. Those comments are “not helpful,” she wrote. “It puts the blame on those who are victims.”

Courting literacy

Across the state

  • The head of a state association of charter school authorizers says the state’s decision not to close low-performing schools means that “future generations of Michigan students are going to be failed by their schools.”
  • A bill that would require schools to teach African-American history is getting a new push from its sponsors after a weekend of violence in Charlottesville, Va.
  • A News columnist says the “sad reality” of poor educational quality in Michigan is imperiling the state’s future economic prospects. But the state’s top education and economic officials say they’re ramping up efforts to prepare students for good-paying jobs.
  • The state education department will reduce the overall score students need to pass an English-proficiency test.
  • The state’s largest teachers union opposes a new alternative teacher certification program that a private company can now offer in Michigan.
  • Community groups, churches, businesses and other organizations are hosting school supply drives and shopping sprees to help Michigan kids get ready for school.
  • Parents and advocates are worried that a successful after-school program that last year served 26,623 Michigan students could lose funding under President Trump’s proposed budget.
  • While Detroit has dozens of shuttered school buildings now sitting vacant in city neighborhoods, closed Grand Rapids schools are mostly still occupied.
  • A quarter of the teachers in this district missed more than 20 days of school.
  • These are the state’s top private high schools.

 

Talking about race

Tough conversations after Charlottesville: Week in Review special edition

PHOTO: Ted Eytan / Creative Commons
A candlelight vigil at the White House on Sunday, after the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

This weekend’s violent attack on demonstrators against a white nationalist group in Charlottesville, Virginia, has left many teachers and parents wondering how to discuss it and other issues related to race with children.  

Great teachers are experts at difficult conversations. If you want to share your experiences with us and perhaps help others, fill out this short form. We’ll publish a roundup of responses on Chalkbeat. Your stories can help others looking for the right words.

In the meantime, here are some resources that can help with these discussions. They can also help you consider what you may still have to learn when talking about race.  

TALK THE TALK: The New York Times’ number one tip is don’t avoid the issue of race. BuzzFeed is one of many publications that explains how to raise race-conscious children, but the LA Times talks specifically about discussing the violence in Charlottesville with kids. “Only white people,” said a little girl to a black boy who wanted to get on a playground ride. How the parent responded.

This writer believes the conversations should not only happen in individual classrooms but also at the school level.

IN DETROIT SCHOOLS:  A federal civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Detroit kids described horrifying scenes such as an eighth-grader teaching a class. This Detroit teacher uses music to expose students to history, politics and power. Parents must make hard choices about accessing the best schools. One new program is teaching kids while their parents are at the laundromat.

OTHER CHALKBEAT RESOURCES: Great teachers offer advice on talking about race.  Why one mother in Nashville is not anxious about sending her child to the neighborhood school. We explain when private schools can discriminate against students.