Week In Review

Week in review: What last year’s test scores tell us as a new school year begins

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
About half of Indiana students passed the ISTEP exam last year.

It’s time, people! The air is getting colder. The nights are getting longer and, starting Tuesday, nearly all schools in Detroit and across the state will be open for business and hopefully focused on making improvements.

Though the 2017 M-STEP and SAT results released this week included some glimmers of good news for schools in Detroit and across the state, it’s hard to feel hopeful when fewer than half of third-graders are proficient in English.

But a new school year means a fresh start. In Detroit’s main district, that start marks the first full school year of the district’s new era under the control of a new school board and superintendent. So while there’s plenty to fret about, there’s lots of reasons to think that maybe this is the year when we start to get it right. Good luck, everyone!

Keeping score

  • Michigan students are slowly making gains in math and social studies but the “disappointing” reading scores are alarming because a new state law will soon require schools to hold back third-graders who can’t make the grade on the state English exam. One critic charged that a “disaster” is looming for the state.
  • M-STEP and SAT results show Michigan schools continue to do a better job educating wealthier white students than low-income students, African-Americans and Latinos.
  • The state superintendent says officials have to do more to help schools before they end up at the bottom of state rankings. He called on lawmakers to create an “early warning system” that would help schools before it’s “too late.”
  • State charter school advocates say charter students posted higher scores this year than their peers in district schools. But an advocacy group notes that’s not too impressive.
  • To see how individual schools scored on the tests, look here. Or visit the state education department website to download extensive data on the scores including those for special education students and other groups.
  • Here’s the high schools with the state’s highest SAT scores — and a database to look up the college enrollment rates at Michigan schools.

Teaching moments

  • The new Detroit teachers contract — which will raise teacher salaries by more than 7% in the next few years — is now official.
  • That could help recruit teachers but the district, which held a hiring fair last night, was this week still trying to fill more than 200 open teaching positions.
  • The recruiting challenges facing the Detroit schools are part of a nation-wide teacher shortage but a group that advocates for teacher quality says the picture across the country is more complex that many people realize.
  • Detroit teachers last year were absent an average of 13 school days last year — a number that Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he hopes to reduce by improving working conditions in schools.

Across the state

In Detroit

  • A Detroit career and technical school is getting a $10 million facelift. Much of that money is coming from foundations and private companies — including one whose leaders have a personal connection to the school. The effort won praise from a News columnist who said it’s “exactly what the city needs to put Detroiters to work in the jobs being created by downtown’s revival.”
  • A federal judge won’t need to enforce a $31 million judgment against Detroit Public Schools after the district and its contractor reached a slightly smaller settlement agreement.
  • A former deputy superintendent is suing Detroit’s main district saying his contract was breached when Vitti fired him in June. He was among 50 administrators in the district central office who were let go as part of the new superintendent’s reorganization.
  • The Detroit principal bribery scandal has gone Hollywood.
  • A coalition of community groups aiming to reduce the number of children who are chronically absent from school has created a pledge for Detroit parents, students, educators and community leaders to sign to ensure that every Detroit child is in class on the first day of school.
  • This Detroiter has been handing out school supplies to kids in her neighborhood.
  • The city teachers union is offering these tips to parents as they prepare for the school year while the district is partnering with a community group to collect donated uniforms for kids who need them.
  • A free horse camp teaches life skills to Detroit students.
  • As Detroit parents navigate the confusing mix of school options in the city, one parent advocate offers these tips for making the best choice.
  • An effort to install “little free libraries” in front of every district school in the city is nearly complete.
  • Every reception this Lions wide receiver completes this season will benefit a program that serves kids in Detroit schools and across the state.

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