Welcome 2018

What would make 2018 the best yet for Detroit’s students? Nine leaders who care about education weigh in.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn

The year 2017 was a huge one for education in Detroit and Michigan.

After years of being controlled by the state or state-appointed emergency managers, Detroit’s newly elected school board went to work. Its members wasted no time in naming a new superintendent, Dr. Nikolai Vitti.

Thirty-eight of the state’s lowest-performing schools started the year under threat of closure. Under intense political pressure, the state backed off and began crafting agreements that required the schools to improve. (One charter school was closed by its authorizer.) Today, almost half of district schools are in such partnership agreements.

A first-in-Detroit education forum laid bare rivalries, but also revealed ways to work together — and new opportunities for improvement.

Meanwhile, President Trump’s choice of Grand Rapids philanthropist Betsy DeVos for education secretary brought national scrutiny to the state’s education policy. DeVos faced tough questioning during her confirmation hearing because of her lack of public education experience, and because many believed her vision of school choice has left Detroit with some of the worst-performing schools in the country.

As we look ahead to next year, many we talked to are anxious to see more third-grade students proficient in reading. Otherwise, with a few exceptions, in coming years those students will be held back.  Educators are trying to get them ready now.

What would you like to see for Detroit students next year? We asked nine local leaders what they thought.


Jeffrey Robinson, principal of Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy: “To do more to increase education equity in the state of Michigan. And to play a greater part in addressing those inequities and making sure all students in Michigan get the education they deserve.”


David Hecker, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said his organization would love to see a headline that said: “Dems Sweep Elections: Legislation that actually improves education is top priority.”


Carolyn Bellinson, co-founder of Brilliant Detroit, a social service organization, offered this wish: “I would love to see a dedication by parents in underserved populations to really embrace the concept of reading to their children every day for 10, 15 minutes.”


Georgia Lemmons, Detroit district school board member, wants to see this headline in the new year: “Test scores in Detroit Public Schools Community District surpass state averages.”


Cindy Eggleton, co-founder and CEO of Brilliant Detroit, wants to see this headline: “Multiple grassroots, private and public partners unite to assure grade level reading is on track by third grade.”


LaMar Lemmons, Detroit district school board member, made this resolution: “To increase the enrollment and drastically move test scores” and “to increase music and art in the schools.”


Brian Calley, lieutenant governor, wants to see this headline: “Student improvement in third grade reading.” “It’s the most important measurement that we can focus on,” he said.


Sonya Mays, Detroit district school board member, wants to read this story: “A feature on specific innovations in Detroit education (partnerships, interventions, etc.) that are working really well.”


Ella Stanley, teacher at the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, made this resolution: “To read nightly because not only is it a daily expectation I set for my students, but I know that reading for enjoyment is an act of self care, something many teachers are missing.”


Impressed by Memphis students planning April walkout, Hopson gives his blessing

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson meets with student leaders from Shelby County Schools and other Memphis-area schools to discuss their planned walkout on April 20 to protest gun violence in the wake of this year's shooting rampage at a Florida high school.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Thursday that students who walk out of Memphis schools next month to protest gun violence will not be punished.

He also invited student organizers of the April 20 demonstration to speak April 24 to the Board of Education for Shelby County Schools “so our community can hear from these wonderful, thoughtful students.”

Hopson met Wednesday with about a dozen student leaders from district high schools, including White Station, Ridgeway, Central, and Whitehaven and Freedom Preparatory Academy.

“Based on this incredible presentation, I have agreed to be supportive of the walkout, as long as it’s done in an orderly fashion and as long as we work some of the details out,” Hopson said after the meeting.

“No students will be suspended or expelled for taking part in this event. No teachers will be disciplined for being supportive of these students,” he said.

At least six Memphis-area high schools are planning student walkouts on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that killed 13 students and wounded 20 others in Littleton, Colorado.

Shelby County students did not participate in the March 14 nationwide walkout because Shelby County Schools and other local districts were on spring break. That walkout, which was held on the one-month anniversary of a shooting in Parkland, Florida, pushed for stricter gun laws and memorialized the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The April 20 walkout is part of a related nationwide “day of action” that encourages school events focused on pushing policy changes to reduce gun violence.

Hopson’s declarations put to rest concerns that students might be punished for trying to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech while the district also seeks to ensure school safety. Earlier this month, school districts in Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, and New Jersey threatened students with unexcused absences, detention, and disciplinary action if they participated in the March 14 walkout.

Most of the student organizers in Memphis are involved in BRIDGES, a program that brings students together across racial and socio-economic divides to discuss civic issues.

Hopson called their walkout plan “one of the most amazing presentations I’ve ever seen.”

Many Memphis-area students also plan to participate Saturday in the related nationwide “March for Our Lives.” More details on the local march are available here.

By the numbers

Fewer children land on waitlists as New York City reveals final kindergarten applications tally

PHOTO: Christina Veiga

The number of incoming kindergarteners waitlisted at their local school fell by 45 percent this year, New York City’s education department announced Thursday.

Meanwhile, for a third straight year, 10 percent of kindergarten applicants were shut out of all the schools they applied to completely.

Just 590 kindergarten applicants were placed on waitlists this year, compared to 1,083 a year ago, according to the city’s admissions tally. Overall, 67,728 families applied for kindergarten by the Jan. 19 deadline — more than 1,400 fewer than applied on time last year.

City officials said they attribute the decline in applications to a fluctuation in the school-age population, rather than an obstacle in getting families to apply. Last year’s pre-kindergarten population was smaller than the previous year’s, so a smaller kindergarten class was expected, according to Doug Cohen, a Department of Education spokesman.

Not many schools are affected by the declining waitlist numbers: There are 50 schools with kindergarten waitlists this year, compared to 54 a year ago.

Waitlists typically clear over the spring and summer, as families opt for schools outside of their zone, including private or charter schools, or relocate out of the city. But each year, some kindergartners are assigned to schools outside of their zone — an issue that typically affects a few crowded neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn.

Half of the schools with waitlists had five or fewer children on them. Three schools had waitlists with more than 60 children: PS 196 and P.S. 78 in Queens and P.S. 160 in Brooklyn.