While some might assume that Detroit’s sky-high chronic absenteeism rate is driven by teens skipping class, the problem in city schools is actually most severe in kindergarten. Nearly 70 percent of kindergartners missed 10 or more days of class last year. That might not concern parents who view early grades as play time. But one of our stories this week looks at efforts underway in Detroit to help parents understand that missing kindergarten can interfere with a child’s ability to read.

“Parents don’t realize what kids are learning in the early grades and how much it’s critical to school success.”

— Hedy Chang, executive director, Attendance Works

We also looked at a program that addresses developmental delays in babies and toddlers that could get some extra funds in next year’s state budget. We highlighted Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s ideas to better prepare students for college, and a program he’s putting into several city schools that will match African-American boys with mentors who look like them.

We have news that a controversial bill to give every school in the state an A-F report card has advanced in the state house, and the latest on the debate over arming teachers in schools. Vitti, who’s against the idea, faced off at a conference this week with the city’s police chief, who thinks it makes sense for some teachers to have guns.

Scroll down for more on these stories and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news. And if you’re lucky enough to have a snow day today, enjoy it! Maybe next time spring arrives, it will stick around for a bit.

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Detroit Bureau Chief

Getting them to class, then college

  • Parents might not think kindergarten absences are a big deal, but a national report found that, among poor children, chronic absence in kindergarten predicts the lowest level of educational achievement at the end of the fifth grade.
  • Vitti’s plan to better prepare students for college includes makeup courses, more guidance counselors, and color-coded wristbands awarded to high-achieving students.
  • The Detroit district’s new mentorship program will start with 300 at-risk boys who attend six city schools. They’ll be paired with male African-American or Latino role models.
  • Since its update and overhaul last year, one of the main district’s career and technical high schools has seen its enrollment nearly double.
  • Teachers in Detroit’s main district will soon be paid back the money the state took illegally from their paychecks several years ago, but the process of tracking down former employees and cutting them checks is creating a challenge for the districts’ understaffed finance team.
  • A former Detroit teacher explains why “disheartening school conditions” drove her out of teaching, and why that led her to step up her game as a parent.
  • This Detroit student couldn’t convince her high school to change its prom date so it wouldn’t conflict with Ramadan. But she did get the policy changed to prevent major school events from landing on religious holidays in the future.

State politics and policy

  • Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed extra funding in next year’s budget for a program that aims to catch young children before they fall behind. Schools advocates had been hoping for more special education dollars in the budget, but Snyder argues that spending money addressing developmental delays in babies and toddlers can save schools money in the long run.
  • A bill that would assign letter grades to all Michigan schools advanced in the state House with GOP support. Some Democrats agreed not to oppose the bill when it was amended to make it more difficult to shut down schools that get low marks.
  • A newspaper columnist questions whether Snyder’s so-called “Marshall Plan for Talent,” which proposes to spend $100 million over five years to better train students for high-tech jobs, will do enough to make a difference.
  • In addition to the teacher shortage and counselor shortage, Michigan schools are also dealing with a bus driver shortage.
  • Education was one of the subjects of a four-way debate this week between Democratic candidates running for governor.
  • Test scores in this western Michigan school district typify what’s happening across the state where students aren’t learning at the same rate as other kids.

Crime & Safety

  • Even as Detroit Police Chief James Craig butted heads with Vitti over whether teachers should be armed, the two agreed to work together on school safety by sharing student data and spotting threats on social media.
  • Vitti is cautious about allowing the police into schools, however, warning that if students are arrested for things like fights, which used to trigger punishments like suspensions, it can create a “pipeline to prison” that will ruin students’ lives.
  • GOP lawmakers are pushing again for legislation that would allow specially trained teachers to have guns in school — a proposal that is strongly opposed by educators, religious leaders, sheriffs and columnists (and mocked by cartoonists).
  • The fury over guns comes as jittery schools deal with a slew of alarms including online threats and bullet sightings that have canceled classes, sent kids home early, flooded schools with police, and triggered lockdowns in the wake of the Parkland, Fla. shooting. Among the most disconcerting incidents was a local student who brought a “kill list” to school.
  • A website has compiled a list of Michigan’s safest school districts.
  • Some educators say the state’s school counselor shortage could be making schools less safe.
  • A Detroit school counselor offers her explanation for why inner city schools don’t have mass shootings.

 In other news

  • Students working with professional artists during mid-winter break transformed the dull gray walls of their arts-focused Detroit high into vibrant, colorful murals.
  • Eight of the city’s top chefs are teaming up to host a high-dollar event to raise money for a Detroit charter school that wants to raise a $1 million to renovate a building it hopes to move into next year.
  • A team from a local charter school has won the state elementary school chess championships for the third time.
  • The number of robotics teams in the main district has grown from 17 to 53 this year, just in time for the world robotics championships to arrive in the city next month.