Week In Review

Week in review: Would ‘special education’ by any other name be the same?

Most educators working in urban schools know that many of their students face challenges at home. But a $3 million grant from a major foundation has allowed some Detroit educators to see firsthand what their students are up against through regular visits to their homes. A teacher who let us tag along said the program has helped her get to know her students and their families.

“I had students … who would stand next to their desks, and I would have to ask them to sit down. I didn’t understand why it was happening, but then I went on home visits and realized it was because they don’t have furniture, so they’re not used to sitting.”

— Melanie Wallace, teacher, Coleman A. Young Elementary School

Also this week we reported that the main Detroit district is changing the name of the services formerly known as “special education.” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti prefers the term “exceptional student education.” We covered Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ visit to Detroit. And we noted that Mayor Mike Duggan’s controversial joint bus route for district and charter school students is getting some extra scrutiny from the Detroit school board.

Scroll down for more on those headlines but, first, please join us in bidding farewell to our reporting fellow Amanda Rahn. She joined us late last year and helped kick-start our transition from a one-reporter, cover-what-we-can kind of news organization into one that’s out there, covering education news as it happens. Amanda has been a news-breaking, story-writing force of nature who’s posted nearly 60 stories for us in just a few months. We will miss her. We have a new staff reporter joining our team next week so stay tuned for more thoughtful journalism about education in Detroit.

Finally, next week is Teacher Appreciation Week. If there’s a special teacher in your life, consider making a donation to Chalkbeat in their honor. It’s a win-win: You get to shout out the work of someone special AND support Chalkbeat’s nonprofit journalism. Thanks for reading!

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Detroit Bureau Chief

In Detroit

  • Some Detroit educators say they’ve been visiting their students at home for years but a foundation-funded effort has formalized the process. Educators are participating in a pilot to determine if the program should expand across the district.
  • The school board voted Wednesday to start using the term “exceptional student education” instead of “special education.” The idea is to reduce the stigma associated with the traditional term but some advocates are skeptical.
  • DeVos didn’t stop by any city schools during her time in Detroit, but she did meet some Detroit Girl Scouts and talked belugas with students from Ann Arbor.
  • When Duggan announced a district-charter bus route in March, he called it a “historic” effort at collaboration, but a wary Detroit school board plans to consider just a one-year trial instead of the five-year contract originally planned.
  • An agreement with the Detroit teachers union that will give raises for some veteran teachers and allow the district to offer higher salaries to experienced new hires has gotten the green light from the school board. Next it goes to a state financial oversight board for review.
  • The leader of a local foundation said the biggest challenge she’s faced in trying to push for better schools in Detroit is convincing opponents to work together.
  • A new task force plans to work with teachers to develop lesson plans designed to teach Detroit history in district schools.

Across the state

  • The state Senate has joined the House and passed a budget that would increase per-student funding by the largest amount in years, but it’s not clear what impact that will have on classrooms.
  • An education professor explains why a statewide teacher shortage is a “manufactured crisis.”
  • Manufactured or not, the lack of teachers is putting a serious strain on school districts across the state. Here’s what’s happening in Flint.
  • An advocate says the solution to Michigan’s school woes can be found in states that have turned things around.
  • A business leader says that successful schools that are improving have these 10 traits.
  • This northern Michigan school went from one of the lowest-performing schools in the state to an impressive standout. Here’s how it was done.
  • The leader of a Flint early childhood initiative notes that Michigan has made recent improvements in early education, but says “it’s not enough.”
  • An initiative to develop teacher leaders in three high-poverty western Michigan districts is seeing positive results.
  • This Michigan high school is requiring students to bring their own laptops.
  • This suburban high school is giving students mandatory mental health training.

In other news

  • The founder of a Detroit-based engineering firm has gifted Wayne State University’s engineering college $1 million for an endowment that will provide full tuition scholarships to Detroit district grads.
  • This Detroit fourth-grader won an essay contest for writing about her favorite book character.
  • A top city high school was closed one day this week because of a foul odor coming from a broken pipe.