test scores

These Detroit schools are the city’s most improved

PHOTO: Koby Levin
Students at Escuela Avancemos, which made substantial gains on statewide exams this year.

Sean Townsin has a one-word explanation for why his small charter school was among the most improved in the Detroit this year in math. Hint: it’s good news for the city school district.


He meant Eureka Math, a pre-K-12 curriculum that lays out a step-by-step pathway for learning mathematical concepts from counting to calculus. The Detroit Public Schools Community District adopted Eureka Math as part of a broad curriculum overhaul that goes into effect this year.

“We adopted that two years ago,” said Townsin, principal at Escuela Avancemos, a charter school with roughly 300 students, almost all of whom speak English as a second language. “That has been one of the major reasons for our growth in mathematics.”

The tiny Southwest Detroit charter school has boosted its pass rate on the state mathematics test by more than 10 percentage points over the last four years. In 2015, fewer than 5 percent of its students passed the test, landing the school on a state watchlist. But this year, 16 percent passed, and the school is no longer facing extra scrutiny for its low scores.

That number is still concerningly low — it is well under half the statewide average — but it’s good news for Escuela Avancemos and for the city’s main district, which hopes that adopting the curriculum will help boost scores.

The improvement is one of the sharpest in the city. Although test scores released last week held concerning news for parents and policymakers in Detroit, they gave more than a few principals cause for celebration.

Which principals? The answer wasn’t easily predictable, especially if you compared schools with themselves over time, rather than with other schools. While few observers were surprised that selective schools like Detroit’s Renaissance High School and Cass Technical High School boasted some of the city’s highest pass rates on the SAT math, a college entrance exam taken by all 11th-graders in the state, their SAT math scores have actually fallen by more than 2 percentage points. Conversely, many of the schools that showed the most improvement over the last three years aren’t household names in Detroit.

Nonetheless, they may offer lessons to policymakers and school leaders in Detroit as they work to improve schools in a city that has struggled to educate its children.

Consider Warrendale Charter Academy, an elementary school that is part of the for-profit National Heritage Academies and one of Detroit’s oldest charter schools. Since 2016, it has more than doubled its pass rate on the M-STEP English test, a statewide exam taken by students in grades 3 to 8, bringing its pass rate from 14.9 percent to 31 percent.

Or Academy of the Americas Elementary-Middle school, a dual-language school in Detroit’s main district, which saw its English pass rates rise from 6.5 percent to 21.5 percent in three years.

Here are the top 10 Detroit elementary school by pass rate in English Language Arts:

Rank School Pass rate, 2018 M-STEP
1 Detroit Edison Public School Academy 60%
2 Keystone Academy 58%
3 Bates Academy 57%
4 Chrysler Elementary School 46%
5 Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies 44%
6 The James and Grace Lee Boggs School 42%
7 New Paradigm College Prep 41%
8 Metro Charter Academy 40%
9 Detroit Merit Charter Academy 40%
10 University Preparatory Science and Math – Elementary 36%


And the top 10 elementary schools, ranked by their pass rate on the statewide math exam.

Rank School Pass rate, 2018 M-STEP
1 Detroit Edison Public School Academy 39%
2 Chrysler Elementary School 38%
3 Bates Academy 36%
4 Martin Luther King, Jr Education Center Academy 33%
5 University Preparatory Science and Math – Elementary 31%
6 Charles Wright Academy 28%
7 Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies 28%
8 University Preparatory Academy (PSAD) – Elementary 26%
9 Bridge Academy West 24%
10 University Preparatory Science and Math (PSAD) Middle School 24%

Across Detroit, the percentage of students who pass the annual M-STEP and SAT exams remained stuck far below the state average, a sign that public school students in the city are less likely to be well-prepared for college and a career than their peers elsewhere in Michigan. The city’s roughly 200 public schools, both traditional and charter, face challenges that are unique in the state. More than half of Detroit children live in poverty, and the school system has had to contend with unrelenting instability for decades.

Pockets of high test scores remain. Cass, Renaissance, and the Detroit Edison Public School Academy High School, a charter school, all beat the state average SAT pass rate in math this year.

District leaders and charter advocates found ways to put a positive spin on the results of state tests given last spring. On the first day of school, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti visited district schools that saw their pass rates rise.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, a pro-charter group, pointed out that of open-enrollment high schools in Detroit (i.e., excluding Renaissance and Cass), the 10 Detroit high schools with the highest SAT scores were all charter schools.

Here are the top 10 Detroit high schools, listed by their average SAT score.

1 Renaissance High School 507
2 Detroit Community Schools – High School 493.8
3 Cass Technical High School 493.4
4 Universal Academy 459.4
5 Henry Ford Academy 458
6 Cesar Chavez High School 450.3
7 Chandler Park Academy – High School 438.8
8 Detroit Edison Public School Academy – High School 434.3
9 Communication and Media Arts HS 431.9
10 University Preparatory Academy (PSAD) – High School 420.1

Martin Luther King, Jr. Education Center Academy, a longstanding K-8 charter school, was among the top schools in Detroit with its 33.6 percent pass rate on M-STEP math, on par with state averages.

Also in that group was Bates Academy, a selective K-8 school in the city’s main district, where 36.4 percent of students passed M-STEP math.

Scroll down for a list of Detroit schools ranked by their percentage point improvement since 2016.

Note that to protect students’ privacy, the state withholds data from schools where only a few tests were taken or where less than 10 percent of students passed the test, making it impossible to calculate the school’s growth.

School Content Area 2016 2017 2018 Change since 2016 (% pts.)
Warrendale Charter Academy English Language Arts 14.9% 23.7% 31% 16.1
Escuela Avancemos English Language Arts 6.5% 19.7% 21.5% 15
University Yes Academy English Language Arts 9.1% 24.6% 23.7% 14.6
Academy of The Americas English Language Arts 5.5% 14.1% 17.6% 12.1
Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies English Language Arts 33.1% 32.8% 44.3% 11.2
Lincoln-King Academy Mathematics 7.6% 17.5% 18% 10.4
Detroit Edison Public School Academy – High School English Language Arts 49.5% 58.2% 59.7% 10.2
King High School English Language Arts 17% 19.1% 27.1% 10.1
Warrendale Charter Academy Mathematics 9.5% 14% 19.3% 9.8
Bennett Elementary School English Language Arts 10.9% 14.4% 20.1% 9.2
Detroit Innovation Academy English Language Arts 7.6% 15.9% 16.8% 9.2
Legacy Charter Academy Mathematics 13.9% 11.7% 22.6% 8.7
University Preparatory Science and Math – Elementary Mathematics 23.3% 31.9% 31.9% 8.6
Charles Wright Academy English Language Arts 21.2% 24.8% 29.6% 8.4
Chrysler Elementary School English Language Arts 37.6% 39% 45.8% 8.2
Bennett Elementary School Mathematics 6.9% 7.9% 14.7% 7.8
Chandler Park Academy – Elementary Mathematics 8.6% 10.8% 15.9% 7.3
Clemente, Roberto Academy English Language Arts 17.4% 21.1% 24.6% 7.2
Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies Mathematics 21.6% 20% 28.8% 7.2
Martin Luther King, Jr. Education Center Academy Mathematics 26.5% 47.5% 33.6% 7.1


meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:


Michigan’s ‘band-aid’ for filling teaching jobs is expanding. Here’s what you need to know.

PHOTO: Koby Levin
Teachers welcome students to the Southwest Detroit Community School on the first day of school. Seven of the charter's 31 educators last year entered the profession through a fast-track training program.

There aren’t enough qualified teachers to fill classrooms across Michigan — and especially in Detroit. That’s why state officials have opened the door to a controversial way of filling classrooms, loosening restrictions on so-called alternative certifications for educators.

In addition to Teachers of Tomorrow, a fast-track, for-profit teacher certification program that began placing teachers with virtually no classroom experience in schools this year, another for-profit company, #T.E.A.C.H., was recently approved to help expand the state’s teacher pipeline. They’ve joined long-running nonprofit programs like Teach for America, whose corps members typically get some in-classroom training and more hours of teaching classes.

If the expansion continues, it could change the face of schools across the state, in cities like Detroit most of all. In states like Texas — home to Teachers of Tomorrow — nearly half of new teachers take non-traditional routes to certification.

As policymakers gear up for a tug of war over teacher certification, Chalkbeat obtained last year’s teacher certification data for the entire state. The data, alongside interviews with experts in teacher training, painted a picture of where we are now — and where we might be headed.

It shows that teachers with alternative certification are concentrated in Detroit, largely at charter schools, and that they’re disproportionately at a handful of schools.

Scroll down for a list of schools in Michigan that employed at least one teacher with an interim certification last year.

But first — what is alternative certification, again?

In short, it’s an express lane into the teaching profession. Michigan teachers have traditionally attended teacher certification programs that require them to student teach in an actual classroom. By contrast, Michigan’s alternative certification route, which was created under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, allows anyone with a bachelor’s degree and a 3.0 GPA to start teaching after taking a few courses online and passing a test in the subject they hope to teach. Unlike traditional teacher colleges, these programs don’t require any in-classroom training.

Not every program is the same — some universities that provide alternative certifications require teachers to attend classes in-person and practice teaching in the classroom before they start on the job. 

After three years on the job, teachers with alternative certifications can become fully certified if their principal signs off.

This fast-track arrangement is not unusual — almost every U.S. state offers an accelerated route into teaching. But some are much more widely used than others.

The vast majority of Michigan educators still come from traditional, four- or five-year teacher training programs.

It’s not even close. When the state Legislature allowed for an alternate route to teacher certification nearly a decade ago, the policy was billed as an important tool in the struggle to alleviate a statewide teacher shortage. But the 248 educators with “interim certifications” who were employed in Michigan last year amount to little more than a blip in a statewide teacher corps of about 100,000.

A few controversial for-profit certification programs, which were approved to operate in Michigan for the first time last year, hope to change that. Teachers of Tomorrow, whose graduates have begun finding work in Michigan schools, certifies tens of thousands of teachers in 12 states.  And in a promotional video on its website, #T.E.A.C.H, promises to help would-be educators “start teaching almost immediately.” It allows teachers to complete their online training after they have started working in the classroom.

Teachers who go through an alternative certification program are heavily concentrated in Detroit.

Research shows that poor students of color in the U.S. are more likely to be taught by a teacher with an alternative certification. That holds true in Michigan. Two-thirds of the teachers certified through a non-traditional program in the state teach in the city of Detroit, where most students are poor and black or Latino.

This may be because Detroit schools are more willing to hire them. Less than one-twentieth of Michigan’s more than 3,000 schools don’t employ a single teacher with an interim certification. About one-third of Detroit’s schools do.

To be sure, the statewide teacher shortage is particularly punishing in Detroit, where poverty and large class sizes make working in the classroom more difficult. Alternative certification programs have focused their recruiting efforts in the city in an attempt to help fill the gap.

Across the country, cities “are where it’s hardest to get conventional teachers,” said Chester Finn, a senior fellow at the Thomas Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank that has published studies of alternative certification. “Cities are also often where people from Teach for America and other idealistic programs are likely to want to teach.”

Critics say that lowering the barriers to entry into the teaching profession won’t address the deeper problems that plague Detroit schools. And they worry that this quick fix comes with unintended consequences.

“It’s really more like a band-aid, as opposed to addressing the larger issue,” said Christopher Crowley, a professor of teacher education at Wayne State University. “These are experiments, and they’re being tested on certain populations and not others.”

Teachers with alternative certifications can be effective.

It is very difficult to determine whether teachers who take this route perform any worse than their peers, partly because the accelerated programs vary widely in the amount of training and support they give new teachers. Armen Hratchian, director of Teach for America in Detroit, says its program allows teachers to be successful with fewer hours of in-classroom training — known as student teaching — that is common at traditional teacher colleges.

“To help meet the highest standard of teaching here in Michigan, TFA teachers spend over 400 pre-service hours training over the summer, continue to receive intensive coaching and development throughout their first two years, and are monitored and credentialed by the University of Michigan,” he said in an email.

But they are far more likely to leave the profession.

There’s little doubt that teachers who use alternative certification are more likely to leave the profession within a few years. Schools that fill vacancies with such teachers can find themselves in a “vicious cycle” of never-ending hiring, said Desiree Carver-Thomas, an education researcher at the non-partisan Learning Policy Institute, which last month published a list of best practices for combating teacher shortages that does not include alternative certification.

“Most states have been struggling to address teacher shortages for several years, often filling the vacuum with underprepared teachers,” the report reads.

Charter schools hire more teachers with alternative certifications than traditional schools.

Last year, 130 teachers with alternative certification were in charter schools compared with 105 at traditional schools in Michigan. A handful of charter schools have an especially high concentration of these teachers. At the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a tiny charter high school on the city’s northern border, nearly half of the 25 teachers at the school last year had not attended a traditional teaching program.

“As the teacher shortage continues to be an ongoing issue, I am always looking to find creative ways to find qualified candidates,” said Wendie Lewis, principal of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, in an email. In her experience, teachers who arrive at the school via programs like Teach for America are actually more apt to stay than traditionally certified teachers, perhaps because they promise at the outset to teach for two years.

There are lots of other ways to fight the teacher shortage.

Experts recommend raising salaries, trying to coax retired teachers back onto the job, forgiving student loans for teachers, offering new teachers more mentorship — and the list goes on.

Local governments, philanthropies, and companies have also pitched in, sweetening the deal for teachers by offering discounts on houses and cars for educators in Detroit.

And school leaders in Detroit are already going to extraordinary lengths to fill their classrooms.

Most recently, the city’s main district announced a partnership with the University of Michigan and the Kresge Foundation to, among other things, build a new “cradle to career” school that will feature a beefed-up teacher training program. The idea, in part, is that better-trained, better-supported teachers are more likely to stay in the profession. The district has said it won’t rule out hiring teachers from alternative certification programs, but Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has made clear that he prefers teachers with more training.

“We have to get out of the days of taking any adult that has some education and some certification and placing them in a school, and go to a model where we actually teach teachers how to teach,” Vitti said as he announced the new school on Thursday.

Here’s a list of schools where teachers with alternative certifications were working in Michigan during the 2017-18 school year:

School # Teachers w/ Alt. Cert. Type of school City
Jalen Rose Leadership Academy 11 Charter Detroit
Central High School 9 Traditional Detroit
Voyageur College Prep 8 Charter Detroit
Denby High School 7 Traditional Detroit
Detroit Edison Public School Academy 7 Charter Detroit
MacDowell Preparatory Academy 7 Charter Detroit
Mumford High School 7 Traditional Detroit
Southwest Detroit Community School 7 Charter Detroit
Detroit Enterprise Academy 6 Charter Detroit
Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies (PSAD) 6 Charter Detroit
Voyageur Academy 6 Charter Detroit
Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies – Elementary 5 Charter Detroit
Burns Elementary-Middle School 4 Traditional Detroit
Law Elementary School 4 Traditional Detroit
Southeastern High School 4 Traditional Detroit
Cass Technical High School 3 Traditional Detroit
Cesar Chavez High School 3 Charter Detroit
Clippert Academy 3 Traditional Detroit
Detroit Innovation Academy 3 Charter Detroit
Detroit Leadership Academy Elementary 3 Charter Detroit
Detroit Leadership Academy Middle/High 3 Charter Detroit
Ford High School 3 Traditional Detroit
Pansophia Academy 3 Charter Coldwater
Washington-Parks Academy 3 Charter Redford
Beecher High School 2 Traditional Mount Morris
Benjamin Carson School for Science and Medicine 2 Traditional Detroit
Detroit City West Side Academy for Leadership Development 2 Traditional Detroit
Detroit Prep 2 Charter Detroit
Frontier International Academy 2 Charter Detroit
Linden Charter Academy 2 Charter Flint
New Paradigm Loving Academy 2 Charter Detroit
Nolan Elementary-Middle School 2 Traditional Detroit
Old Redford Academy – High 2 Charter Detroit
St. Catherine of Siena Academy 2 Private Wixom
Trix Academy 2 Charter Detroit
University Preparatory Academy (PSAD) – High School 2 Charter Detroit
University Preparatory Science and Math (PSAD) Middle School 2 Charter Detroit
Webberville High School 2 Traditional Webberville
Western International High School 2 Traditional Detroit
Academy for Business and Technology Elementary 1 Charter Dearborn
ACTech High School 1 Traditional Ypsilanti
Advanced Technology Academy 1 Charter Dearborn
All Saints Catholic School 1 Private Canton
Alternative Educational Academy of Iosco County 1 Charter East Tawas
Ann L. Dolsen Elementary School 1 Traditional New Hudson
Arno Elementary School 1 Traditional Allen Park
Avondale High School 1 Traditional Auburn Hills
Avondale Middle School 1 Traditional Rochester Hills
Bendle Middle School 1 Traditional Burton
Botsford Elementary School 1 Traditional Livonia
Brenda Scott Academy for Theatre Arts 1 Traditional Detroit
Capstone Academy Charter School (SDA) – South Campus 1 Charter Detroit
Cesar Chavez Middle School 1 Charter Detroit
Chandler Park Academy – Middle School 1 Charter Harper Woods
Chelsea High School 1 Traditional Chelsea
Communication and Media Arts HS 1 Traditional Detroit
Conner Creek Academy East – Michigan Collegiate 1 Charter Warren
Crescent Academy Elementary 1 Charter Southfield
Crestwood High School 1 Traditional Dearborn Heights
Croswell-Lexington High School 1 Traditional Croswell
Dansville High School 1 Traditional Dansville
Dearborn High School 1 Traditional Dearborn
Detroit Achievement Academy 1 Charter Detroit
Detroit Collegiate High School 1 Charter Detroit
Detroit Delta Preparatory Academy for Social Justice 1 Charter Detroit
Detroit Edison Public School Academy – High School 1 Charter Detroit
Detroit Merit Charter Academy 1 Charter Detroit
Detroit School of Arts 1 Traditional Detroit
Dickinson East Elementary School 1 Traditional Hamtramck
East Arbor Charter Academy 1 Charter Ypsilanti
Eastpointe High School 1 Traditional Eastpointe
Ecorse Community High School 1 Traditional Ecorse
Escuela Avancemos 1 Charter Detroit
Fitzgerald Senior High School 1 Traditional Warren
George Washington Carver Elementary School 1 Charter Highland Park
Grand Ledge High School 1 Traditional Grand Ledge
Hamtramck High School 1 Traditional Hamtramck
Harrison High School 1 Traditional Farmington Hills
Henry Ford Academy 1 Charter Dearborn
Holy Family Regional School 1 Private Rochester
Hope of Detroit Academy – Elementary 1 Charter Detroit
Horizon High School 1 Traditional Hamtramck
Inkster Preparatory Academy 1 Charter Inkster
International Academy of Flint (K-12) 1 Charter Flint
Jackson Christian School 1 Private Jackson
Jackson ISD Local Based Special Education Programs 1 ISD School Jackson
Kensington Woods Schools 1 Charter Lakeland
Kosciuszko School 1 Traditional Hamtramck
Legacy Charter Academy 1 Charter Detroit
Lindemann Elementary School 1 Traditional Allen Park
Litchfield High School 1 Traditional Litchfield
Lowrey Middle School 1 Traditional Dearborn
Madison High School 1 Traditional Madison Heights
Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary-Middle School 1 Traditional Detroit
Maybury Elementary School 1 Traditional Detroit
Medicine and Community Health Academy at Cody 1 Traditional Detroit
Michigan Connections Academy 1 Charter Okemos
Multicultural Academy 1 Charter Ann Arbor
Munger Elementary-Middle School 1 Traditional Detroit
Murphy Academy 1 Charter Detroit
Noble Elementary-Middle School 1 Traditional Detroit
Northeast Elementary School 1 Traditional Jackson
Northridge Academy 1 Charter Flint
Novi High School 1 Traditional Novi
Novi Woods Elementary School 1 Traditional Novi
Osborn Academy of Mathematics 1 Traditional Detroit
Owosso High School 1 Traditional Owosso
Oxford Crossroads Day School 1 Traditional Oxford
Pershing High School 1 Traditional Detroit
Reach Charter Academy 1 Charter Roseville
Redford Service Learning Academy Campus 1 Charter Redford
Redford Union High School 1 Traditional Redford
Regent Park Scholars Charter Academy 1 Charter Detroit
Renaissance High School 1 Traditional Detroit
Royal Oak High School 1 Traditional Royal Oak
Salina Intermediate 4 – 8 1 Traditional Dearborn
Saline High School 1 Traditional Saline
South Lake High School 1 Traditional Saint Clair Shores
South Pointe Scholars Charter Academy 1 Charter Ypsilanti
Thornton Creek Elementary School 1 Traditional Novi
University Preparatory Academy (PSAD) – Elementary 1 Charter Detroit
University Preparatory Science and Math (PSAD) High School 1 Charter Detroit
University Yes Academy 1 Charter Detroit
Washtenaw International High School 1 ISD School Ypsilanti
Woodworth Middle School 1 Traditional Dearborn
Ypsilanti STEMM Middle College 1 Traditional Ypsilanti

Source: Michigan Department of Education