This week's headlines

Week in review: ‘I was cheated. … I’m behind.’

It was a busy week in Detroit schools as the district scrambled to move students out of a mold-infested building, the school board abruptly ended a raucous meeting, and thousands of students in Detroit and around the nation walked out of class to demand a better government response to gun violence.

We reported on all of the above this week, as well as the news that superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he’s found money in the budget to provide a guidance counselor, gym teacher, art or music teacher, and a “dean of school culture” to every school. We wrote about the district’s new approach to after-school programs, which has angered some longtime partners.

We caught up with some of the plaintiffs behind a major federal lawsuit filed 18 months ago that accused the state of Michigan of violating Detroit children’s right to literacy by allowing city schools to deteriorate. “I was cheated,” said one recent grad who says he now needs remedial instruction in college. “I’m behind.”

In other news, Michigan had a less-than-flattering moment in the national spotlight when U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos flubbed an answer to a question about the state of Michigan schools. And there was sad news from the state superintendent, who is taking a medical leave to deal with a major health challenge. Scroll down for more on these stories and the rest of the week’s headlines. And thanks for reading!

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Detroit Bureau Chief

Legal limbo and leaky roofs

  • The federal judge deciding whether the state has violated Detroit children’s right to literacy said in August that he would rule in 30 days or more. Seven months later, the case is still in legal limbo.
  • After months spent talking about expensive new programs he’d like to see, Vitti says city schools will have money to hire a slew of educators who’ve been absent for years.
  • Vitti also says he plans to find money to pay teachers to work in after-school programs. But his decision not to apply for a state grant that has generated about $2 million a year in the past has alarmed some organizations that have long provided those services.
  • As the Detroit district steps in to repair the leaky roof and a mold problem at a northwest Detroit elementary school, classes will be relocated to another city school.
  • The main Detroit district has now listed 24 abandoned former school buildings for sale including the elegant — but badly deteriorated — former Cooley High School.
  • Before two major foundations come together to focus on early childhood education in Detroit, they had to change the cultures in their organizations.

Protests, junior division

  • Though many of the students who walked out of schools across the nation on Wednesday were standing up against mass shootings like the one that claimed 17 lives in Florida last month, teens in Detroit said they also were speaking up about gun violence closer to home.
  • In the main district, students had the backing of the superintendent, who met with students last week to offer support, including extra security and transportation.
  • At other schools, the walkouts created conflicts, including at a Detroit charter school where students were not allowed to return to class after their protest.
  • One Detroit newspaper columnist says lawmakers should be worried about future actions students might take to voice their opinions.

Protests, senior division

  • A school board meeting ended in chaos after protesters repeatedly disrupted the discussion.
  • The school board president appealed for civility. “Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” she wrote in a statement. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments.” But Helen Moore, the activist at the center of the commotion, dismissed the board as “naïve.”
  • Moore and other protesters were allowed to address the board when it scheduled an emergency meeting later in the week. The octogenarian rabble-rouser warned the board to be wary of the mayor and to “stay woke.”  
  • Among her concerns is the meeting district leaders had recently with Mayor Mike Duggan and charter school leaders to discuss partnering to grade schools, and to run a joint bus route based on a successful model in Denver.
  • Our colleagues at Chalkbeat Colorado have written about the bus route there. They note that, despite the success of the innovative route, transportation remains a major impediment to school choice in Denver.

 Across the state

  • State Superintendent Brian Whiston is stepping aside for a while to deal with some challenging medical issues. Whiston says he is “praying for a miracle.
  • A Free Press columnist says, like many parents, she believes her child is attending a quality school but admits she doesn’t really know. In fact, she said, most parents who think their child’s school is doing well are wrong.
  • The Detroit News urges Michiganders not to simply shrug off in despair the alarming reports about our schools. The paper calls for a “constitutional overhaul” of the state’s schools that would give the governor direct control over education.
  • A gubernatorial candidate also offered his prescription to improve student reading skills.
  • The average Michigan teacher salary has risen for the first time in five years. Find which Michigan districts have the lowest average teacher salaries in this database.
  • The tough new third-grade reading law that will go into effect in 2020 calls for students who are a year behind grade level to be held back, but the state still has no way of measuring a grade level
  • A former state schools superintendent writes that the governor’s $100 million “Marshall Plan for Talent” is a “good start” toward preparing students for jobs, but “it will hardly address the talent hole Michigan is in today.”
  • A new website makes it possible to see the financial health of every school in the state including spending, revenue, student enrollment numbers, and the amount each district is receiving per student.
  • Twenty-five Michigan educators have been named semifinalists for the annual charter school administrator and teacher of the year competitions.

In other news

  • As part of the launch of NBC’s new show Rise, a local arts nonprofit working at a Detroit high school was featured in a segment about the importance of youth arts education.
  • About 1,200 Detroit kids last week got a free trip to see “A Wrinkle in Time.”
  • A Flint high school teacher explains how she’s teaching students who can make history.