Week In Review

Week in review: An injustice to the children of Detroit

Middle schoolers in Detroit’s main district have been taking pre-algebra classes that have “virtually no relationship” to the state’s mathematics standards. In kindergarten through third grade, students have been taught with an English curriculum that sets them up “for a school career of frustration.”

But while those findings from auditors who reviewed Detroit’s current curriculum are evidence of what superintendent Nikolai Vitti calls “an injustice to the children of Detroit,”  it’s important to note that Detroit is hardly alone in using a shoddy curriculum. One of our stories this week explains why hundreds — possibly thousands — of districts across the country are using instructional materials that could set children up to fail.

Also this week, we covered Mayor Duggan’s State of the City address and his efforts to get district and charter school leaders to work together. And we wrote about a distressing new report that found Michigan’s third-grade reading scores have plunged despite nearly $80 million spent in recent years to help young children learn to read.

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

State of the City

  • Mayor Mike Duggan largely stayed out of the messy politics of education in his first term, but as he begins his second term, the mayor devoted a large portion of his State of the City address this week to initiatives he believes will improve city schools.
  • Duggan wants to grade city schools and experiment with a bus route that would drop off and pick up students at both district and charter schools.
  • While the grading thing could be controversial, several district and charter school leaders say they’re on board with the busing plan, which the mayor hopes to test out with 6-12 schools next fall.
  • The Free Press called the proposed bus loop an unprecedented step toward building cooperation between district and charter schools.
  • It’s a partnership the mayor says can help bring back the roughly 32,000 Detroit students who attend school in the suburbs. That includes districts like River Rouge that send buses throughout Detroit to pick up city kids.
  • One columnist was so enthused about Duggan’s ideas, he praised him for “true leadership.”
  • Another columnist called it a “step in the right direction,” even as she lamented that helping families access Detroit schools “doesn’t seem like much of an improvement for the kids who’ll graduate from” subpar city schools.

In the classroom

  • Replacing the shoddy curriculum in Detroit’s classrooms won’t magically solve schools’ problems, but research suggests that even when nothing else changes, a higher-quality curriculum can improve student learning.
  • The state of Michigan spent $77 million over three years to help students learn to read. But among states that have been giving exams comparable to Michigan’s M-STEP, Michigan third-graders were the only ones whose scores dropped by nearly 6 percentage points. Scores in other states climbed or stayed relatively flat during the same three-year period. Read the report here.
  • That report triggered despondency among some school leaders. “I cry when I see these lives being wasted,” one former state legislator said…. “I don’t think the average parent knows where we are with literacy.”
  • A news publisher railed against “the unwillingness of our political leadership to do something about the disgraceful decades-long deterioration of Michigan school performance” but the state superintendent spelled out what he says is the state’s “comprehensive strategy for improving Michigan schools.
  • An education blogger spelled out the conditions he thinks are behind the lower scores.
  • Two charter elementary schools and a district high school are the first city schools selected to participate in a new program that trains principals and school leaders to improve the culture of their schools and raise academic expectations. The program is funded by an expanding local organization dedicated to improving local schools.
  • Experts warn that Gov. Rick Snyder’s increased focus on preparing students for jobs through programs like his “Marshall Plan for Talent” carries inherent risks, potentially solving today’s private sector needs at the expense of its future needs.
  • Also, a business columnist asks a pretty good question: Who needs a Marshall Plan if third-graders can’t read?
  • In the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shootings, Michigan schools look at ways to build emotional support and focus on mental health among their students.  

In other news

  • Michigan will soon have no school districts under emergency management.
  • A new website makes it easy to look up information about the health, education and well-being of Detroit’s children, allowing users to see citywide averages for factors like graduation rates, as well as zero in on specific zip codes.
  • Two Detroit district high school students who are helping to organize a walkout and rally to protest gun violence never want to see another school shooting.
  • The Detroit school board’s initial refusal to sign off on selling a parcel of land that developers wanted for a new Wayne County jail has paid off, resulting in the land’s price increasing $20,000 to $220,000.
  • A local high school won a $10,000 theater grant.