Week in review: Getting over that ‘F’ on the Nation’s Report Card

The reports early this week about Detroit’s last-place ranking among big city school districts on a national exam is definitely troubling, if not particularly surprising to people who’ve been paying attention to schools in Detroit. None of the district’s recent reforms had even begun when students sat down to take these tests in early 2017. That’s why Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he considers the dreadful scores a “baseline” that he can build on.

“I have my eye on the 2021 administration of NAEP, when our current first graders will take part. That is when we will see what our students can do when they are working with aligned curriculum, have teachers who have been supported, and have consistent access to resources that help their students succeed.”

— Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District

Vitti says he believes the new curriculum the school board adopted this week will help drive the district’s recovery. The results from the test, known as the Nation’s Report Card, didn’t just reflect badly on Detroit. Students across Michigan and the nation — also made a less-than-impressive showing.

In other news this week, we looked at a program that places teaching artists — singers, dancers, painters — into preschool classrooms. The artists not only help prepare young students for kindergarten by exposing them to the arts, they also train classroom teachers to continue arts-integrated lessons even after the artists move on.

And, we checked in with the hundreds of Detroit children who were displaced from their school last month by a leaky roof that caused fears of mold. 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

The Nation’s Report Card

  • Detroit has ranked worst in all five years that it’s participated in a nationwide comparison of big city districts — a fact likely driven by higher rates of poverty in Detroit and years of turmoil in the city’s’ main school district.
  • A glimmer of hope comes from Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida, where fourth-graders — who started school the year Vitti took over that district — improved their math scores by five points to take the top spot on the national urban district comparison.
  • Vitti says the curriculum elementary school students had been using in Jacksonville is the same one the Detroit school board approved this week.
  • Vitti took to Twitter to rub the Jacksonville scores in the faces of people who were critical of his work

 In Detroit

  • As Detroit heavily invests in early childhood education and seeks new ways to improve the quality of instruction, a program that places artists in preschools is illustrating a path forward.
  • The new curriculum adopted by the Detroit school board this week is part of a $732 million budget that, after years of cuts in schools, represents the first major expansion of programs.
  • As we reported last month, the budget will give all schools money to hire counselors, gym and teachers, and other staff.
  • What’s not clear is whether schools will actually be able to fill those new positions.
  • A nonpartisan state policy watchdog analyzed the district’s budget and found it to be balanced, but long-term projections could be undermined by things the district has little power to control.
  • Parents with children at a school that’s been closed for the rest of the year because of mold concerns are making it work but grumbling about children having to get up earlier and double up in classrooms.
  • A middle school principal in the main district was suspended for 30 days instead of being fired over financial improprieties after students pleaded his case at a school board meeting.
  • A Detroit school board member is hosting a series of workshops to better inform Detroiters about what a school board does and the rules it must follow.
  • The Detroit office of Teach For America has a new executive director.
  • A corrupt afterschool tutoring vendor convicted of bribing Detroit principals was sentenced to one day in prison after cooperating with prosecutors.

Across the state

  • A Free Press columnist questions the usefulness of the flood of data now available to Michigan parents as they choose schools. “What a parent believes makes a school great,” she writes, “may have less to do with test-score and graduation-rate data than reputation and word-of-mouth.”
  • Negotiations over the state’s education budget are underway, with a House committee voting this week on how education dollars should be spent. Among other things the House proposal would scale back is Snyder’s so-called Marshall Plan for Talent.
  • The state school principals association compared differences between the House, Senate and gubernatorial spending proposals. Among other things, the three bodies disagree about cuts to a program we wrote about last week that allows public dollars to flow to private school and homeschool students.
  • A magazine publisher says Michigan education leaders are pushing media and other organizations to refuse to support candidates in the fall election who do not offer a specific, detailed, coherent plan to reform and fix the state’s schools. “Candidates who offer platitudes —  “Oh, yes, there is nothing more important than schools for our kids” — without offering specific ideas and concrete details deserve to be treated with scorn,” he writes.
  • Michigan schools have limited resources when it comes to addressing student mental health issues. One suburban high school counselor says it’s “becoming harder and harder” to give students what they need to succeed.
  • The leader of an organization that helps low-income students go to college spells out the extent and impact of the shortage of guidance counselors.
  • MLive offered this look at how grads from different Michigan high schools fared in college and made a list of the 60 high schools that produced the most college grads. Here’s another list of the 50 schools that produced the fewest college grads.
  • Lawyers for gun owners urged the Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday to stop schools from banning the open carry of guns by visitors, a controversy that will test the ability of school boards to set their own safety policies.
  • Democrats in the state Senate have introduced a package of bills that would put more controls on guns in schools and spend $100 million more on school safety measures.
  • Attorneys for Flint’s schoolchildren reached a historic agreement with state, county and Flint education officials to provide universal screenings for learning disabilities to children affected by the city’s water crisis.

In other news

  • Ten Michigan educators have been named as 2018-19 Regional Teachers of the Year and will comprise the 2018-19 Michigan Teacher Leadership Advisory Council, a group dedicated to sharing teachers’ voices in education discussions throughout the state.
  • A major bank foundation is committing $318,000 in grant and sponsorship funding to support early childhood programming at a prominent local museum.
  • Suburban students, community leaders and activists staged a “town hall for our lives” event to call for protections from school shootings.
  • The Michigan Treasury department is promoting events and resources it offers to help families find ways to pay for college.  
  • The annual exhibition of Detroit student work at the Detroit Institute of Arts kicks off this weekend.
  • Snyder named two new appointees to the board that oversees the state’s teacher pension system.
  • A Detroit boxing gym that tutors kids and has a track record of helping them graduate has gotten a major grant.  
  • A robotics competition coming to Detroit this month is expected to draw 350,000 people and serve as a showcase for science and technology education.