Week in review: Can separate schools better serve students with dyslexia and other special needs

Since arriving in Detroit last year, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has spoken often of the schools he wants to create for children with special needs. Among schools he hopes to open in 2019 is one for children with dyslexia — the same learning disability that affects Vitti and two of his four children. But the proposal raises issues that we looked at this week. Vitti says schools for students with autism, dyslexia and other challenges can better serve some children who need extra help, and could attract families who might not otherwise choose district schools. But some experts argue that all children should be served in traditional schools.

“Students with autism are not going to go to the movie theater for autism. They are not going to the Walmart for autism. They are not going to go to the grocery store for autism. We live in, and we have to have a more inclusive society.”

— George Theoharis, professor, Syracuse University

Also this week, we wrote about the new textbooks and educational materials the district is considering for all of its schools next year. We identified five changes that could be coming to the district’s Montessori program. And we reported that Detroit schools are not the only ones in Michigan not providing regular physical education. In fact, about 500 schools across the state have no full-time certified physical education teachers. See the full list here.

Scroll down for more on these stories and the rest of the week’s headlines. And if you’re off next week for spring break, enjoy the respite from the daily grind. Maybe use that time to catch up on your Chalkbeat reading (like this special report from our colleagues in Memphis who looked at how the assassination 50 years ago of Dr. Martin Luther King played out in Memphis schools). We’re now one of the largest nonprofit news organizations in the country, with a newsroom of 30+ across seven cities and more joining every month!

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Detroit Bureau Chief

In Detroit

  • Vitti has not said for sure what the focus of new special education schools might be, though he is considering services for students diagnosed with autism and dyslexia. He wants to talk with families before making a recommendation to the school board.
  • After an alarming audit found that Detroit schools were using a curriculum that was setting students up to fail, the district assembled a committee of 113 educators to review other options. The panel has made recommendations that will now go to the school board for approval.
  • Vitti says he supports Montessori education and wants to expand it in the district, but changes are coming to the popular program.
  • The head of the foundation that supports Mayor Mike Duggan’s proposed district and charter school bus loop says competitive school leaders need to work together to attract Detroiters who travel to the suburbs for school. “Stop fighting each other over kids who are already in your buildings,” she said. “Let’s fight for the kids who don’t see an opportunity here.”
  • A prominent coalition of civic and community leaders that has been pushing for sweeping reforms of city schools could be losing one of its most influential leaders. He’s been nominated to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.
  • District and charter schools are starting to track student data to improve student attendance.
  • The Heidelberg Project is now teaching art in some city schools.
  • In a city with the lowest internet connection rates in the country, many students struggle to get online.
  • The founder of two local charter school networks urged parents to be more involved in their children’s education, writing that those who don’t are guilty of “child neglect.”
  • Nearly 150 Detroit charter school students walked out of class last week to protest the unexplained firings of several teachers and administrators.

Across the state

  • Michigan schools are required to offer gym class — but the state doesn’t specify how long or how often those classes must be. That has allowed some districts to cut physical education. Roughly 500 districts across the state have no certified physical education teacher. The problem is even more intense in Detroit where nearly half of district schools don’t have gym teachers on staff.
  • A Free Press columnist urged the business leaders calling for improvements to the state’s education system to stop talking, and start spending money to make schools better. But the head of education policy for a conservative think tank says money is not the answer to Michigan’s school woes.
  • A magazine publisher laments a state education system that “appears to have been designed to fudge accountability and swallow efforts to reform.” He blamed the term-limited legislature, noting “most members … won’t be around to see the disaster they have enabled.”
  • Gov. Rick Snyder has asked the state attorney general to determine whether the Michigan Constitution will allow families to take advantage of new federal tax rules that allow college savings funds to be used for K-12 private schools.
  • A House committee has approved an eight-bill package that would require colleges to better support and prepare future teachers.
  • The House narrowly passed a bill that will allow charter schools to be identified as “public schools” on ballots when voters consider local school tax hikes.
  • School districts across the state are grappling with how to deal with students vaping in class.

In other news

  • A local foundation is offering up to $50,000, plus professional support, for projects that could improve the lives of youth of color in Detroit.
  • Cass Tech’s harp and vocal ensemble is trying to raise money for a trip to a national competition in Washington.
  • The state charter school association has announced finalists for its annual charter school teacher and administrator of the year award.
  • Detroit’s main district is opening the doors to the district-owned Detroit Children’s Museum during spring break for a “one-stop school shopping experience,” where families can enroll in school for next year and get special education placement services.
  • A Detroit charter school was burglarized.