Detroit week in review

Week in review: The wake of the wake-up call

News that teachers in Detroit’s main school district might soon have to disclose their side jobs triggered a bit of fury on social media this week with educators fuming that they wouldn’t need those jobs if they were paid more.

Other headlines this week included Gov. Rick Snyder’s push to increase education spending and Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s predictions for how many of his students will be reading at grade level by the end of the year. The school board is setting targets for many ways of measuring success including how long it takes the district to respond to building repairs and how many needy kids are turning up for free hot meals.

Also, we have some news from Chalkbeat: Our two newest Chalkbeat cities — Chicago and Newark — are now live on our site and accepting requests from readers who want to sign up for education news from those cities. And, the next stage of the Great American Teach-Off is underway. We chose seven semi-finalists, and now we need your help. Click here to vote today for the two teacher teams to head to Austin to participate in the live event. Voting ends Jan 29.

We’ll have some closer-to-home news next week about our Chalkbeat Detroit expansion so please stay tuned!

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Senior Detroit Correspondent

The wake-up call

  • Snyder said his upcoming budget proposal will include “the largest increase in the basic per pupil student foundation allowance in the last 15 years.”
  • This proposal, made during Snyder’s eighth and final State of the State address, comes just a week after Amazon delivered a major rebuke to the state’s educational system. The retailer cited a lack of talented educated professionals as a reason it won’t consider Detroit as a possible location for its second headquarters.
  • A Free Press columnist checked the education levels of people living in and around the 20 cities that made Amazon’s list of finalists and found that all but one have more highly educated populations than the Detroit area. He also disputed a business leader’s claim that it was Detroit’s reputation, not its talent pool, that squeezed us out of the competition.
  • A news publisher summed up Amazon’s rejection of Detroit’s bid with story headlined: “Amazon to Michigan: Fix your schools!” as an article in his magazine documented evidence that Michigan student performance is dropping at an “alarming rate.”
  • The head of a local education policy organization called on state leaders to see the Amazon news as a “wake-up call.”
  • The topic was the subject of discussion on WDET’s Detroit Today this morning, with this reporter joining education experts to talk about ways Michigan could step up its game to improve education and attract future employers.
  • Snyder cited that wakeup call in proposing more money for schools as well as a not-yet-detailed “Marshall Plan for Talent.”
  • But a group of business and education leaders who last week released a sweeping study proposing an overhaul to the way schools are funded in Michigan said the governor “missed an opportunity” to call for changes to the state’s “broken” school funding system.
  • A conservative education policy expert notes that more spending for schools isn’t always the solution to improving them.  
  • Lawmakers, meanwhile, might not be inclined to increase education spending while angling to deliver election year tax cuts.

In Detroit

  • The proposal requiring teachers and other district employees to disclose their side gigs is designed to prevent conflicts of interest and other legal problems for the district. Now that it’s been approved by a school board committee, it will go to the full board for review.
  • The news we reported last week about changes to the admissions policies for Cass Tech, Renaissance and other selective high schools has generated strong reactions.
  • Vitti predicted higher reading scores for district third-graders this year but warned that ‘a lot can happen’ between now and when students start taking the state’s high-stakes exams. He also released tracking data showing how students are progressing at each district school.
  • The Detroit school board approved a long list of targets it hopes the district can meet this year, for everything from filling empty classrooms to reducing the percentage of students who are chronically absent.
  • District principals might soon get their first raises in eight years or more. Principal salaries currently range from $90,000 to $117,000. See the full list of salaries for district employees — as well as other details about the district’s payroll — here.
  • A school board committee agreed to spend $3 million to board up 19 vacant former school buildings — including iconic buildings like Kettering and Cooley High Schools.  
  • A local blogger just posted a video tour of the scene inside the dilapidated former Kettering building. He also toured what’s left of a former Detroit middle school.
  • The district is getting $800,000 from the state to expand mechatronics, manufacturing, and welding programs at three vocational schools. The money is the largest grant from a five-million-dollar career and technical fund going to schools around the state.
  • This group is working to provide “college knowledge” to students in Detroit schools.

Charter members

  • Statewide charter school enrollment is projected to decline for the first time in 21 years.  
  • The state House rejected an effort to require charter schools to pay into the state teacher pension system.
  • Legislation allowing charter schools to share in the proceeds of county-wide tax increases is headed to the governor’s desk.
  • A professor who studies school choice programs gives Michigan’s approach a failing grade.
  • A pro-charter school advocate used this week’s “National School Choice Week” celebrations to accuse charter school critics of mounting an “organized smear job” against Michigan’s charter schools.

Across the state

  • It’s still not clear when Michigan teachers will start collecting the $550 million that was illegally withheld from teacher pay checks between 2010 and 2012 but the money is now headed to school districts to be distributed.
  • Approximately 275,000 teachers across the state are owed money but how much they’re owed in interest is a matter of dispute.
  • The state education department is looking for partners to help provide free meals to children during summer vacation.
  • A website that helps teachers raise money from private donors to pay for classroom supplies announced that $13.9 million has been raised for 25,000 projects in Michigan public schools in the last 10 years. Donors have funded 5,800 projects in Detroit through the site, supporting 1,800 Detroit teachers.
  • Graduating high school seniors could have the opportunity this spring to earn a Seal of Biliteracy from the state of Michigan, designating their ability to speak and write two languages.