Detroit Schools in the wake of the Robert Bobb ruling

Dec 7, 2010

Update: 5:13 pm:

Emergency financial manager Robert Bobb and his team have already put in place several classroom reforms. Some of the reforms include two hours of math and reading instruction every day for elementary students, requiring all 7th graders to take pre-Algebra, and conducting "quarterly assessments" of students' skills.

Now it’s up to the school board to decide whether or not to continue some, all or none of Bobb’s reforms. Anthony Adams is the board's president:

"At the end of the day we’re going to take a careful look at everything: If it’s positive and advances instruction, we’ll keep it in place; if it isn’t, then we’ll figure out what we need to do to elevate the level of instruction that takes place in the district."

Adams says the board will likely keep the extended math and reading time, but the board will have to take "a closer look" at the quarterly assessments. Adams says the board will also come up with its own reforms, like year-round school:

"We believe it’s important, especially if we’re really going to advance learning in this district, that we have our kids in school all year round."

Adams says the board is "aggressively" working on creating a "boarding school environment' for students who need protection during the school week.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Wendy Baxter issued a ruling yesterday that put limits on the state's Emergency Financial Manager over Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb.

Bobb was brought in by Governor Granholm in March of 2009 after the state declared that the Detroit Public Schools faced a financial emergency. The school system was running in the red by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Bobb has since closed schools, among other things, but he also made a lot of academic decisions that rankled the Detroit Board of Education. Bobb has maintained that you can't uncouple academic decisions and financial decisions. He says he has the authority to make both.

The Board filed a lawsuit saying he does not have exclusive authority.

Yesterday, Judge Wendy Baxter essentially agreed with the Board's position. In her ruling, Judge Baxter said:

"Robert Bobb put on the identity of DPS to the exclusion of the Board. He rendered the elected Board a nullity existing in name only, yet totally disempowered to effectuate any decisions the electorate authorized it to make... He was empowered to figure out how to pay for education fashioned by the Board. Instead he created education products he proposed to implement."

Judge Baxter also criticized Bobb's vision for the Detroit Public Schools saying his vision for a competitive marketplace for the school system "is shortsighted because competition among schools kills sharing pathways to successful teaching methods... and decimates widespread learning across the district."

She also criticized Bobb's vision for the school system as being uninformed and potentially unethical:

"This is the vision that emanates from a person who had to be chosen solely based on his finance credentials and who has no teaching certificate, training, or experience, no education or counseling background; all his study in education has emanated from unvetted sources, who may stand to benefit financially should his academic plans come to fruition and who have supplemented his pay."

So what does all this mean for the teachers and students in the Detroit Public Schools?

Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra has been talking with Detroit Public Schools spokesperson Steve Wasko. He says:

"Bottom line is today, across Detroit classrooms and the foreseeable future, there's not a bit of change.

Guerra says the Detroit Board of Education has to determine what academic plans it wants to change and which ones it wants to keep, put that before the judge, and then there's the potential for an appeal.

Guerra has also spoken with the Michigan Attorney General's office about an appeal of Baxter's decision (the AG was defending Bobb in the case). The AG's office says it's reviewing Baxter's ruling, and doesn't have a comment at this point.

The saga for Detroit's schools continues.