detroit public schools

What is perhaps most remarkable about Governor Rick Snyder’s dramatic plan to save the state’s failing schools is that it has sparked essentially no opposition. Though it is being talked about primarily in terms of Detroit, the new Educational Achievement System is eventually meant to be extended statewide.

Here’s how the governor says it will work. Those individual Detroit schools among the lowest-achieving five percent in the state will have the coming year to clean up their act. If they haven’t shown drastic improvement by next June, they will no longer be governed by the Detroit Public School system.

Instead, they will move to a new authority, the Educational Achievement System, which will be run by what sounds like a state school board. It will be chaired, at least for now, by Roy Roberts, the Detroit Public Schools’ Emergency Financial Manager, and consist of eleven members. Seven will be appointed by the governor, two by the Detroit schools and two by Eastern Michigan University.

Eastern, which was originally a teachers’ college, will be heavily involved in both running the new authority, and in helping these failing skills get up to speed. It is suspected that some of them struggled in part because of difficulties dealing with the notorious and often corrupt or incompetent Detroit school bureaucracy.

Supposedly, the new Educational Achievement System won’t just replace one set of officials with another; it should give individual schools and teachers and principals more freedom to figure out and solve their own educational problems, using whatever works.

Within a few years, the plan is to extend the authority’s reach to other failing public schools around the state. Now, there are a lot of questions for which we apparently don’t yet have answers.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder says the state will take a dramatically new to approach to its worst schools--starting in Detroit.

Years of turmoil and power struggles over the Detroit Public Schools have left a polarizing legacy in the city. That history has left many Detroiters absorbing Snyder’s plan with a cautious sense of déjà vu.

flickr/ iboy_daniel

Michigan will try a drastic new approach to fix its failing public schools. The state will put what it designates as “persistently low-performing schools” in a special, statewide school district.

The effort will start in Detroit. The city’s public school system has gained national attention for its rock-bottom test scores and budget deficit. In fact, the school district is currently under an emergency manager.

Eastern Michigan University has been picked to oversee the lowest performing schools in the state.

The “Education Achievement System” will assist the lowest 5 percent of performing schools in Michigan. The new statewide school district will start in Detroit and eventually expand across the state. 

Jeoff Larcom is with EMU. He says Governor Snyder chose EMU because of its strong education program and proximity to Detroit.

Governor Rick Snyder, state Superintendent Mike Flanagan and Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts are scheduled to make an announcement regarding school reform later this morning in Detroit. The Detroit Free Press reports:

Gov. Rick Snyder will create an authority to run several failing Detroit public schools as part of sweeping changes to be announced today for the city's struggling school system, sources said Sunday.

The plan would restructure the failing Detroit Public Schools, which has a $327-million deficit on an operating budget of about $1.5 billion, by moving its underperforming schools under an authority to be run by the district's emergency manager, Roy Roberts, according to sources. Schools would qualify for the new system if they are deemed below certain academic standards by the Michigan Department of Education…

It's unclear exactly how many DPS schools would be transferred to a new authority. DPS already has a program under way that would close or convert to charter about half its schools.

Under the plan to be announced Monday, DPS schools not labeled as underperforming would remain under the authority of Roberts, a former top executive at General Motors, in the same manner as they are today. There are no plans to dissolve the school board, sources said.

Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, is scheduled to take part in the announcement via a live feed from Washington, D.C..

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

School is out for the summer in Detroit. And for several schools in the cash-strapped district, classes are done forever.

Until today, that was the story at Catherine Ferguson Academy – an award-winning school for pregnant teens and young moms.

Changing the storyline

Preparations were under way at Catherine Ferguson Academy in the morning for a big rally to protest the school’s closure. Students were milling around in the hallways. Some were making signs. Across town, protestors were getting on a bus to join the demonstration.

American Federation of Teachers

The leader of the nation’s second-largest teacher’s union made a pitch for empowering teachers in Detroit.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten toured Palmer Park Preparatory Academy. The district says the school has been transformed for the better in the past year, since teachers took control of most school functions, including the budget and curriculum.

The AFT touts the school’s success as “a model of successful union-district collaboration and teacher accountability.”

Detroit Public Schools

The Detroit Public Schools’ new Emergency Financial manager started the job Monday.

Former GM Executive Roy Roberts toured several Detroit schools and met with staff.

Roberts says the district must undergo a “cultural change” and reject a “Rodney Dangerfield kind of mentality” for students to succeed.

Robert Bobb, the tough, controversial Emergency Financial Manager of the Detroit Public Schools, made an astonishing admission yesterday. He has been fighting a deadly form of cancer.

Thirteen months ago, he learned he had Stage Four tongue cancer, which had spread to the lymph nodes in his neck.

His chances of surviving five years were put at less than fifty percent. Hearing such a diagnosis would be enough to emotionally destroy many people. Bobb toughed it out.

He clearly is an intensely private person. In fact, I had never  seen his age in print - he is sixty-six - or knew he was married until yesterday. People knew something was wrong with Bobb; he seemed to have lost weight, and at one point acknowledged he had been ill, but said he was feeling better. In fact, he was involved in an intensive course of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Bobb would show up at Henry Ford Hospital in the morning, checking in under a fake name, and get half an hour of intense treatment. Then he would go about the battles of the day, and sometimes endure abuse at school board meetings at night.

Remarkably, his secret held, until he decided to reveal it to the Detroit Free Press yesterday, adding, almost as an afterthought, “It was an hell of an ordeal, man.”

Why did he keep his condition from the public? His reasons make sense.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

In the past two years, Detroit has closed 59 schools and cut 30 percent of the school system's workforce. But the district is still staring at a deficit of more than $300 million, and thousands of students continue to flee every year. In a story produced for NPR's All Things Considered, we take a closer look at a plan to help the troubled district out of its downward spiral.

screen grab from HDNet clip

Detroit public schools face many challenges, and Dan Rather wants you to know how bad it is.

HDNet, a cable and satellite television channel aimed at "men's interests", will air "Dan Rather Reports: A National Disgrace" tonight at 8 p.m. (and again at 11 p.m.).

Here's a clip from the program:

HDNet says the program is "full of heartbreaking images: children sitting in class for days without a teacher; a principal addressing graduating seniors with stories of the violence they’ve seen; and abandoned schools left to rot in an increasingly empty city."

Dan Rather spoke with Paul W. Smith on WJR this morning. He told Smith that he hopes people learn that the nation's public education system needs to be changed:

"What I hope the takeaway will be is that we all, not just people in Detroit, we all should be ashamed of what's happening to our schools and we can change it. But we can't change it on the present course where all decisions are top down instead of being bottom up."

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder has appointed former GM Executive Roy Roberts to take over as the Detroit Public Schools’ Emergency Financial Manager.

Roberts has had a distinguished career in business and is considered a pioneer for African-Americans in the auto industry.

Snyder says he chose Roberts because he’s a “successful businessman and team builder.”

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools district is moving forward with its plan to turn dozens of its schools into charters. It’s part of current emergency manager Robert Bobb’s Renaissance 2012 plan. Just this week, 18 organizations put in bids to take over 50 DPS schools and convert them into charters.

At the top would be a charter leader who does everything from fundraising to student recruitment to academic planning. But a study out late last year by the Center on Reinventing Public Education shows charter leaders have a high turnover rate.

The Detroit Public Schools is moving ahead with its controversial 2012 Renaissance Plan.

That’s Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb’s plan to turn up to 50 current schools into charters, rather than closing them down.

Bobb says 18 organizations have submitted bids to transform some district schools into charters.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Stephen Hill, the former executive director of the Detroit Public School's Risk Management Department could be facing prison time for his role in a scheme that stripped millions from the Detroit Public School system.

The Detroit Free Press reports that Hill was one of 9 people indicted last fall in the scandal. Officials charged him with taking kickbacks "in the form of a new Mustang GT convertible in 2005 and a new Dodge Durango SUV in 2006...[and] using DPS funds to pay for his $40,000 retirement party when he temporarily left the district in September 2005."

Here's more from the Free Press:

Stephen Hill, a former Detroit Public Schools executive, is facing up to 9 years in prison after pleading guilty today to his role in a scheme that looted more than $3 million from the cash-strapped district.

Hill, who admitted that he accepted roughly $150,000 in kickbacks from a vendor that overbilled district for inadequate work, pleaded guilty to extortion and conspiring to commit program before U.S. District Court Judge Paul Borman.

screen grab from HDNet clip

Dan Rather will air a special two-hour program on the Detroit Public School system titled "A National Disgrace."

It will air on HDNet Tuesday, May 10 at 8:00 p.m. eastern as part of their "Dan Rather Reports" program, and will be re-broadcast at 11:00 p.m. on the same night.

This from HDNet's press release:

The special takes its title from a controversial comment by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and presents an unflinching look at corruption, mismanagement and failure. Tens of millions of dollars have been stolen from the district. And a school board bickers over trivialities, while their students score at the bottom on national tests.

Elizabeth Albert / flickr

Layoff notices are being delivered to each and every teacher in the Detroit Public Schools.

It’s an unprecedented move for the troubled school district. Hundreds of teachers have been issued notices in previous years. But Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb says the circumstances are different this time around.

"This year, because of our declining student enrollment, because of the possibility of some of our schools becoming charters, and of course school closures, we decided to send layoff notices to our entire membership."

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Charter school operators interested in turning around schools in Detroit attended a bidders’ conference to get more information about the application process.

As many as 45 Detroit schools could be taken over by charter operators over the next two years. Ahmed Saber is with Education Management Networks, which operates three charter schools in Detroit:

"There is a lot of uncertainty about the plan, and of course because of the speed that it came about, and trying to get it done soon. But maybe that’s what’s needed in a climate that’s bogged down in a climate with all the politics and all the red tape."

Detroit Public Schools hopes the charter plan will avoid having to shut dozens of schools, and help put the troubled school system in the black.

District officials say they’re looking for high-quality operators that have a proven track record – including 90 percent graduation rates and 75 percent proficiency on state math and reading tests.

There's been a flurry of speculation lately that perhaps the best choice to replace Robert Bobb as Emergency Financial Manager of the Detroit Public Schools might be ... Robert Bobb himself.

Bobb's contract expires at the end of June. While he has faced endless financial problems, his main frustration during his two-year stint running the schools seems to have been a court decision that his powers did not extend to determining what kids actually learn.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Detroit schools emergency financial manager Robert Bobb says he's willing to consider staying on the job beyond June in the wake of Michigan's new financial oversight law. Robert Bobb told the Detroit News  editorial page that he's "not lobbying for the job." But he says the "pace of change" possible under the new law is appealing.

Bobb was hired in 2009 by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm to fix the district's finances. His latest contract was extended through June by Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed a law giving Bobb and other emergency financial managers the right to oversee not just a school district's finances but also its academics. 

Snyder's office says if Bobb is interested in staying he would be among the candidates considered.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools held the first in a series of parent meetings about a radical plan to close some schools and turn others into charter schools.

Detroit schools’ Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, proposes closing six schools and making up to 45 others into charters.

18 of those schools will close this summer if no charter operator takes over. 27 others will have the opportunity to go charter, but would stay open as public schools if that doesn’t happen.

Bobb says that’s a better option than a state-mandated deficit-elimination plan, which would close 40 schools outright.

Most parents who attended the first meeting at Priest Elementary school in southwest Detroit expressed concern and even anger about Bobb’s plan. Many worry what it will mean for their neighborhood schools, student transportation, and special needs students.

Danielle Clark’s eleven-year-old daughter attends the Detroit Day School for the Deaf. Bobb’s plan calls for that school to close.

“This should not be an option, to close the only deaf school in Detroit. I drive 40 miles one way because this is my daughter’s culture and her environment and this is the place where she needs to be.”

District spokesman Steve Wasko says concerned parents will have a chance to make their case directly to Bobb in other meetings this month.

“We may learn something about a school…that it’s not a good candidate for closure or charter. In some cases we may learn that a school that we thought was a candidate for charter just simply has no interest from a charter. And if it’s on the list of 18, it would indeed close. If it’s on the larger list it would remain open.”

Bobb and the Detroit School Board will also hold two town meetings about the plan on April 12th and 13th.

The first of several workshops to educate Detroit parents on the schools district’s future plans is scheduled for this afternoon, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The Detroit Public Schools' Parents Speakers Bureau will hold the meetings starting Tuesday afternoon at Priest Elementary and Central High. Six other meetings are scheduled through April 14.

Thirty schools are slated to be closed this year and two more in 2012 as part of the district's plan to help eliminate a $327 million budget deficit.

District officials say they hope to turn over 18 of the buildings to charter operators as neighborhood schools. Schools not selected as charters will close. An additional 27 schools also have been identified as possible candidates for charters.

(courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Governor Snyder insists he has not chosen a replacement for Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb. Bobb’s contract to oversee Detroit’s troubled school district expires in June. A Detroit TV station reported Snyder had made his choice to replace Bobb. But the governor insists he has not. 

 "We’re still looking at candidates, both locally and nationally, and we’re going through that process.  My preference would be to find somebody from southeastern Michigan that has the right skill sets and such.”

The Detroit Public School District is hundreds of millions of dollars in the red and its latest MEAP test scores were mixed.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan RAdio

Thousands of kids in the Detroit Public Schools system could see their school close or become a charter school next fall.

Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb laid out his reorganization plan today. It calls for closing seven schools this summer and one next summer. Another 18 schools will close by the fall unless a charter school operator can be identified to run them. And 27 more schools will be offered for conversion to charter schools, but will remain open otherwise.

Bobb says national experts and the community will carefully vet the applications to find “superstar” charter operators:

"It doesn’t do us any good to have anyone come in and receive a charter if in fact they do not have a proven track record of student achievement."

Detroit Board of Education President Anthony Adams says the troubled school district can either continue to close schools, or rethink its approach completely:

"If it is our responsibility to provide the highest level of education for students within our community, then we have to embrace a different service model of what we do."

The list of 32 schools is fewer than half the troubled school district will have to close or convert to charters to erase a $327 million dollar deficit. Bobb says it will be his successor’s job to finish the job. His contract expires at the end of June.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Even though the district has had a state-appointed emergency financial manager for two years, Detroit Public Schools still face a deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Robert Bobb, the DPS emergency financial manager, was appointed by Jennifer Granholm in March of 2009.

From the Associated Press:

Robert Bobb has spent the past two years closing dozens of schools and firing principals in an effort to fix the failing Detroit Public Schools. Yet, he still hasn't solved the problem for which he was hired — erasing a legacy budget deficit that now stands at $327 million.

Now, in his final months as the state-appointed emergency financial manager, Bobb is proposing several headline-grabbing ideas — including a radical plan to shut down so many buildings that some high schools could see more than 60 students per class — in an attempt to wipe out the red ink.

The AP reports that it's unclear how Bobb might use new powers granted to emergency financial managers under a new law signed by Governor Rick Snyder last week. They say he "continues to push the charter school plan which is the one receiving the most support in the city at the moment — even from the school board."

The man in charge of the Detroit Public Schools’ finances has put forth a plan that would turn some of the district’s worst schools into charter schools.

Robert Bobb presented his “Renaissance Plan 2012” to the Detroit Board of Education over the weekend.

The plan calls for turning 41 of the district’s remaining 142 schools over to charter operators. District spokesman Steve Wasko says it would allow the district to move at least $75 million in expenses off its books.

“This is an alternative that would allow the Detroit Public Schools to shed all of the operating costs of the identified schools, to be borne by an outside management company or charter operator.”

Wasko says Bobb will identify those schools and open up the application process later this week.

Skeptics question whether the amount of money the plan saves would make up what the district would lose in state per-pupil funding. David Arsen, Professor of Educational Policy at Michigan State University, says it’s not quite clear how the plan would save so much money.

“If the 41 schools are converted to charters, DPS would avoid its current operations expenditures on those buildings. On the other hand, the district would also lose nearly all of the state funding it currently receives for educating the students in those schools.”

The State Department of Education would have to sign off too, because the proposal would change the deficit elimination plan the state ordered Bobb to implement.

Bobb says his proposal would still advance the deficit elimination plan, while avoiding what he calls “draconian” measures, such as shutting down half the district’s remaining schools.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

In Detroit, the school district is grappling with a $327 million dollar budget deficit. That’s led the district’s state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, to put forth a deficit elimination plan that would close half the district’s schools.  

Bobb himself calls the deficit elimination plan “draconian.” In January, Bobb gave it to the state of Michigan, warning it was the only way for the Detroit Public Schools to in his words “cut its way out” of its deficit.

The State Department of Education says that’s exactly what Bobb should do.

“We’re working through some very difficult and challenging budget situations.”

That was Bobb’s cautious take on the subject last week. He backed away somewhat from one of the plan’s most staggering provisions—60 kids in some classrooms. But he says class sizes will go up as the district closes about half its schools. The plan also calls for replacing individual school principals with “regional” ones, and cutting all general bus service.

Word of the huge cuts is just trickling down to everyone. Maddie Wright found out when she attended a workshop at the Marcus Garvey Academy on Detroit’s east side. Wright, who’s raising a grandson in the seventh grade, says she doesn’t like the idea of less individual attention for kids—especially in subjects like math, where she struggles to help with homework.

“The way he’s doing it…I don’t know anything. So the only somebody who can help him is some of those younger teachers, that’s been there. Because I can’t.”

Bobb has proposed another alternative. That’s to put the Detroit Public Schools through a bankruptcy process similar to what General Motors did. It would allow the system leave much of its debt behind, and emerge with a new balance sheet.

Detroit State Representative David Nathan, a Democrat, says he’s all right with the bankruptcy option.  But he says state officials have told him that even talking about it will hurt the state’s bond rating.

“We should allow the district to do that. And we should not sacrifice the kids of the city of Detroit to save a bond rating for the state. Those are MY children in that school district.”

But the state’s Education Department nixed that option. State Republicans are also pushing legislation that gives state-appointed financial managers broad powers, including the right to throw out union contracts. Democrat Nathan says he’s working on a compromise bill that would avoid both bankruptcy and the worst cuts.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Robert Bobb, the Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools, will stay on the job through June of this year. Bobb's contract was set to expire on Tuesday, but Governor Snyder has extended his contract.

A spokesperson for the Governor told the Detroit Free Press that Bobb will stay on the job through June 30th.

As the Associated Press reports:

Bobb was hired in March 2009 by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm to fix the district's finances.

Bobb has started a number of programs to improve education and standardized test scores across the district. He also has uncovered numerous cases of theft and fraud involving district employees and vendors.

The district still faces a more that $300 million budget deficit as state per pupil funding continues to decline with the drop in enrollment.

Detroit Public Schools officials are touting new numbers that show the district’s graduation rate is rising.

 

Those statistics show a 62% graduation rate in 2010. That’s up from about 58% rate in 2007, when the district began using a new method to count graduates.

 

Detroit schools’ Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb attributes the rise “in part to aggressive academic improvements and school leadership restructuring.”

 

Something happened this week which will, unless something changes soon, have the effect of finishing the job of effectively destroying the Detroit public schools. And maybe, Michigan’s future.

The state department of education has ordered Detroit to put in place a financial restructuring plan that would close half the district’s schools within two years. That would result in an  average high school class size of sixty-two students.

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