detroit schools

Skillman Foundation

Locally-generated solutions should drive any effort to fix Detroit schools.

That’s the message coming from the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, a group that formed just this week.

It’s an unusually broad group that includes community, business, union, and education leaders working in the city.

Sharon Drummond / flickr

Two reports out this week show Michigan as a stark outlier when it comes to charter schools.

One, from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, shows that 55% of Detroit public school students are now enrolled in charters—up from 51% just a year ago.

That’s the second-highest percentage of any city after New Orleans. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

An audit of the Flint Community Schools has revealed that the district's deficit has risen to $21.9 million dollars. The district is searching for possible solutions, one of which may be state intervention or an emergency manager.

School officials know a solution is necessary, but they disagree that state involvement is the best way to solve their problems. Isaiah Oliver is the president of the Flint School Board. 

Cass Tech High School in Detroit.
DPS / Flickr

The Michigan Education Department and four of the state's school districts have been awarded nearly $3 million in federal grants to improve school safety and learning conditions.

The U.S. Education Department announced the grants as part of its effort to improve school safety around, reduce gun violence, and improve mental health services.

More from the U.S. Department of Education’s press release:

To help keep students safe and improve their learning environments, the U.S. Department of Education awarded more than $70 million to 130 grantees in 38 states…

“If we can’t help protect kids and staff, and make them feel safe at school, then everything else that we do is secondary,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “If kids don’t feel safe, they can’t learn. It’s that simple. Through these grants of more than $70 million, we are continuing our commitment to ensure that kids have access to the best learning experience possible.”

Here are the grants awarded in Michigan:

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

This week, the Detroit Journalism Cooperative is looking at how the city is functioning under bankruptcy.

Mayor Mike Duggan says his top priority is reversing the city’s long population decline.

But there are a couple key quality of life issues Duggan has no control over. One of them is the city’s schools.

Here’s the story of one Detroit family’s effort to find good schools.

Meet the Hills

Three years ago, when I first heard about Governor Rick Snyder’s plans to create a special district for Detroit’s failing schools, I was enthusiastic.

I knew Detroit’s schools were a mess. I knew that the bureaucracy, the teacher’s union, and obstinate refusal to change were all part of the problem.

Something different was worth a try.

And so they invented and chartered the Education Achievement Authority, and gave it 15 of Detroit’s worst schools. The experiment began two years ago.

Nobody really expected miracles. At least nobody should have. These were schools with terrible records, and students with terribly disadvantaged backgrounds.

Since then, there have been possibly some small signs of improvement, at least as measured by test scores. Governor Snyder now wants to expand the EAA statewide. The state House of Representatives has passed legislation to do just that. The proposal is before the state Senate.

But it is clear that expanding the EAA now would be a colossal mistake.

The EAA is a total failure in terms of administration, honesty, transparency and staying within a budget.

Its chancellor, John Covington, probably needs to be fired immediately.

An investigation published in today’s Detroit News confirms rumors I’ve been hearing for a year.

Covington, who is driven around by a chauffeur in a special vehicle, charged nearly a quarter of a million dollars on district credit cards, largely so that he and his staff could jet around the country to a series of pricey conferences.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - Open enrollment events are scheduled this week at nine Education Achievement Authority schools in Detroit.

Enrollment is going on for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade with welcome programs set to begin at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Phoenix, Burns and Nolan schools.

Parents can tour the school buildings and classrooms, and meet staff.

Events at the district's six high schools will begin at noon on Thursday.

Michigan’s attempt at a state-run “turnaround district” for the lowest-performing schools is bleeding students.

The Educational Achievement Authority is one of Governor Snyder’s signature policy initiatives. It launched in the last school year, with 15 former Detroit Public Schools.

State data now show the EAA lost more than 2,000 students since last school year. That’s nearly a 25% decline.

YouTube / YouTube

This week on State of Opportunity, Sarah Alvarez is taking a look at some radical decisions that have shaped the educational landscape of Detroit schools.

Today, families in the city are taking a gamble on brand-new charter schools, like the Detroit Achievement Academy.

The academy opened earlier this year, by 28-year-old Kyle Smitley. Smitley is the first to admit she lacks formal educational experience. "I’ve been laughed out of so many rooms coming into the education world," she says.

But that hasn’t stopped the unconventional school from getting national buzz. Earlier this year, Smitley and the academy were featured on The Ellen Degeneres Show.

Still, the odds are stacked up against the academy and other charter schools that pop up in Detroit. There are more seats in Detroit schools than students. Many students in the city haven’t met benchmark requirements in their grade levels.

So what do educational experts think about these experimental schools? Check out Sarah’s piece for more. 

Zak Rosen

What if something other than jobs could rebuild Detroit?

What if the purpose of education was to help children reach their highest human potential?

What if we had a conversation about the meaning of service to our community?

These are just a few of the many questions being raised at a new charter school in Detroit. It’s called the James and Grace Lee Boggs School. They opened their doors this week.

User Motown31 / Creative Commons

So, investors, who's willing to bite? Who is willing to buy bonds from a troubled school district being run by an emergency manager located in a city run by an emergency manager, a city that just made history with its bankruptcy filing?

It's easy to understand why investors may run the other way from the Detroit Public Schools' bond offering.

But Josh Gonze says "not so fast!" He is a municipal bond portfolio manager who thinks the Detroit Public Schools bond offering tomorrow has something to offer an investor.

Josh Gonze is with Thornberg Investment Management based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

"Innovation" - it's what many say Michigan needs to become a player in the global economy. On today's show, we took a look at the most-innovative companies in our state. What are they doing differently in a post-Great-Recession economy?

And, we traveled to Muskegon - a community that continues to be plagued by gun violence. Dustin Dwyer of Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project reported on a gun battle that happened last month.

And, the Detroit Public Schools bond offering is tomorrow. Why should investors be interested?

Also, the guide to canoeing Michigan’s rivers just got an update. We spoke with one of the authors about the new edition.

First on the show, donations to Governor Snyder’s civic fund decreased last year by a lot. The 501 c-4 known as The New Energy to Reinvent and Diversity Fund – or “NERD Fund” for short – received $1.3 million in 2011, but in 2012 , the number was $368,000.

As Jonathan Oosting, a reporter for MLive.com, reports, “the NERD fund earns tax-exempt status by purporting to promote charitable causes including lessening the financial burdens of government in the state of Michigan.”

Jonathan Oosting joined us today.

cncphotos / flickr

This week in Michigan politics, Christina Shockley and Jack Lessenberry discuss the race for the Senate seat left vacant by Carl Levin, legislation that would allow a wolf hunt despite a petition against it, and Governor Snyder's call for businesses to become more directly involved in schools.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Gary Peters announces run for U.S. Senate

U.S. Representative Gary Peters, who represents the Detroit-based 14th Congressional District, is expected to announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate today. As the Detroit Free Press reports:

"Peters has been considered a likely candidate for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin since Levin announced in March his intentions to retire at the end of the current term. Shortly after Levin’s announcement, Peters told the Free Press he was 'seriously considering' a run for that seat."

Corporate donations to help create "wraparound" schools in Detroit

"Detroit and other cities in Michigan are turning to businesses to help pay for schools that provide a wide variety of services to students and their families. Yesterday, JP Morgan Chase announced it will donate $1.5 million to pay for three 'wraparound’ schools in Detroit...Governor Rick Snyder says that could include help with managing household finances or finding a job, or parenting classes,"  Rick Pluta reports.

Law enforcement officials call for an expansion of Medicaid

A group of law enforcement officials is calling on state lawmakers to expand Medicaid coverage to more than 300,000 Michigan residents at an event in Lansing today.

"The group says Medicaid coverage for expectant mothers can help prevent children from being born with fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects. They will also advocate for Medicaid coverage for interventions such as substance abuse and mental and behavioral health issues as a way to cut crime," the Associated Press reports.

User Motown31 / Creative Commons

Detroit and other cities in Michigan are turning to businesses to help pay for schools that provide a wide variety of services to students and their families.

Today JPMorgan Chase announced it will donate one and a half million dollars to pay for three “wraparound’ schools in Detroit.

Detroit schools emergency manager Roy Roberts says the idea recognizes that students won’t succeed without support at home.

“When we sat with students, one of the things students said to us was, can you help us teach our parents to be parents? Now you think deeply about that. That’s deep stuff. So we’re going to do everything we can. You’ve got parents with two jobs, two people working, broken families. We’ve got a lot of issues.”  

Roberts says the services can include parenting training, help finding a job, and counselors who are available around the clock.

Governor Rick Snyder was on hand for the announcement. Snyder says he wants businesses to become more directly connected to schools.

screen grab from National Geographic / YouTube

When gang violence breaks out in the roughest parts of Detroit, even the police call for help.

The gang squad is a special, paramilitary unit of the Detroit Police Department.

They're either necessarily tough, or notoriously brutal, depending on who you ask.

But if the city’s Mayor and the Police Chief have their way, the squad's days are numbered. 

Big guys with big guns

Think about it: big guys, with big guns, cruising the city’s toughest streets in the name of law and order. You know what we have here? A reality TV hit.

But dang it, a quick Google search shows the National Geographic Channel beat us to the punch.

Their “Inside Detroit Gang Squad” aired a few years ago, with all the dramatic music and drug raids you’d expect.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

A study by researchers at the University of Michigan links lead exposure in children to lower achievement on standardized tests.

It's published in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health.  Click here to read the study

From the study:

Detroit has an extensive lead poisoning problem. Although only 20% of Michigan’s children younger than 5 years lived in Detroit in 2010, childhood lead poisoning in Detroit has consistently accounted for more than 50 percent of the state’s total lead burden.

Detroit Free Press reporter Keith Matheny's article explores the research further and the schools affected.

The greater the lead poisoning in a Detroit Public Schools student's blood, the higher the likelihood he or she will do poorly on achievement tests -- even after accounting for contributing factors such as poverty. That's the finding of a collaborative study that provides one of the most detailed assessments yet of the impact of lead poisoning on students' learning ability.