flickr user Motown31 /

More than 3000 Detroit teachers are close to a new contract.

Detroit Federation of Teachers members in 94 schools approved the deal this week.

Union leaders say it’s good enough for now. For the first time in a decade, there are no concessions or cutbacks. Most teachers will get modest bonuses.

“We’re not jumping up and down, hollering that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Because I believe and I know that our teachers deserve more,” said DFT Interim President Ivy Bailey.

What is the average class size in Michigan's schools?

Sep 15, 2016
Michigan teachers on whether they've noticed class size changing over time
Courtesy Caroline Gearig / Michigan Radio

Pinning down the average class size in Michigan's public schools is not an easy thing to do.

For example, the Michigan Department of Education reports a student/teacher ratio of 23 to 1. But the way that number is calculated isn't necessarily a good reflection on how many kids are in the class.

A new charter school in Whitmore Lake offers a "classical education" and a Hillsdale College connection
Brett Levin / Creative Commons

The State Board of Education voted today to adopt voluntary guidelines to help schools with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students.

The guidance is intended to help schools create a safe and supportive learning environment for LGBTQ students.

The guidance was voted on after more than three hours of public comment where approximately 60 people were given three minutes to speak on the issue. Those who spoke included school principals, state legislators, students, and medical professionals.

Several parents of LGBTQ students spoke in favor of the guidance, including Joe Adcock. Adcock has a transgender son and said while his son’s school is very supportive, not all schools are.

“We’ve found a lot of schools don’t have this in place,” he said. “And they don’t allow the children to be themselves and it puts them at a great risk for drug abuse and suicide and just not being able to be who they really are.”

But others were not convinced that the guidance was necessary. Some say LGBQ students don't need additional protections. Others, like Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, say adopting this guidance will harm non-LGBTQ kids.

“This isn’t going to reduce bullying,” Colbeck said. “This is going to increase bullying. In particular against people of faith that stand up for what they believe. I think there is going to be a significant increase in bullying against them.”

The guidance, which passed with six votes in favor and two against, addresses issues like bathrooms and locker rooms, student privacy, and parental involvement.  

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

A school that’s housed inside the Grand Rapids Public Museum is getting a $10 million boost.

The XQ Super School Project announced the national award today. The institute says it offered the money to get schools “to rethink and redesign the American high school.”

The money going to Grand Rapids Public Schools will help cover the costs of renovating the 80-year-old public museum building into a new high school.

The idea for today’s State of Opportunity story comes from you. After we ran a piece about how special ed placements vary from district to district, several of you got in touch and asked: How do schools pay for special ed?

I went to Elliott Elementary in Holt to get some answers.

United States Department of Education /

What happens when you're the parent of a child with special needs, and your view of how you want your child to be educated clashes with the school district's?

School choice, metro Detroit’s new white flight

Sep 13, 2016
Photo courtesy of Chastity Pratt Dawsey / Bridge Magazine

When the high school in Eastpointe recently welcomed the football team from Lakeview High, it was a homecoming of sorts.

That’s because nearly 700 students from Eastpointe actually attend school in Lakeview, a public school district five miles away in St. Clair Shores. As it happens, many of the students who left Eastpointe for Lakeview are white.

A newspaper clipping of Detroit's busing era.
clipping courtesy of Ray Litt / via Detroit Free Press

The U.S. Department of Education says kids at schools with mostly black or Latino students don’t get as good of an education as kids at schools with mostly white students. Generally speaking, their teachers are not as experienced and their buildings are in worse shape.

You can see that in Detroit, Flint, and other Michigan cities.

There was a major Michigan court case that could have ended segregated schools and made it possible for children to have a good education no matter where they lived.

Here's how that court case might have made a difference today.

Wayne State Univiersity Law School in Detroit, Mich.
Google Maps street view

Two businessmen will donate $5 million each to Wayne State University's Law School.

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross will donate a sum of $10 million to honor the school's dean Jocelyn Benson, who is leaving at the end of the month.

Benson is leaving her post as dean to become the chief executive officer of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality. (Read more about that here.)

Flickr user David Salafia/Flickr /

The state is advising schools to test their water for lead, even though it’s not required. Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality wants schools to take action, even if lead levels are below the federal standard.

The federal action limit for lead in water is 15 parts per billion. Governor Rick Snyder would like to see Michigan have an even stricter standard; 10 ppb.

An empty classrom with light shinging in from the windows.
Kevin Wong / Flickr -

This week, the Snyder administration’s School Reform Office suggested that it could eventually close schools where students have low rankings on state tests.

Schools that rank in the bottom 5% -- with some exceptions -- would be closed under this plan, which would shutter more than 100 schools from across the state.

In an opinion piece this week in the Lansing State Journal, John P. Smith III criticized the state’s plans.

Smith is a professor of educational psychology at Michigan State University and he joined Stateside to talk about why he thinks the closing of the schools, and the methodology that led to that decision is flawed.

Most kids will head back to school this week ready to learn. But some will have to spend a good chunk of time re-learning things they forgot over the summer. The dreaded “summer slide” has been linked to persistent achievement gaps between kids from lower-income families and their better-off peers.

"Black people don't necessarily need choice, they need power," Perry told us. "The reason why black communities' schools are not doing well is because black communities are not doing well."
Flickr user Bart Everson/Flickr /

Proponents of publicly funded, privately run charter schools hail them as the way to keep public schools and public school teachers "on their toes" by creating competition. 

Here in Michigan we have roughly 145,000 students in more than 300 charter schools, according to Education Trust Midwest.

And a report that group released earlier this year showed that charter school enrollment in the 2014-2015 school year consisted of disproportionately minority and low-income students. 

Courtesy of Olivia Johnson

College expenses are rising. There’s no doubt about that.

Trying to pay for tuition, books, a place to live and more can stretch a budget to its breaking point.

Olivia Johnson, a criminal justice student at Ferris State University, knows that struggle, and she’s seen it on campus.

That’s why she started the Student Emergency Food Pantry for Ferris students this year.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

After a summer of negotiating, Detroit teachers are preparing to vote on a new contract.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District — the new, restructured entity that replaces the debt-ridden Detroit Public Schools — and the Detroit Federation of Teachers announced a tentative agreement on Labor Day.

The agreement “provides members with some money in a number of ways,” DFT leaders said. “And for the first time in a decade, this agreement contains no concessions.”

Some highlights:

·        Pay increases for all teachers, based on seniority.

This morning I sent my daughter off to her first day of third grade.

She was excited to go. She was ready to see her friends, and genuinely loves school.

But I'm sure she'll be less than thrilled once her teacher starts assigning homework. Like many kids, I'm sure she'd be happy if homework was simply eliminated.

That will be a reality this school year for more than 500 kids at a Massachusetts elementary school.

Bryan McDonald / flickr creative commons

Michigan ranks third in the country for having the most school districts with chronic absence rates at or above 30%. 

Nationwide, chronic absenteeism is about 13%. In Michigan, it's 18%.

That's according to a report released today by Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

image of new and old DPS
Lauren Crawford / Michigan Radio

Today is the first day of school in Detroit.

Students in the city’s public school system will return to the same buildings and many of the same teachers. But there will be one big difference: These students are the first to attend school in the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The old Detroit Public Schools now exists in name only.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

The summer tourism season is winding down, but there is concern in the industry that it may not be as profitable as it could have been.

Deanna Richeson is the CEO of the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association. She says Michigan’s summer tourism season was strong overall.

But she’s concerned that a growing number school districts are starting classes in August. 

“When we have our school children returning to school prior to Labor Day that will cut into those revenues enjoyed by the tourism industry,” says Richeson.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

It’s a big week for parents, kids and school administrators. If last year is any indicator, roughly 1.5 million Michigan kids are heading back to school.

Larry Johnson heads security at Grand Rapids Public Schools. This week, his message is simple.

“Pay attention to this yellow bus. It’s important. Our kids will be getting dropped off. They’re not paying attention. They’re excited to get to school,” Johnson said.

In Grand Rapids, people will see more police officers hanging out in school zones, making sure drivers are aware of reduced speed limits near schools.

Detroit teachers protesting downtown on May 2, 2016.
Sarah Jardine

Detroit public schoolteachers start the new school year working with an expired contract — and bargaining for a new one.

After this summer’s restructuring, the Detroit Public Schools no longer exists, for practical purposes. Now, former DPS teachers now work for a brand-new entity — the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

And they want a new contract. Their old one was “imposed” on them by former DPS emergency managers, in the union’s view.

Flickr user Frank Juarez/Flickr /

School starts next week. This year kids will be spending a few more days in the classroom.

Holland Public Schools Superintendent Brian Davis joined us today to talk about where on the calendar schools plan to squeeze in those extra days, and why more and more schools are asking the state for a waiver to start holding class before Labor Day. 

Flickr user USDAgov/Flickr /

The Next Idea

There are frequent and spirited discussions about students who aren’t getting what they need to succeed in Michigan’s public schools.

Nanette Janecke of Western Michigan University is adding another group of students to that conversation: gifted students.

They’re students who could achieve a lot, but who – in most Michigan school districts – aren’t given many tools for success, Janecke said.

A new charter school in Whitmore Lake offers a "classical education" and a Hillsdale College connection
Brett Levin / Creative Commons

Some Macomb County school districts want to join the fight against state intervention in schools deemed to be “failing.”

Warren Consolidated Schools, Van Dyke Public Schools, Mount Clemens Community Schools, and Roseville Community Schools signaled their intention to join the East Detroit Public Schools’ lawsuit this week.

wikimedia user Fredler Brave /

Put that cell phone away. Not in your pocket, not in your purse, go park it in your locker and keep it out of the classroom.

That's the new rule for students returning to class at Lakeview High School in Battle Creek.

According to principal Jeff Bohl, it's all about helping kids get the most out of their time in class. 

As kids head back to school, it’s worth remembering that all kids have the right to a free education.

Drinking water fountain.
Gabrielle Emanuel / Michigan Radio

All 94 school buildings in the Detroit Public Schools Community District meet federal standards for lead in water, the city’s health department announced Monday.

It had spent months screening tap water at all the city’s schools for lead and copper, to make sure they met U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

“And we’re now confident that children who are drinking water in DPSCD schools are drinking water that’s lead-safe,” says Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, the health department’s director.

sign saying a high quality school
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools has made “enormous progress” on fixing crumbling school buildings, but there’s still more work to do.

More than 90% of the district’s 94 school buildings are now officially “up to code,” according to city and school district officials.

Detroit’s building department got involved in the situation early this year, after teacher protests that highlighted some decrepit building conditions, among other things, hit the news.

Detroit Federation of Teachers Executive Vice President Terrence Martin says they deserve credit for that.

The former Carstens Elementary School building, on Detroit's east side, is one of many, many schools that have been shuttered in Detroit.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

This summer, Detroit Public Schools ceased to exist except on paper.

But there is a new district that has the same schools, teachers and students as the “old” DPS. It’s formally known, at least for now, as the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

Why did this happen? The short story is that the “old” DPS stood on the verge of bankruptcy throughout the last school year. To avoid that, the state — which has controlled Detroit schools for most of the past 17 years — executed a bankruptcy-style restructuring, minus the actual bankruptcy.