Detroit

Week in review: A testing surprise, deja vu and debates

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Surprise! Detroit students are set to take fewer exams this year after an announcement by new Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. Of all of the changes he’s made since joining the district in May, it’s the one most likely to make a concrete difference in students’ experiences in school.

Others getting unexpected good news this week: teachers at a closing charter school who learned they might get paid after all, and a Detroit educator who got a shout-out from a student who is making it in Hollywood. Read on for the details and have a great weekend.

— Philissa Cramer, Chalkbeat managing editor

DOWN WITH TESTING: Educators and parents who have long pushed back against what they say is excessive testing in Detroit schools found an ally in Vitti. On Thursday, he announced that the district would reduce the number of required tests from 186 to 57 — a 70 percent drop.

“We have whittled it down to essentially what is required at the state level … and what is required for teacher evaluations,” Vitti said. The superintendent “listens to teachers,” national union chief Randi Weingarten tweeted. The Free Press expressed cautious optimism. One principal had a less nuanced take: “This is awesome.”

BACK TO SCHOOL: Detroit launched pop-up enrollment centers to help families find schools this week; they’ll be open until Aug. 18. A credit union that planned to take teachers’ requests for donated school supplies until Sept. 9 closed the request line after everything was claimed in two days. A law firm that gives out backpacks to students every year is adding 3,000 “Teacher Totes” this fall. And more districts than ever have gotten permission to start before Labor Day (but not Detroit).

DEJA VU: For Detroit families, finding a good school is a struggle with lots of uncertainty. The same idea, from a year ago. The state’s forthcoming plan to comply with federal education law could help the situation — but will it?

ABOUT THAT PLAN: Michigan education officials checked in with the U.S. Education Department this week in an ongoing process of overhauling the state’s school accountability system. Next, the feds will give formal feedback on the state’s plan, which will detail what information is shared about schools and what happens to low-performing ones.

DEVOS DESCENDS: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was on her home turf of Grand Rapids this week to visit a community college and a private summer program for middle schoolers. Five teachers who met with her said they oppose the Trump administration’s proposed teacher training cuts. Superintendents also weighed in, but Vitti said he couldn’t make it.

MONEY MATTERS: Everyone agrees that Detroit teachers deserve more than the 7 percent raise over three years included in their new contract. On the upside, teachers at a closing charter school who were told they wouldn’t get paid now might.

RACE TO MANOOGIAN: Jeffery Robinson, principal of Detroit’s Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy, is a write-in candidate for mayor, one of 13 people hoping (probably quixotically) to unseat Mayor Mike Duggan in Tuesday’s primary. Inside Robinson’s school on Vitti’s first day.

ART COLLECTION: Detroit’s leading museum, symphony, and opera are working together on a plan to bring more arts to city students. What they’re up against.

FRESH LOOK: Fifteen city schools will get spruced up during the annual ARISE Detroit! Neighborhoods Day on Saturday. Another fix-up program, Life Remodeled, launched this week with a base at a school building it controversially leased from the city for $1 a year.

DEBT DEBATE: Two years after the Detroit school district was ordered to pay a contractor $24 million, the two parties are still fighting over the money.

HISTORY CLASS: Fifty years ago, a program called the Neighborhood Educational Center had success educating poor students in Detroit. But when an initial grant ran out, the initiative disappeared.

SMALL AMBITIONS: Meet the man trying to launch a charter “micro-school” with just 35 students per grade in northeast Detroit next year. More about the trend.

DISAPPEARING TEACHERS: Since 2008, the number of Michigan college students preparing to become teachers has fallen by half, in line with national trends. “We can’t identify causation,” a state education official said. “And we don’t know yet if it’s a good thing, or not.”

EXTRA CREDIT: Shawntay Dalon, the east side native who stars in “Detroiters,” shouted out her high school English teacher this week on Instagram. Kristen Marschner LaMagno taught Dalon at Finney High School before it closed; she now works at Western International High School.

Actress Shawntay Dalon, and her high school English teacher Kristen Marschner LaMagno

 

Detroit week in review

Week in review: Young children in the spotlight

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Evangelina De La Fuente, worries that the Head Start her 3-year-old twin grandsons attend could close or change. "The babies are secure and they’re happy and they’re well fed and they’re well taken cared for. It’s scary to think it could change," she said.

Hundreds of vulnerable Detroit families are bracing for change in the wake of the announcement last week from a prominent social service organization that it can no longer operate Head Start centers. Other social service providers are stepping up take over the 11 Head Starts that have been run by Southwest Solutions but their ability to smoothly pick up the 420 children who are affected and find classroom space for them is uncertain. That’s added stress to lives of families already in crisis.

“The babies are secure and they’re happy and they’re well fed and they’re well cared for. It’s scary to think it could change.”

—  Evangelina De La Fuente, grandmother of twin three-year-olds who attend a Southwest Solutions Head Start

Given the impact that quality early childhood programs can have on preparing children for kindergarten, advocates are calling for a better support system. That’s one of the missions of the new Hope Starts Here initiative, which was rolled out this morning. The coalition of parents, educators and community groups, led by two major foundations, spent the last year assessing the needs of Detroit children before unveiling a ten-year plan for how Detroit can improve the lives of young children.

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

Birth to eight

Students, teachers, learning

In Lansing

Across the state

In other news

Detroit week in review

Detroit week in review: Payrolls and proficiency

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit supertintendent Nikolai Vitti talks with students at Durfee Elementary/Middle School on the first day of school, September 5, 2017.

This week, we used district salaries to see how the central office has changed since Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti started in the spring: It turns out there are fewer people in the central office but more highly paid administrators. We sorted through the data and created several searchable databases. Click on any of them to learn more, including full district payrolls as of June 1 and Oct. 1.

The city district got more bad news when 24 more of its schools were added to the partnership program, which requires them to improve or face possible consequences. Nine other district schools can choose whether to participate in the program, which comes with additional support and resources. (Two city charter schools were also added to the list.)

And just in time to welcome those schools, a new state reform officer was appointed this week to lead the partnership program.

Hope you have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

PARTNERSHIPS: Nobody is scheduled for closing yet, but the state added three school districts and four charter schools statewide to the partnership list this week. Potentially, almost half of Detroit’s district schools could be participants. Statewide, almost forty schools were added. (See the complete list here.) The state also named a superintendent to lead the newly formed partnership office and become the state school reform officer.

GET IT DONE: A columnist writes that impressive economic gains will be hampered by the state’s poor quality of education. While one editorial page writer urges the state to decide on a course of action for improving schools and do it, business leaders say a piecemeal approach won’t work. This columnist thinks what’s needed is political will at the top.

ALL OVER THE BOARD: A state house committee barely approved a proposal to eliminate the state board of education. Two insiders explore the issue. For the proposal to become law, both houses must approve the resolution by a two-thirds majority and then it must be approved by voters in the next general election because it would amend the state constitution.

CHARTER WARS: An editorial in a major newspaper says it’s a myth that charter schools are performing more poorly than city district schools. Another editorial supports allowing all public schools — charter and traditional — to benefit from property tax hikes.

KEEPING TEACHERS: One columnist blames state lawmakers for the teacher shortage. But a recent study shows you can keep teachers longer with bonuses and loan forgiveness. An advocate wants to encourage efforts to recruit more black male teachers.

YOUR INPUT: Fill out this survey to help shape the state’s new school transparency tool.

CAREER BOOSTS: Several districts will share a $1 million grant to boost career counseling. And the governor invested almost $3 million to support career tech education.

VOICES: How this group of Detroit parents was called to action in the state capitol.

POPULATION SHIFT:  At least one suburban district is hiring staff after the number of students who are learning English nearly doubled.

FOR A SONG: This Detroit teacher produces hip-hop videos to teach his students to read.

THE UNEXPECTED: In an unusual twist, the Hamtramck district reclaimed a charter school building.

DISAPPOINTMENT: A high school student in a special education program was denied an academic achievement award.

RESTRAINTS: A lawsuit alleges a Washtenaw County teacher taped shut the mouth of disabled student. District leaders say the parents waited a year to respond.

BOOK REVIEW: A teacher from a Detroit nonprofit wrote a book about his year-long experience teaching poetry to children in Detroit.