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: Two schools in Detroit were excited to show off shiny new spaces

PHOTO: Detroit Public Schools Community District
J.E. Clark Preparatory Academy's new basketball-themed library, courtesy of the Detroit Pistons.

It was a week of big reveals and big donations. A charter middle school unveiled new classrooms and science labs made possible by a $6 million renovation. An area mortgage company made a large contribution to City Year Detroit. And a local sports team’s donation helped build a new library at a Detroit district elementary school.

Unfortunately, more than money is needed to figure out how to reuse the scores of vacant schools that dot Detroit’s landscape and destabilize its neighborhoods. We wrote about the challenges of repurposing those buildings this week.

In other news, watch our own Erin Einhorn on Detroit Public TV’s American Black Journal. She talks about the three days she spent behind the scenes with Detroit schools chief Dr. Nikolai Vitti.

Finally, we are hiring! If someone you know is interested in being a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit, contact us.

Have a great week!

— Julie Topping, Chalkbeat Detroit editor

LET’S GET IT TOGETHER: A new report says Detroit’s main district and charters must work together to ensure students get a good education. Vitti, who is openly competitive with charters, says he’s an advocate of choice but not without “guardrails.”

TOUGH JOBS TO FILL: The main Detroit district has hired more teachers, but still needs to fill almost 200 jobs. Most leave teaching because — surprise! — they are dissatisfied with the profession. Union leaders on a listening tour said teachers were concerned most about testing, pay and lack of funding for education.

RENOVATION CITY: University Prep Academy middle school cut the ribbon on nine new classrooms and six new science labs made possible by its $6 million renovation. 

PHOTO: University Prep Academy Middle School
University Prep Academy celebrated its $6 million renovation this week.

And the Detroit Pistons give an elementary school library in Detroit a basketball-themed makeover

NO LOANS HERE: Quicken donated $700,000 to a group that places young adults in schools to support students.

GREEN SCHOOLS: A group of Democratic state lawmakers introduced a package of bills designed to reduce schools’ environmental impact, lower energy costs and teach kids about sustainability.

AT WORK MORE OFTEN: Charter school teachers are less likely to be chronically absent than their peers in traditional district schools.

WHO NEEDS ‘EM: Editorial says get rid of the state board of education.

OPINION: An education advocate notes, during Hispanic Heritage month, that Latino students have lost ground in recent years.

DIGITAL MOVEMENT: Michigan schools are closing the digital divide, report says.

RACIAL SHIFT: A merger flips the demographics at two Ferndale elementary schools.

Week In Review

Week in review: A ‘poor choice of words’ from the state schools boss, Grosse Pointe considers lightening up

The state superintendent was under fire this week after telling a TV interviewer that school choice had taken the state “backwards.” It was a comment he later called a “poor choice of words.”

Scroll down for more on that story and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news. That includes insight into why Grosse Pointe is reviewing its tough enforcement of its residency rules and the latest on Detroit’s new schools boss, Nikolai Vitti. He was the subject of a major Chalkbeat story this week that looked at his plan to bring order to a district that he says lacked basic financial and academic systems.

Also, if you weren’t able to attend the forum featuring Vitti and the Citizens Research Council this week, you can watch the full video here. If you’re still looking for more, please tune in to American Black Journal on Sunday when I’ll be talking about Detroit schools.

Oh, and we have some exciting news: We’re hiring! If you know any thoughtful reporters who’d be interested in covering one of the most important stories in American education, please tell them to get in touch. Thanks for reading!

The Detroit schools boss

The state schools boss

  • Michigan schools boss Brian Whiston stressed in his clarification about his controversial school choice remarks that he’s a strong supporter of choice but believes giving parents options can’t be the only fix for schools.
  • Whiston’s comments come as advocates lament declining test scores across the state. Among them: a news publisher who blasts Lansing for fiddling while public schools “go to hell” and an advocate who urged Michigan parents to stop telling themselves that their child’s school is probably fine. “In fact,” she writes, “Michigan is one of only five states that has declined in actual performance in fourth-grade reading since 2003 for all students.”
  • Still, the head of the state board of education says it’s “irresponsible” to suggest that Michigan schools are in crisis.
  • The school choice supporters who were miffed by Whiston’s comments are also still steamed about a New York Times Magazine piece on charter schools last week. One critic said the article failed to tell the whole story about the challenges to education in Highland Park and Detroit. A news site that strongly supports choice scrutinized the way the story characterized the number of for-profit charter schools in Michigan.

In Detroit and across its borders

  • Grosse Pointe schools officials are reviewing their aggressive approach to enforcing residency rules that keep Detroiters and other non-residents out of the district’s schools. In the past three years, the district has spent $74,528 on investigations and legal fees related to out-of-district students and has made all parents jump through burdensome hoops to prove they live in the district.
  • A Detroit teacher (and Chalkbeat reader advisory board member) set out to talk with other educators to “build a more nuanced narrative of Detroit schools.” Among teachers he featured is Janine Scott who the writer discovered when she appeared last spring in a Chalkbeat/Skillman Foundation “Story Booth.” (If you’re a parent, educator or student who wants to be featured in a future Story Booth, please let us know).
  • A principal who moved a Detroit charter school from the 8th percentile on state rankings to the 51st explains how it’s done.
  • Detroit’s main district plans to spend up to $57,000 to establish Parent Teacher Associations in all of its 106 schools.
  • The head of a Detroit high school engineering program explains how it aims to change lives.
  • An organization that places young adults in Detroit schools to provide support got a major gift from Quicken Loans that will help it expand.
  • The construction boom has highlighted the shortcomings of the city school system.
  • Wayne State University’s leaders pushed back against an article last week that highlighted a dramatic decline in African American enrollment — particularly graduates of Detroit schools.

In other news