Week In Review

Week in review: What last year’s test scores tell us as a new school year begins

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
About half of Indiana students passed the ISTEP exam last year.

It’s time, people! The air is getting colder. The nights are getting longer and, starting Tuesday, nearly all schools in Detroit and across the state will be open for business and hopefully focused on making improvements.

Though the 2017 M-STEP and SAT results released this week included some glimmers of good news for schools in Detroit and across the state, it’s hard to feel hopeful when fewer than half of third-graders are proficient in English.

But a new school year means a fresh start. In Detroit’s main district, that start marks the first full school year of the district’s new era under the control of a new school board and superintendent. So while there’s plenty to fret about, there’s lots of reasons to think that maybe this is the year when we start to get it right. Good luck, everyone!

Keeping score

  • Michigan students are slowly making gains in math and social studies but the “disappointing” reading scores are alarming because a new state law will soon require schools to hold back third-graders who can’t make the grade on the state English exam. One critic charged that a “disaster” is looming for the state.
  • M-STEP and SAT results show Michigan schools continue to do a better job educating wealthier white students than low-income students, African-Americans and Latinos.
  • The state superintendent says officials have to do more to help schools before they end up at the bottom of state rankings. He called on lawmakers to create an “early warning system” that would help schools before it’s “too late.”
  • State charter school advocates say charter students posted higher scores this year than their peers in district schools. But an advocacy group notes that’s not too impressive.
  • To see how individual schools scored on the tests, look here. Or visit the state education department website to download extensive data on the scores including those for special education students and other groups.
  • Here’s the high schools with the state’s highest SAT scores — and a database to look up the college enrollment rates at Michigan schools.

Teaching moments

  • The new Detroit teachers contract — which will raise teacher salaries by more than 7% in the next few years — is now official.
  • That could help recruit teachers but the district, which held a hiring fair last night, was this week still trying to fill more than 200 open teaching positions.
  • The recruiting challenges facing the Detroit schools are part of a nation-wide teacher shortage but a group that advocates for teacher quality says the picture across the country is more complex that many people realize.
  • Detroit teachers last year were absent an average of 13 school days last year — a number that Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he hopes to reduce by improving working conditions in schools.

Across the state

In Detroit

  • A Detroit career and technical school is getting a $10 million facelift. Much of that money is coming from foundations and private companies — including one whose leaders have a personal connection to the school. The effort won praise from a News columnist who said it’s “exactly what the city needs to put Detroiters to work in the jobs being created by downtown’s revival.”
  • A federal judge won’t need to enforce a $31 million judgment against Detroit Public Schools after the district and its contractor reached a slightly smaller settlement agreement.
  • A former deputy superintendent is suing Detroit’s main district saying his contract was breached when Vitti fired him in June. He was among 50 administrators in the district central office who were let go as part of the new superintendent’s reorganization.
  • The Detroit principal bribery scandal has gone Hollywood.
  • A coalition of community groups aiming to reduce the number of children who are chronically absent from school has created a pledge for Detroit parents, students, educators and community leaders to sign to ensure that every Detroit child is in class on the first day of school.
  • This Detroiter has been handing out school supplies to kids in her neighborhood.
  • The city teachers union is offering these tips to parents as they prepare for the school year while the district is partnering with a community group to collect donated uniforms for kids who need them.
  • A free horse camp teaches life skills to Detroit students.
  • As Detroit parents navigate the confusing mix of school options in the city, one parent advocate offers these tips for making the best choice.
  • An effort to install “little free libraries” in front of every district school in the city is nearly complete.
  • Every reception this Lions wide receiver completes this season will benefit a program that serves kids in Detroit schools and across the state.

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The state’s year-round scramble to fill teaching jobs

Miss Michigan Heather Heather Kendrick spent the day with students at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science in Detroit

While much of the media attention has been focused this year on the severe teacher shortage in the main Detroit district, our story this week looks at how district and charter schools throughout the region are now scrambling year-round to fill vacant teaching jobs — an instability driven by liberal school choice laws, a decentralized school system and a shrinking pool of available teachers.

The teacher shortage has also made it difficult for schools to find substitutes as many are filling in on long-term assignments while schools try to fill vacancies. Two bills proposed in a state senate committee would make it easier for schools to hire retirees and reduce the requirements for certifying subs.  

Also, don’t forget to reserve your seat for Wednesday’s State of the Schools address. The event will be one of the first times in recent years when the leader of the city’s main district — Nikolai Vitti — will appear on the same stage as the leaders of the city’s two largest charter school authorizers. For those who can’t make it, we will carry it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

Have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The State of the Schools address will pair Vitti with the leaders of the schools he’s publicly vowed to put out of business, even as schools advocates say city kids could benefit if the leaders of the city’s fractured school system worked together to solve common problems.

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: The city’s teacher shortage mirrors similar challenges across the country but the problem in Detroit is exacerbated by liberal school choice policies that have forced schools to compete with each other for students and teachers.

Hiring efforts continue at Detroit’s main school district, which is planning another job fair. Head Start centers are also looking for teachers. Three new teachers talk about the challenges, rewards and obstacles of the classroom.

WHOSE MONEY IS IT? The state Senate sent a bill to the House that would allow charters to receive a portion of property tax hikes approved by voters. Those funds have historically gone only to traditional district schools.

UNITED THEY STAND: Teachers in this southwest Detroit charter school voted to join a union, but nationally, union membership for teachers has been falling for two decades.

COLLEGE AND CAREERS: A national foundation based in Michigan granted $450,000 to a major Detroit business coalition to help more students finish college.

High school seniors across the state will be encouraged to apply to at least one college this month. The main Detroit district meanwhile showed off a technical center that prepares youngsters and adults for careers in construction, plumbing and carpentry and other fields.  

STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT: A prominent news publisher explains why he told lawmakers he believes eliminating the state board of education is the right thing to do. An advocate urged Michigan to look to other states for K-12 solutions. And one local newspaper says the governor is on the right track to improving education in Michigan.

This think tank believes businesses should be more engaged in education debates.

LISTEN TO US: The newly elected president of a state teachers union says teachers just want to be heard when policy is being made. She wrote in a Detroit newspaper that it takes passion and determination to succeed in today’s classrooms.

A PIONEER: Funeral services for a trailblazing African American educator have been scheduled for Saturday.

Also, the mother-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died in her west Michigan home.

FARM-TO-SCHOOL:  A state program that provides extra money to school districts for locally grown produce has expanded to include more schools.

BETTER THAN AN APPLE: Nominate your favorite educator for Michigan Teacher of the Year before the 11:59 deadline tonight.

An Ann Arbor schools leader has been named the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by a state group of school administrators.

MYSTERY SMELL: The odor from a failed light bulb forced a Detroit high school to dismiss students early this week.

EXTRA CREDIT: Miss Michigan encouraged students at one Detroit school to consider the arts as they follow their dreams. The city schools foundation honored two philanthropic leaders as champions for education.

And high school students were inspired by a former college football player. 

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The target on the back of the state board of education

State lawmakers this week began a push to eliminate the state board of education and replace it with an appointed superintendent. But before anyone starts writing the board’s obituary, note that the controversial effort would require approval from two-thirds of the legislature and voters in a statewide voter referendum.

Detroit schools, meanwhile, continue to struggle with hiring enough teachers to fill classrooms. The main district has taken the unusual step of putting some counselors and assistant principals in classrooms. Leaders hope the short-term measure won’t interfere with meeting the district’s  ambitious goals.

Read on for more on these stories and the rest of the week’s school news. Also, mark your calendar for the city’s first State of the Schools address, which will be held on October 25. Seats are available for people who want to attend in person. For those who can’t make it, we will be carrying it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Senior Detroit Correspondent

In the district

Across the state

  • The proposal to get rid of an elected state school board won praise from one editor but got a mixed response from lawmakers during a hearing this week. Eliminating the board, which one lawmaker called “irrelevant,” would require amending the state Constitution.
  • A senate committee has approved a bill that would allow charter schools to get a cut of tax increases that have traditionally benefitted district schools.
  • Trained college grads who give high school students advice about getting into college are relieving pressure on school counselors.
  • A federal court will now consider the legal case filed by a state teachers union against a right-wing spy. Read the union’s complaint here.
  • One educational leader called on the state to develop a way to recruit and retain 100,000 qualified teachers who could serve low-income children in cities and rural communities.
  • A state commission has ruled that a union cannot force the firing of a public school teacher who resigned from the union and stopped paying dues.
  • Career and technical education is on the rise in Michigan — but many students who enroll in those programs don’t complete them.
  • A new survey shows Michigan voters support their local school districts — but are less sure about the quality of instruction across the state.
  • A suburban mom says her son got 8 years of English as a Second Language instruction even though he’s a native English-speaker.