July 16, 2009 at 1:00 am

Bobb: Detroit board can't block academic reform

Bobb )

It is critically important that we stick to the facts and relevant issues concerning the Detroit Board of Education's attempt to block academic reform in Detroit Public Schools.

Foremost among these is that the dialogue must center on the children. In fact, it is nonnegotiable. For far too long, actions and often inaction in this school district have centered on the adults and on which vendors are awarded contracts. This caused irreparable harm to our city's children for far too long. This has led to deficit overspending for seven consecutive years. This, most notably, has caused academic deficits that in many ways surpass the financial ones.

Just last week, we announced that experienced national partners were needed to help guide reform at 17 high schools because of many years of inattention and inability of adults in this district to put students at the center of these reforms. These are schools that have not met federal standards called Adequate Yearly Progress for four or more consecutive years and have posted shameful test scores throughout that time.

Passing rates on the state's standardized test indicate that fewer than one in three children were given the opportunity to succeed based on the educational programs and support they received in DPS. In critical math and English language arts tests, the track record drops even lower at specific schools. Of the 17 high schools, in one case, 1 percent -- one in 100 students -- performed at satisfactory levels. Only the worst of the worst guardians of the status quo would insist that this level of success continue or that tinkering around the edges is the solution.

Beyond the moral prerogative to address this immediately and transformatively, rational individuals would see that one cannot hope to solve our school district's financial emergency without addressing the academic emergency that helped to create it and has served to sustain it for many years. In fact, leadership failed for many years in its fiduciary responsibility to address the academic emergency. The precipitous enrollment drop and its resulting massive losses in state funding, unless halted, gives us no choice but to create and offer programs that parents will choose for their children, if we are to have any hope of turning around the schools' finances.

These conditions occurred prior to the appointment of an emergency financial manager and are among the reasons for the appointment. And claiming that Public Act 72 somehow makes a specific distinction between finances and academics is false. The act gives the board control over nothing. Control over academics is not even mentioned.

Further, in the four and a half months since my arrival, our team has repeatedly offered to meet with the Detroit Board of Education, in public session, to hear from legal experts about state Public Act 72 and to answer any questions. Letters were sent and copied to all board members on March 24 and May 22. On April 2, a lengthy list of answers to the board president's written questions regarding the act were provided. It is posted on our public Web site.

The board's attempt to distract and confuse the public by claiming that we are privatizing schools is disingenuous. We are not privatizing these schools. We are not creating a charter district.

The district has partners working with DPS principals, teachers and parents to bring the best national models of school improvement to Detroit families. One, the Institute for Student Achievement, has already devoted much of the past year to intensive work with parents and other stakeholders in creating the small schools to open this fall on the Cody and Osborn campuses.

We welcome the input and questions of all members of the Detroit Public Schools community as we work to create centers of excellence in every school in every neighborhood. I will do everything in my power to balance these budgets so such a crisis will not happen again. I will take the necessary steps to ensure that students receive the very best education in the most rigorous classroom setting we can provide.

If you partner with me and us, we will work tirelessly on your behalf.

Robert Bobb is the state-appointed emergency financial manager for the Detroit Public Schools. E-mail comments to letters@detnews.com">letters@detnews.com.