Report urges single application for Detroit schools

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — A new report recommends that Mayor Mike Duggan lead a common enrollment program for all Detroit public and charter school students, but at least one member of the city’s school board opposes the idea.

The report, commissioned by Excellent Schools Detroit, says significant barriers prevent families from participating effectively in the city’s educational system, and there is little transparency around enrollment and choice in Detroit.

The goal is to make it easier for families to participate in choosing a school for their child.

The report calls for a single, universal application for all public schools that families could use to list schools in order of preference.

It proposes a single guide that lists all of Detroit’s public schools, including charters, with easy-to-understand information for parents to use in deciding where to send their children.

The report also would establish a set of school fairs/expos and neighborhood hubs at which all of Detroit’s public schools would be represented, giving families one place to go to meet with school administrators.

Duggan said Wednesday he does not believe it’s his job to manage the schools but said some potential roles will be evaluated.

“I don’t think the mayor ought to be involved in operating the schools,” Duggan told The Detroit News during an unrelated news conference on a new land bank program. “But could there be a central authorizing role, including common enrollment? Those are things we are going to look at over the next year.”

An advisory board that studying common enrollment includes representatives from Detroit Public Schools, the Education Achievement Authority and Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, a charter school advocacy group, among others.

“DPS is participating in this process,” said the district’s emergency manager, Jack Martin. “However, like the other providers, we have not agreed to any specific proposals at this time. We are participating because it is the right thing to do listen to ideas and evaluate what is in the best interest of our students and their families. It is important for all voices to be heard and considered in any process such as this.”

EAA Chancellor Veronica Conforme expressed support for exploring a common enrollment program.

“Any system that helps inform and empower families of their school options is something we welcome,” she said Wednesday.

The report follows a proposal floated in August by Excellent Schools Detroit to give Detroit’s mayor oversight of charter school operators and DPS, with control over such areas as planning, transportation and enrollment.

William DiSessa, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, declined to comment on the report.

The report, authored by the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice, says there are “many problems with the current state of public school enrollment and choice in Detroit, and stakeholders interviewed for this report agreed that actions must be taken to improve the situation.” The institute is a nonprofit that designs common enrollment systems.

“A common enrollment system that’s specific for Detroit is yet to be designed. The discussion taking place to recommend what that system could look like is the right thing to do,” Quisenberry said. “Because there isn’t a proposed system yet, we can’t say whether we support it or what effect it might have on charter schools.

“Ultimately, we need a system that’s transparent, easy to understand, stable and efficient, and one that helps parents find the right school,” he said.

The president of the Detroit Board of Education said a program like the one discussed in the report would make “guinea pigs of our students.”

“Their purpose is to do exactly what the governor has been trying to do — destroy the board of education and Detroit schools,” said Herman Davis. “That’s been the mission of the emergency manager and they have joined the governor in doing just that.”

Davis said their goal is to promote charters and academies and “pretty much destroy Detroit Public Schools.”

“They’re putting our kids at risk because it’s a pilot project.”

But Doretha Brown, who has four children attending the EAA’s Nolan Elementary-Middle School, is willing to support the recommendations.

“There’s nothing wrong with giving it a chance,” she said. “We can give it a time limit, say two years, and if it’s not working, we can go back to the way it was. The bottom line is not who holds the power, but what is best for our children.”

The advisory group held 28 meetings with leaders from schools and community, civic and advocacy organizations.

The work was funded and supported by the staff of Excellent Schools Detroit, The Skillman Foundation, MAPSA, DPS and the EAA, among others.

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Christine Ferretti contributed.