Allen: Set high standards for Detroit schools
We've heard a lot in recent weeks about what is wrong with Detroit schools. It's a valid, important conversation that we indeed should be having, both in Detroit itself, and across Michigan, where academic outcomes are slipping across the board.
But, as usual, the conversation has been framed by three things: power, politics and money.
We called ourselves the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren for a reason. Although debt and governance issues make good headlines, don't lose sight of what our report was really about: putting Detroit's vulnerable kids and their academic outcomes first.
Buried in the conversation is the fact that the coalition's recommendations called for rigorous standards for all kids and all schools in Detroit. These standards would be the highest in the state.
Why aim so high? Because no child in Detroit deserves less.
The statistics are sobering. They tell us that in Detroit, academic achievement is low, no matter what type of district or school a child attends. An example: A mere five public schools serving Detroit students top the state average in reading, and just seven top the state average in math. Very few students are prepared for college. Test scores show that all other major urban districts are performing better.
Our recommendations — which were published in the Choice Is Ours report on March 30 — center on addressing this reality by establishing rigorous academic standards and demanding much improved academic performance, providing real choice, and stabilizing Detroit's education landscape. We want a coherent system of high-performing community-based and community-supported schools. We are all accountable for getting there.
Instability in Detroit has drastically impacted academics. Only 46,000 or so kids now attend Detroit Public Schools, with 36,000 in charters, and 25,000 leaving the city to attend schools in the suburbs. More than 230 schools have been closed or reconfigured since 2000, impacting 75,000 students.
The Detroit Education Commission, which the coalition devised, is something both Gov. Rick Snyder and Mayor Mike Duggan support. We think it will dramatically turn around academics in Detroit, and, eventually, Michigan. It will do this by upholding schools to rigorous standards, by closing or turning around schools that fail to reach them, and by keeping school operators with poor track records from opening new schools that will fail more kids.
For a DEC to be established, we need Lansing lawmakers, Snyder and Duggan to put political differences aside and work with the coalition to get this done. It's on all of us to seize this opportunity to make a change that will impact children across the state for decades to come.
A report released recently by Education Trust-Midwest shows that the ramifications of not acting will not only be horrible for Detroit but also for Michigan. The state has already sunk to the bottom nationally. Michigan is no longer a place to feel confident that your child will get a world-class education. This is true no matter your zip code.
We want to work with Lansing to make Detroit a place known for choice. Known for academic rigor. And known for success. And if we get it right here, that's good for Michigan.
Tonya Allen is president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation. She co-chairs the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren.