Watkins: Everyone has stake in Detroit’s students

Tom Watkins

The educational mess in Detroit impacts us all.

The Michigan Legislature must put an end to the educational washout taking place in the City of Detroit. They need to fix the city’s schools, ending the teacher sickouts by creating healthy environments for learning.

It is good news the Legislature has begun hearings on the plight of education in Detroit. Clearly, a sense of urgency is needed.

The state has a moral and constitutional responsibility to fix what it is partially responsible for breaking. The state took control of DPS, placing a series of “emergency managers” in charge in what’s proved to be an utter failure.

DPS’ financial woes have neither been fixed nor provided even a minimal education to the majority of Detroit students. (The current EM, Darnell Earley, is stepping down under pressure.)

The public schools in Detroit have been hollowed out over the years. There are not enough fingers on two hands to point to the various culprits responsible for the mess that exists. This is not to say there are not exceptional teachers, principals, classrooms and schools – there are many.

Yet, for far too many of our children, public education (traditional, charter and EAA schools) exists as a small island of excellence surrounded by a sea of despair.

Know this: A child without a decent education today becomes an adult without much of a future tomorrow. Our failure to educate the children of Detroit to even minimal standards, let alone world-class standards, dooms them to a mediocre life at best and a collective disaster for us all at worse.

Detroit schools sinking

The problems with public education in Detroit are immense and will require real change to produce the results our children need and deserve. Detroit’s schools – public, charter and EAA – have been found to be among those with the worst test scores and graduation rates in the nation.

If you don’t care about what this means to these children, you’d better – if only for selfish, self-interest. Sunk, without the inability to read, write, calculate or navigate life, these children will be coming to your place of business someday – as potential customers, employees or perhaps with nefarious ideas in mind. Let me assure you – the uneducated children of Detroit don’t simply disappear.

Tipping point

DPS has reached a tipping point which the governor and Legislature must address early this year. Every day of inaction prolongs the day where learning can begin. Proposed legislation, backed by Gov. Rick Snyder, builds upon recommendations from a community coalition of Detroiters.

The proposed goal is to address the financial crisis while offering Detroit parents access to quality schools regardless of the type of public school they want their children to attend.

TLC or ideology

Clearly, there is not a consensus on the governor’s plan in the streets of Detroit, under the state capitol, among teacher union leadership or in Mayor Mike Duggan’s office. One needs to be forged. It is past time for the focus to switch from power, control, ideology, politics and adult to TLC: Teaching, Learning and Children.

Detroit is rising from the ashes of bankruptcy and the excitement, energy and investment is as noticeable as it is palpable. Old buildings refurbished, decay removed, new clubs, bars and eating establishments popping up. Where are the deep-pocketed investors investing in what will truly help to sustain Detroit’s and Michigan’s comeback — quality education?

As Stein’s law reminds us: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”

The children of Detroit need and deserve for the governor, Legislature and community leaders to come together and put an end to the educational genocide taking place in Detroit.

The inaction impacts us all.

Tom Watkins served as Michigan’s state superintendent of schools, 2001-05.