Jacques: Expect more failure at DPS

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Don’t you think Detroit’s children deserve better schools? I know I do.

I’m tired of seeing reports year after year that rank Detroit’s public schools the worst in the nation.

Legislation that passed this summer to bailout Detroit Public Schools and create a new district offered some hope. It seemed lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder were committed to making tough decisions that would benefit the city’s students.

That included closing the failing schools — district and charters schools. Given the overcapacity of seats in Detroit and poor performance of some of the city’s schools, this was welcome news. After all, the district’s viability depends on cutting fixed costs, which means right-sizing the district.

Now, however, it looks like these worst offenders within the new Detroit Public Schools Community District won’t face any closure until 2019.

And it’s all because a law firm decided that’s how the language of the legislation reads — even though it’s not what lawmakers intended.

A Miller Canfield memo, sent to DPS Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes last month, is apparently all it took for Snyder to back down from doing what is best for Detroit’s schools.

The memo claims that since a “new” district was formed, the state’s School Reform Office — tasked with closing the lowest-performing schools — can’t make any decisions about closures in Detroit for three additional years.

That’s ridiculous and Snyder should fight back. The new district is simply an avenue to separate the district’s longstanding debt from its current operations. It doesn’t change how the buildings are run nor the students who attend them.

Should students stay trapped in failing schools for another three years because of a legal glitch? That’s a long time in the journey of a K-12 student.

Perhaps Miller Canfield isn’t aware that often the most effective way to improve learning in a district is by weeding out the worst schools. Studies have found that school turnarounds are rarely successful and the best approach is to close chronically poor-performing schools and implement a portfolio model that creates an array of quality choices — traditional public and charter.

In fact, Snyder and his education team advocated such a model in the years leading up to the DPS reforms.

Keeping bad schools in operation is not what lawmakers wanted. Rep. Daniela Garcia, R-Holland, one of the DPS legislation sponsors, made it clear.

The law states the SRO should close schools — district and charter — when they have remained on the list of the lowest performing 5 percent of Michigan schools for three years. Garcia estimated that 30 city schools fall into the closure category and those numbers were confirmed last week when the reform office released its latest ranking of schools. More than a third of the lowest performing schools in the state are in DPS.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, was also displeased with Snyder’s decision. “The Miller Canfield memo ... is a gross misreading of the DPS legislation passed in June. The SRO is not prohibited from closing the worst-of-the-worst Detroit schools; the SRO is required by law to do so.”

The Great Lakes Education Project also thinks the governor should stand his ground.

“It’s the same schools and same students,” says Gary Naeyaert, executive director of GLEP. “How do we not have accountability for three years?

That’s a good question.