Today’s the day that struggling schools across the state have been dreading for months. At 11 a.m., the state education department plans to release its annual top-to-bottom school ranking, which the state school reform office will use to decide which schools could be shuttered for poor performance.
The difficult news, which is likely to be drowned out by coverage of Donald Trump’s inauguration, caps a busy week that included Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address and the Senate nomination hearing for Betsy DeVos. Detroit schools took a bit of a beating during the DeVos hearing as Democrats tied Trump’s chosen education secretary to “horrible” outcomes in Detroit schools. DeVos pushed back saying “a lot has gone right” in Detroit schools. She knocked claims that poor results are related to lax charter school oversight as “false news.”
“I think it is important to put Detroit in context. In 1950, there were 1.8 million people living in the city of Detroit. Today there is less than 700,000 … Anyone with any means in the city of Detroit has basically left the city.”
— Betsy DeVos, nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education
The DeVos hearing was marked by sharp partisan division as Democrats griped that they weren’t given enough time to question someone they deemed unqualified for the nation’s top education job. But DeVos made it clear in more than three hours of testimony that more time would not likely have produced more insight. She offered few policy specifics beyond reiterating her support for giving parents control over education. Here’s what we learned (and what we didn’t) during the hearing. (Our roundup was co-published this week by FiveThirtyEight).
For Detroiters, the most interesting exchange came between DeVos and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a former Denver Public Schools superintendent who says his city does a much better job of holding charter schools accountable than Detroit does.
Bennet says he supports charter schools — but only if they work. “There’s no practical difference between being forced to attend a terrible school and being given a chance to attend the choice of five terrible schools,” he said.
There’s a lot of ideology on both sides of the DeVos/Detroit debate. Here’s some facts to help sort it out.
A Senate committee is planning to vote on DeVos on Tuesday but, whether or not she gets the job, these crucial education issues will largely be decided by the states.
If you missed the hearing, here’s a transcript. (Search for the word ‘Detroit’)
State of the State
Education was not a major topic during Snyder’s seventh State of the State address but the Detroit News speculated that he might be holding out for an imminent report from an education commission he appointed last year. “Hopefully it will contain meaningful suggestions,” the paper wrote.
During the speech, Snyder made no reference to the looming school closings that are expected from his office today.
The Free Press noted that the speech had many notable omissions. Among them: There was no mention of school funding or of the report last year that found many school districts don’t get enough money from the state.
Snyder did mention the new Detroit school board, which he encouraged to be “laser-focused on the kids learning with an emphasis on prudent financial management.”
He also announced a push to improve computer science education to prepare kids for high-tech jobs. “Think about your schools in your area and think about what they’re teaching,” he said. “We have a huge gap. We need to close that gap. And so I look forward to creating a work group to work with the legislature and the superintendent on coming up with great ideas about how to encourage more of this. And you’re going to find us willing to make investments.”
In other news
- News of dreaded school closings is expected today — two days after teachers at one troubled high school rallied to keep their school open.
- Today will be the last time the state releases its top-to-bottom school ranking. Schools will soon be judged instead by an A to F letter grade system.
- The city of Detroit has joined the federal lawsuit that claims the state of the city’s schools violates children’s constitutional rights.
- A lawsuit over Detroit school janitors could cost taxpayers $31 million.
- A parent leader has this message for Detroit’s new school board.
- On MLK Day, a Detroit high school created an exhibit to document racial prejudice and violence.
- A historic Detroit high school has been repeatedly vandalized since it closed in 2012.
- A Detroit charter school has locked down its Corktown building.
- Public school supporters rallied in cities around the country as part of a nationwide demonstration.
- A troubled suburban district is seeking community input on plans to overhaul academics.
- A state Republican lawmaker makes a case for transferring state and federal education dollars into parent-controlled Education Savings Accounts.
- An education advocate notes that Trump’s plan to put more education decisions in the hands of states ramps up pressure on Michigan leaders to focus on equity and excellence in schools. She called on the state to rethink its approach to early literacy, school funding and accountability and other key priorities.
- A teachers union leader says low pay and difficult teaching conditions are to blame for an acute substitute teacher shortage.
- A Michigan teacher has come under fire for refusing to allow his students to watch Trump’s inauguration address during class.