Week In Review

Week in Review: The Detroit story dubbed a ‘Tale From the Public School Crypt’

Happy New Year, Chalkbeat Detroit readers! It was a quiet week for education news as many city schools remained closed for winter break and frigid temps kept everyone inside. But local education leaders are getting ready for 2018, offering us their predictions and hopes for the new year.

Also this week, the local controversy surrounding a charter school’s efforts to buy an abandoned former public school building on Detroit’s east side went national when the Wall Street Journal weighed in on the issue. The conservative New York-based paper accused Detroit’s main district of violating the law by using a deed restriction on the property to prevent the building, which is now owned by a private developer, from being used as a charter school. The paper called it a “case study in how far Detroit will go to punish charter-school students.”

Read on for more on these stories and the rest of the education news you may have missed this week and during the holidays. Also, I was honored to join MiWeek host Christy McDonald on Detroit Public TV this week to talk about Detroit schools as the new district enters its second year under the control of a new school board. Watch that segment here. And thanks for reading!

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Senior Detroit Correspondent

Cryptic criticism

  • The Wall Street Journal editorial — headlinedTales from the Public School Crypt” — knocked district superintendent Nikolai Vitti for fending off a lawsuit from the Detroit Prep charter school. Vitti says he’s looking out for the interests of Detroiters, but the paper blasted the district “for spending money to defend the lawsuit even as it claims to lack the resources for basic education.”
  • The state’s charter school association called it a “brutally hard-hitting” editorial that has pushed the issue into the national spotlight. A parent advocate says the dispute is causing charter school families to “suffer.” She called on squabbling district and charter school advocates to “end the war and move forward with educating all of our babies.”
  • The district also took an editorial hit from the Detroit News this week in the wake of revelations that district finance staffers made a $6.5 million mistake when they missed a deadline to apply for state funds.

In other Detroit news

  • Improving literacy, raising test scores and fighting for increased school funding topped the list of new year’s hopes and resolutions for local education leaders.
  • After backing the overhaul of one of the city’s skilled trades high schools, local business leaders say they’re pushing to renovate a second skilled trades high school that could offer training to adults during evening hours.
  • A pro-charter news site published data that shows Detroit charter school students get slightly higher test scores than their district peers in most subjects. Vitti, noting that the district serves more children with special needs, explained why he believes charter schools are not the answer.
  • Monday is the deadline for 8th graders to apply to take the exam for Cass Tech, Renaissance High School and the city’s other selective high schools.
  • Students at two Detroit schools last year led the state in the number of African-American students receiving passing scores on Advanced Placement exams.
  • A columnist says a new effort to target babies — and even pregnant women — to boost literacy should be expanded if it proves effective.

Across the state

  • The coalition behind a year-and-a-half long study on Michigan’s school funding system expects to release its findings later this month but doesn’t plan to make specific recommendations for increasing the amount of money districts receive per student. One member of that group says the state’s current funding system “is broken” and called for a “return to the drawing board to help all students, regardless of their circumstances.”
  • Some state school districts will soon get cash from a $12.5 million fund to support career and technical education programs in partnership with colleges and industries. Districts are expected to get between $100,000 and $1 million for programs that can increase training for “high-wage, high-skill, high-demand occupations.”
  • This year just 19 Michigan school districts had financial deficits — the lowest number since the 2004-05 school year,
  • A right-wing group that sent a spy to infiltrate a state teachers union got the green light from a federal judge to publish information it gathered.
  • These school districts — where some teachers made six-figure salaries — had the region’s highest-paid teachers.
  • Sixteen Michigan educators have won cash awards through the Michigan lottery’s excellence in education program — and nominations are still being accepted.
  • These were the stories the Detroit Free Press identified as Michigan’s top education stories of 2017. A suburban paper also offered its list of local 2017 highlights.