Week In Review

Week in review: What would ‘never, ever’ happen in a white suburban district

A year ago, when Chalkbeat first featured Detroit teacher Rynell Sturkey, it was hard for her to believe that life in her overcrowded, understaffed, poorly equipped classroom would ever improve. But when we checked back in with Sturkey this week, she said things are looking up.

“We still don’t have music or art or gym but it’s a promise that is coming for next year … I’m staying positive.”

— Rynell Sturkey, first-grade teacher, Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy

Among the problems still facing teachers like Sturkey are schools in poor repair. That’s the main reason the district made the unusual decision this week to dismiss students early three days in a row because of “sweatbox” conditions in largely un-air-conditioned schools. School buildings are in such bad shape that a board member called on the state’s business leaders at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference to step up to help. The policy conference also heard some strong comments from Superintendent Nikolai Vitti on the role racism played in the deterioration of Detroit schools.

Also this week we spoke with a charter school teacher who helped her students make a movie about trash as part of a “place-based” lesson. The teacher was featured in Chalkbeat’s How I Teach series. If you know an educator who should be featured, let us know, and subscribe to our ‘How I Teach’ newsletter.

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— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Detroit Bureau Chief

Truth to power

  • In the year since Chalkbeat first featured Sturkey — on Vitti’s first day as superintendent — her first-grade class has shrunk to 23 students from a high of 38. The district now provides substitutes for absent teachers. Her school has given teachers time to plan lessons. She got a raise. And the new superintendent is making a real difference, she said.
  • The heat-related school closures were the latest fallout for a district with many aging buildings that haven’t been well-maintained. But state law bars the district from borrowing money to pay for improvements.
  • The heat-related closures came as a new study shows how heat can hurt learning.
  • Vitti did not mince words when asked about the role of race in Detroit’s school crisis. “There is a racist element to what has happened,” he said. “That would never, ever, happen in any white suburban districts in this country.”
  • His comments came in response to a question from a Free Press columnist who writes that the state can’t improve schools without addressing race — an analysis disputed by a conservative news site.
  • Vitti thinks he can help the district come back from this crisis. It just might take a while. “Any coach will tell you, when you’re behind 30 points you can’t win in one minute,” he said. Later, he told a radio interviewer how long he’ll need.
  • The charter school teacher who helped her students make a movie about trash says it’s part of her school’s effort to incorporate real-world questions into their lessons.
  • The main Detroit district has a plan to try to reverse years of enrollment declines.

Across the state (and on the island)

  • Education was one of the issues that dominated a gubernatorial candidate debate at the policy conference.
  • Education leaders from across the state hoped to use the annual conference to push for changes to the way schools are funded.
  • Among organizations endorsing changes to school funding is the Detroit News, which writes it’s “time to light the fire.”
  • Among educators saying Michigan test scores are not as bad as you think are these guys.
  • The state education department wants to let some districts replace the M-STEP.
  • A music education professor writes that bills targeting teacher education programs in Michigan would damage training, “perhaps beyond repair.”
  • Just a third of Michigan high school juniors got a high enough score on the SAT last year to be considered “college ready.” Click  here to see the rate at individual schools.
  • These are the Michigan high schools with the highest college readiness rates.
  • A former president of the state Board of Education writes that the state not only needs to change the way it funds schools, it also needs to improve quality by creating a “certificate of need” system, similar to one that governs new hospitals.
  • Laws encouraging a new approach to student discipline aim to reduce expulsions and suspensions.
  • MLive has numbers on which high schools send the most students to Michigan colleges and universities.

In other news

  • Over 80 Southwest Detroit educators, parents, and students rallied last week to demand justice for immigrant students.
  • A social worker who helped children in Detroit schools for more than two decades has died.
  • Participants in a mentoring program started by former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing are graduating from high school.

From Chalkbeat

  • Wealthier students benefit from art, music, and theater over the summer while poor kids miss out
  • In the Wild West of virtual learning, an Indiana charter school is opening in an unlikely place — a farm.