How Bad Are Detroit’s Schools?

Published May 1, 1999

Detroit “is not the worst performing district in the State,” protested Detroit Public School officials when details of Governor John Engler’s takeover plan were announced in February. Even so, in 1996, only one-third of Detroit high school freshmen graduated four years later, and less than 10 percent were able to read at grade level.

While 62 percent of high school juniors in suburban Grosse Pointe meet state standards in reading, writing, mathematics, and science, that figure drops to 32 percent statewide and plummets to a mere 6 percent in the Detroit Public Schools. Graduates who go on to college perform below high school level, according to Wayne State University representatives. For most students, the moment of truth arrives when they apply for a job.

Only one of four applicants at Daimler-Chrysler car plants in Detroit can pass a test requiring 10th-grade skills, according to the automaker’s human resources director, Roy Levy Williams. Even fewer pass the entry test for jobs at Bing Steel, where it took 1,000 applicants to find 180 qualified employees, according to owner Dave Bing.

“Something has to be done in our schools,” Williams told the Detroit News. “We put money into the community and we put money into the school programs. . . . Where else can you go for a job that pays $50,000 for a 10th-grade education?” he asked.