Officials, Education Advocates Grapple with Improving Detroit Public Schools

Published November 24, 2015

There’s no shortage of plans on how to fix Detroit Public Schools (DPS), which Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) recently called “the nation’s lowest performing urban school area.”

The following groups and people have offered plans on how to turn around DPS: the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, a group consisting of members from the NAACP, unions, business leaders, and educational advocates; Gov. Snyder; a Republican state representative; and the Great Lakes Education Project.

School choice advocates say although all of the plans are well-intentioned attempts to fix a troubled school system, about half will harm significantly parents’ school choice options.

Threat to Charter Schools  

The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren has a plan that would create a commission that would have the authority to open, close, and determine where new schools could be located.

Snyder’s plan would appoint a five-member board to hire an “education manager” who would have the authority to close down schools.

Both plans could lead to the closing of charter schools if traditional public school advocates gain power on the proposed boards and commissions.

One national study has determined charter schools are educating Detroit’s students more effectively than traditional public schools. Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes released a report in March 2015 that determined Detroit charter schools should serve as a model for other communities. The report found students in Detroit charter schools received as much as the equivalent of several months of additional learning in reading and math compared to their peers at traditional public schools.

“When it comes to education in Detroit, we should look at what’s working and what isn’t working. Charter schools are working,” said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. “Charter schools provide an environment of accountability and autonomy and have a proven record of improving academics for kids. This was confirmed by recent research from Stanford University, and it’s confirmed by the fact that 50,000 Detroit families have used their voice to choose a charter school.”

‘Exodus Will Continue’

Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, says there is no question thousands of students and families have been fleeing the academically and financially bankrupt Detroit Public Schools during the past decade.

“This exodus will continue and charter public schools are here to provide a stronger academic alternative in a learning environment that is more safe and parent-friendly,” Naeyaert said. “The future for students in Detroit is bright, as long as we’re able to provide quality education choices in additional charter public schools. While the vast majority of students and families served by charter public schools are represented by Democratic legislators, it’s tough to get their support when the Michigan Democratic Party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the teachers’ unions.”

Tom Gantert ([email protected]) is senior capitol correspondent for Michigan Capitol Confidential, a daily news site of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Image by Josette.