….The sickouts are just one symptom of Detroit’s education dilemma. As StudentsFirst Michigan’s team lead working on Detroit education reform during the last two years, I have seen a lot of disagreements, arguments, battles and a couple of near blows thrown in the conversation, “It’s about the kids!” During this time period I have had the opportunity to talk to parents in local barber shops/beauty salons, at town halls and community events in Detroit. I’ve also had the privilege to work with parents to come to Lansing to engage their legislators to legislation that supports Detroit kids. Most of the conversation has always revolved around two things: Money and Power. And who controls which. And who makes the decisions.
While working for StudentsFirst, I got an opportunity to join the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren and work with a large and diverse group of stakeholders who are involved in education in the Detroit Metropolitan Area. In the past, these type of groups in Detroit were usually filled with like minded people, but this group included many of the people and groups who generally are at odds with each other. To say the least, it created some powerful discussions and a lot of explosive debates. This group was charged by the Governor to come up with recommendations to improve education for all of Detroit’s children. Thanks to many of the leaders of the coalition, the concept of “It’s about the kids” was followed and groups who normally are at each others throat came together to agree on a list of recommendations to improve in education in the Motor City and advocate for passage of those recommendations in the state legislature. I have been part of the coalition’s legislative outreach working with some of the organizations I normally battle with. It has been refreshing to work with a group fighting a common goal that is well overdue. Now that Detroiters are working together to improve its condition, the next phase is to get the rest of the state to buy into the importance of Detroit resurgence and how important improving education in the city is important to everyone in the state of Michigan.
Michigan’s legislature is controlled by conservative legislators, whose leadership don’t live anywhere near Detroit. So they would not have a natural affinity for Detroit issues. So they are left with making decisions based on personal insight and information and “resources” provided by those attempting to get legislation passed or stopped. Another issue is the State Senate and the State House are not working together to deal with this issue. Although, they are controlled by the same party. To be fair, I have seen more participation from Republican legislators to come to Detroit and meet with parents, educators and community leaders who are engaged with DPS, EAA and local Detroit charter schools. These legislators have attended tours of schools and communities in parts of the city they have never heard of or been to before. This is the beginning for bonding and healing between parts of the state that traditionally been segregated from each other. This is a great thing. But time is of the essence. The following
While spending time developing a long bonding process between the city and their out-state partners. Legislation needs to be passed to deal with DPS funding issues and most of the legislature does not want to give money to Detroit without education reforms. Currently, legislation is being discussed to fund the Detroit Public Schools and resolve its massive debt. And create the Detroit Education Commission (DEC) is on the table. The DEC would help manage the logistics between traditional public and charter schools in the city. The commission would be appointed by the mayor. It would include representation from parents, educators and education leaders from traditional and charter school entities. This is important because it will empower successful and improving charter and public schools, while identifying those that are not. The commission would implement high standards across the board for all schools in Detroit. Many Detroit parents struggle with choosing schools for their kids, because they don’t know which are productive and which are not. Also, the commission would establish high standards for all Detroit schools, approve new schools and their proposed locations and report failing schools to the state of Michigan. This entity will not have the power to close schools, but can only make recommendations.
The DEC concept is not new. Similar authorities operate in Washington, DC, Denver and New Orleans. All three are different, but share the concept of logistically and locally connecting all schools within a community.
At some point while adults are making the arguments around legislation for adult reasons, there has to be more of a conscious effort to focus on what actually helps kids in the classroom. No one from the Detroit area support House bills 5382-5384, 5387 and many Detroiters support the original bipartisan Senate bill package that included the DEC before they were changed once they moved over to the House. Detroit parents want their kids to attend good schools. They support school choice. They don’t care if they attend a DPS, EAA or charter school. They want their child in a great school like any other parent in the state. Again, sickouts are not the main problem. Parents not being able to put their kids in classrooms that work for them is the problem. Dealing with this fundamental issue will set the course to deal with myriad of symptoms that have plagued Detroit schools for far too long.