The New York Times published a front-page story this week on the troubled state of public education in Detroit. Charter schools in particular were cast in a pretty bad light.
Michigan leapt at the promise of charter schools 23 years ago, betting big that choice and competition would improve public schools. It got competition, and chaos. Detroit schools have long been in decline academically and financially. But over the past five years, divisive politics and educational ideology and a scramble for money have combined to produced a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States.
Pro-charter blogger and researcher, Jay P. Greene, takes issue with the New York Times piece citing the absence of evidence, and highlighting the conclusions of a Stanford University study on urban charters:
Charter students in the city of Detroit (27% of the state’s charter students), are performing even better than their peers in the rest of the state, on average gaining nearly three months achievement for each year they attend charter schools.
The truth, as always, is somewhere in between but the overall picture is not pretty. The state takeover in 1999 is a big part of the problem, as Beth Hawkins pointed out in a recent piece in the Atlantic.
The roots of the problems confronting its schools actually go back to 1966, when enrollment peaked at close to 300,000 students and white flight began. And as [Mayor Mike] Duggan highlighted, there’s also another, much more recent backstory to the current crisis: the state-appointed emergency managers who seized control of Detroit Public Schools in 1999 and ran the district for all but several of the years since then.
The growing focus on the Motor City’s educational challenges could be a good thing if it leads to positive change. While recent history isn’t very encouraging, there’s always hope.