Motor City MadHouse
Are upcoming school closures in Detroit Indicative of a national trend?
By Dr. Rod Berger
Nobody is calling the Motor City one of America’s great cities anymore. In fact, it looks like the state of Michigan is throwing in the towel as well. Last week, Governor Rick Snyder’s office announced the closing of 38 under-performing schools – 25 of which are in Detroit. A friend of mine, Lacetia Walker, MTSS District Trainer and Coach for the Detroit Public Schools, tells me the following fast facts:
- Currently, in the Detroit Public School system, there are 264 teacher vacancies of which 54 are special education teachers.
- Of those, 163 classrooms are being manned by substitute teachers.
- Detroit has many excellent, qualified, advanced degreed teachers;
- However, many class sizes are over the limit. Some are as high as 44 – 45 kids in a classroom.
- Teachers are not being given preparation periods because they have no relief.
- Teachers have been frozen at the same pay steps for 8 years.
- There was a 10 percent pay cut – health costs doubled.
- Teachers loaned the district $10,000 to prevent other teachers from being laid off. However, after getting the money
- The district laid teachers off anyway
- Michigan has more for-profit charter operators than any other state as of 2013 (National Education Policy Center)
- Many of these are not regulated by the state.
These conditions are particularly egregious to me, having grown up and spent the best years of my life in Michigan. There is a special vibe in Detroit, and despite the common wisdom, Detroit is coming back through grass root, neighborhood efforts. It saddens me that the state would give up on these neighborhoods and condemn them to death.
The law states that before a school can close, a nearby school must be found that has better academics. Of course, the definition of a nearby school is somewhat nebulous. The school is the center of a community, and if the school is left to broken windows and weeds the neighborhood will follow. Shame on Michigan for not being able to improve these schools. The business of education is just not that hard. Let’s not blame the principals or the community, and let’s certainly not blame the students. The state needs to quit underfunding these schools. Most are in poor African American neighborhoods already facing financial difficulties. Michigan has a responsibility to fund every one of its schools equally, and to put in place the quality teachers and programs necessary to make each a success. It is the state’s most solemn responsibility.
This is not simply a Detroit problem, or a Michigan problem. We, as Americans, should feel the pain of these families whose students are about to be displaced from their neighborhoods. It is a national shame, and the shirking of responsibility by the state’s education officials is nothing less than criminal.
In 2013, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Thirkell Elementary. That year, the school was ranked No. 1 in Michigan in a study that examined poverty levels and student achievement. Now, Thirkell is among 38 listed for closure by the state in 2017. How can a school that was ranked the best in the state be declared un-savable just three years later? It boggles the mind. So you know, Thirkell is listed on the greatschools.org website, but has mixed reviews. Here’s how the school’s website describes itself: “The undisputed, top elementary school in the state, Thirkell was selected as the No. 1 school in Michigan by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the No. 1 school in the city by Excellent Schools Detroit. The rankings are based on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) and confirm Thirkell as an educational pillar in the city of Detroit for nearly 100 years.
So, scrap Thirkell, huh?
A charter school organization, the Great Lakes Education Project, has been very vocal about closing the schools. “Enough is enough, and we call on Natasha Baker and the State Reform Office to close these ‘worst of the worst’ schools,” the group’s executive director Gary Naeyaert said in a prepared statement.
I agree with one thing. Enough is enough. Let’s keep these schools open and stop failing our children. Our government has two primary responsibilities, educating our children and providing for the national defense. I couldn’t fathom our government saying that the Army is failing so we are going to move our soldiers to the Navy because that is a nearby branch and national defense will be just as good. It is patently absurd. So is saying that it is impossible to educate our children where they live.
Come on, Michigan. For the love of Detroit, let’s get it together.
- The Detroit News: Reactions strong to possibly closing 24 Detroit schools
- MLive – See which 38 Michigan schools are at risk of state closure
- MLive – Closing Detroit schools would create ‘education deserts,’ says teachers union
- Great Lakes Education Project – GLEP Calls for Closure of 38 Chronically-Failing Schools