Week In Review

Week in review: What last year’s test scores tell us as a new school year begins

PHOTO: Grace Tatter

It’s time, people! The air is getting colder. The nights are getting longer and, starting Tuesday, nearly all schools in Detroit and across the state will be open for business and hopefully focused on making improvements.

Though the 2017 M-STEP and SAT results released this week included some glimmers of good news for schools in Detroit and across the state, it’s hard to feel hopeful when fewer than half of third-graders are proficient in English.

But a new school year means a fresh start. In Detroit’s main district, that start marks the first full school year of the district’s new era under the control of a new school board and superintendent. So while there’s plenty to fret about, there’s lots of reasons to think that maybe this is the year when we start to get it right. Good luck, everyone!

Keeping score

  • Michigan students are slowly making gains in math and social studies but the “disappointing” reading scores are alarming because a new state law will soon require schools to hold back third-graders who can’t make the grade on the state English exam. One critic charged that a “disaster” is looming for the state.
  • M-STEP and SAT results show Michigan schools continue to do a better job educating wealthier white students than low-income students, African-Americans and Latinos.
  • The state superintendent says officials have to do more to help schools before they end up at the bottom of state rankings. He called on lawmakers to create an “early warning system” that would help schools before it’s “too late.”
  • State charter school advocates say charter students posted higher scores this year than their peers in district schools. But an advocacy group notes that’s not too impressive.
  • To see how individual schools scored on the tests, look here. Or visit the state education department website to download extensive data on the scores including those for special education students and other groups.
  • Here’s the high schools with the state’s highest SAT scores — and a database to look up the college enrollment rates at Michigan schools.

Teaching moments

  • The new Detroit teachers contract — which will raise teacher salaries by more than 7% in the next few years — is now official.
  • That could help recruit teachers but the district, which held a hiring fair last night, was this week still trying to fill more than 200 open teaching positions.
  • The recruiting challenges facing the Detroit schools are part of a nation-wide teacher shortage but a group that advocates for teacher quality says the picture across the country is more complex that many people realize.
  • Detroit teachers last year were absent an average of 13 school days last year — a number that Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he hopes to reduce by improving working conditions in schools.

Across the state

In Detroit

  • A Detroit career and technical school is getting a $10 million facelift. Much of that money is coming from foundations and private companies — including one whose leaders have a personal connection to the school. The effort won praise from a News columnist who said it’s “exactly what the city needs to put Detroiters to work in the jobs being created by downtown’s revival.”
  • A federal judge won’t need to enforce a $31 million judgment against Detroit Public Schools after the district and its contractor reached a slightly smaller settlement agreement.
  • A former deputy superintendent is suing Detroit’s main district saying his contract was breached when Vitti fired him in June. He was among 50 administrators in the district central office who were let go as part of the new superintendent’s reorganization.
  • The Detroit principal bribery scandal has gone Hollywood.
  • A coalition of community groups aiming to reduce the number of children who are chronically absent from school has created a pledge for Detroit parents, students, educators and community leaders to sign to ensure that every Detroit child is in class on the first day of school.
  • This Detroiter has been handing out school supplies to kids in her neighborhood.
  • The city teachers union is offering these tips to parents as they prepare for the school year while the district is partnering with a community group to collect donated uniforms for kids who need them.
  • A free horse camp teaches life skills to Detroit students.
  • As Detroit parents navigate the confusing mix of school options in the city, one parent advocate offers these tips for making the best choice.
  • An effort to install “little free libraries” in front of every district school in the city is nearly complete.
  • Every reception this Lions wide receiver completes this season will benefit a program that serves kids in Detroit schools and across the state.

Detroit week in review

Week in review: Young children in the spotlight

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Evangelina De La Fuente, worries that the Head Start her 3-year-old twin grandsons attend could close or change. "The babies are secure and they’re happy and they’re well fed and they’re well taken cared for. It’s scary to think it could change," she said.

Hundreds of vulnerable Detroit families are bracing for change in the wake of the announcement last week from a prominent social service organization that it can no longer operate Head Start centers. Other social service providers are stepping up take over the 11 Head Starts that have been run by Southwest Solutions but their ability to smoothly pick up the 420 children who are affected and find classroom space for them is uncertain. That’s added stress to lives of families already in crisis.

“The babies are secure and they’re happy and they’re well fed and they’re well cared for. It’s scary to think it could change.”

—  Evangelina De La Fuente, grandmother of twin three-year-olds who attend a Southwest Solutions Head Start

Given the impact that quality early childhood programs can have on preparing children for kindergarten, advocates are calling for a better support system. That’s one of the missions of the new Hope Starts Here initiative, which was rolled out this morning. The coalition of parents, educators and community groups, led by two major foundations, spent the last year assessing the needs of Detroit children before unveiling a ten-year plan for how Detroit can improve the lives of young children.

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

Birth to eight

Students, teachers, learning

In Lansing

Across the state

In other news

Detroit week in review

Detroit week in review: Payrolls and proficiency

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit supertintendent Nikolai Vitti talks with students at Durfee Elementary/Middle School on the first day of school, September 5, 2017.

This week, we used district salaries to see how the central office has changed since Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti started in the spring: It turns out there are fewer people in the central office but more highly paid administrators. We sorted through the data and created several searchable databases. Click on any of them to learn more, including full district payrolls as of June 1 and Oct. 1.

The city district got more bad news when 24 more of its schools were added to the partnership program, which requires them to improve or face possible consequences. Nine other district schools can choose whether to participate in the program, which comes with additional support and resources. (Two city charter schools were also added to the list.)

And just in time to welcome those schools, a new state reform officer was appointed this week to lead the partnership program.

Hope you have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

PARTNERSHIPS: Nobody is scheduled for closing yet, but the state added three school districts and four charter schools statewide to the partnership list this week. Potentially, almost half of Detroit’s district schools could be participants. Statewide, almost forty schools were added. (See the complete list here.) The state also named a superintendent to lead the newly formed partnership office and become the state school reform officer.

GET IT DONE: A columnist writes that impressive economic gains will be hampered by the state’s poor quality of education. While one editorial page writer urges the state to decide on a course of action for improving schools and do it, business leaders say a piecemeal approach won’t work. This columnist thinks what’s needed is political will at the top.

ALL OVER THE BOARD: A state house committee barely approved a proposal to eliminate the state board of education. Two insiders explore the issue. For the proposal to become law, both houses must approve the resolution by a two-thirds majority and then it must be approved by voters in the next general election because it would amend the state constitution.

CHARTER WARS: An editorial in a major newspaper says it’s a myth that charter schools are performing more poorly than city district schools. Another editorial supports allowing all public schools — charter and traditional — to benefit from property tax hikes.

KEEPING TEACHERS: One columnist blames state lawmakers for the teacher shortage. But a recent study shows you can keep teachers longer with bonuses and loan forgiveness. An advocate wants to encourage efforts to recruit more black male teachers.

YOUR INPUT: Fill out this survey to help shape the state’s new school transparency tool.

CAREER BOOSTS: Several districts will share a $1 million grant to boost career counseling. And the governor invested almost $3 million to support career tech education.

VOICES: How this group of Detroit parents was called to action in the state capitol.

POPULATION SHIFT:  At least one suburban district is hiring staff after the number of students who are learning English nearly doubled.

FOR A SONG: This Detroit teacher produces hip-hop videos to teach his students to read.

THE UNEXPECTED: In an unusual twist, the Hamtramck district reclaimed a charter school building.

DISAPPOINTMENT: A high school student in a special education program was denied an academic achievement award.

RESTRAINTS: A lawsuit alleges a Washtenaw County teacher taped shut the mouth of disabled student. District leaders say the parents waited a year to respond.

BOOK REVIEW: A teacher from a Detroit nonprofit wrote a book about his year-long experience teaching poetry to children in Detroit.