We and the country always frame stories about Detroit as nothing ever goes right. Even when they go right. This has got to stop! The latest example is a spate of stories about k-12 education in the city. All of which include the urban myth that Detroiters were stupid enough to turn down Bob Thompson’s $200 million commitment to reform high schools for city kids.
Great story – fits all the preconceived notions about how dysfunctional Detroit is – but it ain’t true. Rather than being driven out of the city, the Thompson Foundation has funded 8 new schools and is still going strong. Thanks in large part to his funding, a complete k-12 U Prep district is operating two elementary, one middle and one high school; U Prep Math and Science is operating middle and high schools as is the HFA School of Creative Studies. Driven out of the city? Hardly!
The success of the Thompson Foundation is part of a larger untold story of big change in k-12 education in Detroit over the past decade. Yes the protectors of the old DPS monopoly organized to stop Mr.Thompson, just as they have organized to fight just about any positive change in DPS. And most of the time they have won in preventing needed change in DPS. That is the no change story we repeat over and over. But at the same time outside of DPS big change has occurred. The reformers have won far more than the resistors.
So last year there were only 85,000 students in DPS schools and more than 60,000 Detroit students were attending non DPS schools. Hardly no change! Detroit parents in large numbers are taking advantage of charter schools both in Detroit and the inner ring suburbs as well as sending their kids in large numbers to suburban public school districts that have opened to students from Detroit.
The real story is far different from the urban myth of no change is possible. The no change story is wrong. The fact is Bob Thompson (and others) won, not lost. The correct story is the resistors have won at politics, the reformers have won at shopping. As long as funding follows the student, parents shopping for schools trumps politics. We need to start telling that story. It’s accurate and inspirational!