The release of the citywide plan for improving student achievement in Detroit was quite exhilarating. It marks a fundamental change in strategy and, for the first time, offers a realistic possibility that we can get big increases in student outcomes.
What’s different this time? It focuses on kids, not institutions. All the past reform efforts have been about fixing the Detroit Public Schools. All have failed miserably. Finally we have learned the lesson that outsiders cannot change institutions like DPS, only those who run it can. And up to now they have not wanted to change. Robert Bobb the district’s Emergency Financial Manager may change that. He certainly wants to. And we are all rooting for him. But this plan can succeed even if he doesn’t. That is what is so revolutionary about it.
The plan has a simple foundation: that all children in Detroit will attend a quality school by 2020. No excuses! We don’t care who operates the school – DPS, charters or private. What we care about is that the school is preparing students for college success. The plan calls for opening seventy high quality new schools by 2020 – including the high schools to be opened by MichiganFuture Schools. It creates a Standards and Accountability Commission to set tough standards to measure whether students are on track to succeed in college for all schools (starting with pre school). The Commission will release an annual report on every school to help parents and students make good decisions on what schools to enroll in and which to avoid and to pressure DPS and charter school operators to close their chronically failing schools.
What we have learned over the past decade is that schools matter in and off themselves. No matter what barriers Detroit kids bring to school, quality schools can get good student outcomes. We just need to make sure that far more students are enrolled in high quality schools. If we do that we can get far more Detroit kids to graduate from high school, enroll in college and have the foundation to get a college degree.
The report – which is definitely worth reading – is called Taking Ownership. This is the second big change in approach. Those of us who signed the report committed to implementing its recommendations no matter what. No more telling others what they should do, this is about making a difference ourselves. Of course we want those who authorize and operate schools to follow our recommendations. But , if they don’t, we aren’t waiting.
Also worth reading is this column by Stephen Henderson in the Free Press. Its the best summary of what this effort is all about.