At its core Michigan Future Schools and the broader Excellent Schools Detroit are designed to use the market place to reform schooling for Detroit children. State policy makes markets a viable reform strategy because, by and large, school funding follows the student. Whichever school a student enrolls in receives the state foundation grant plus in the case of lower income students federal funding. Something like $10,00 per student.
Up to now the urban education reform movement has been focused on the supply side: creating better schools. And in Detroit there has been lots of innovation. New charter schools, some new private schools, suburban school districts opening up to students from the City and even some new DPS schools most of which are open to students from across the City. Some of these choice schools are higher quality, some not.
But it turns out to have a market based strategy work you need to focus on the demand side as well. Good shoppers are essential. Market based reform can only work at scale if parents are active shoppers for schools – rather than just enrolling their children in the default district neighborhood school – and when they shop student achievement is at or near the top of the list of factors that determine which school they enroll their children in. At the moment it is pretty clear we don’t have enough of either.
While we try to learn more about how to help parents become better shoppers – and we are basically starting from scratch – Excellent Schools Detroit has started to put in place the building blocks of a demand side strategy. First with the publication of a report card on school results. The new report card includes not just schools located in the City but suburban schools with a substantial proportion of their students from the City. (By the way the suburban schools are a mixed bag as well when it comes to student achievement. Some pretty good, some pretty bad.) And then a series of shoppers fairs that are only open to the best schools from the report card. These will provide parents with an in person opportunity to learn about the better schools open to Detroit students and to do some comparison shopping. More information on both the report card and shoppers fair can be obtained here.
This is a whole new way of thinking about school reform. Relying on markets, not politics to connect Detroit children to quality schools. It will take some time to learn how to use markets to do this at scale. But it is a real opportunity – quite likely the best – to insure that every school age child in Detroit attends a quality school.