What’s new at the accelerator

I haven’t written for quite awhile about our high school accelerator – Michigan Future Schools. But we have been busy! Just as a reminder the accelerator is designed to help start at scale new quality high schools serving students from the city of Detroit without regard to governance. We select schools to work with through an annual competition that is open to traditional public, charter or even private schools from across the country. The ultimate goal is to help launch 35 new high schools over eight years.

All the schools we support are open enrollment schools. They must accept all students who apply. The schools will open with a 9th grade and add one grade per year. At full enrollment they will serve no more than 500. They all agree to our student outcome standards: at least 85% of each school’s students will graduate from high school; of those graduates, at least 85% will enroll in college; of those who enroll in college, at least 85% will earn a two or four year degree.

Our first grantee – DEPSA – opened a year ago with a 9th grade class of around 100. They add a 10th grade this year. Three other grantees open this week with their initial ninth grade class: Detroit Collegiate Prep, Ben Carson School of Science and Medicine and the Jalen Rose  Leadership Academy. Two DPS and two charter schools. We are confident that all are positioned to deliver effective teaching and learning.

Our fifth grantee – Cornerstone Health High School – has delayed its opening until at least 2012. It has not yet secured a facility. Facility financing has turned out to be the biggest challenge we have faced in helping start new high schools.

In addition to the new schools, we will announce soon three new grantees scheduled to open new schools in the fall of 2012. We also have been working hard on building a support system that will increase the chance that our grantees meet our ambitious student achievement standards. Those supports will include:

• Where necessary, get charters. MFS has contracted with the Mt. Pleasant based National Charter Schools Institute to provide technical assistance on securing a charter.

• For charter schools, assist with facilities financing. MFS has contracted with Clark Hill to provide the equivalent of Facilities 101 for each of it grantees that must secure and finance facilities. Ultimately we need to go beyond training on how to finance schools in the current environment. We need to develop new tools for financing charter schools.

• Improve student achievement. Over the coming year MFS will build the capacity to assist its schools in meeting the goal of students entering college without remediation. Nationally this remains the biggest challenge. (We will release soon a research report on the topic.) The better reform high schools here are getting high graduation and college attendance rates, but far too many of their graduates are not academically ready to do college level work.

• Help attract students to the schools it funds. MFS has begun a large scale quantitative and qualitative market research project to learn better how Detroit parents decide which schools to send their children to. Results are expected in October. The assumption has been that if you create quality schools, students will enroll. That is no longer the experience. It is now clear that we need to pay attention to the demand side (parents as shoppers) as well. Or we run the risk of opening schools that do not get to full enrollment. Kim Trent has joined the MFS staff to design and implement a strategy to ensure that MFS schools get to full enrollment.

• Prepare teachers to work in small urban high schools. MFS, through a competitive process, made a grant to the School of Education and Human Services at the University of Michigan Flint to develop and implement a new program for training teachers. The program will be a partnership between the university and six small Detroit area high schools. The teacher candidates will be trained in the high schools, rather than at the university.

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