the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy

We are proud investors in the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy (JRLA). It is one of seven new open enrollment high schools our Michigan Future Schools initiative has chosen to make grants to from more than 40 applicants over the past three years.

In large part because of his celebrity, Rose has generated lots of national interest in the school. Most noticeably a feature in the Wall Street Journal. Worth reading. Rose deserves the accolades. He has put his own time, money and reputation on the line to improve the lives of kids growing up in his hometown. We need more successful Detroiters to be as committed as him to Detroit.

A lot of the coverage of JRLA is written from the perspective of Detroit Public Schools are awful, charter schools are the answer. For example see the feature on Rose and the school from the Mackinac Center. As we covered in a previous post the data does not support that conclusion. Yes, most DPS schools have abysmal student achievement, but so do most charter schools serving Detroit students.

The data for ninth graders entering JRLA from charter middle schools illustrate how far charter schools have to go to earn the reputation of being the answer to low student achievement in Detroit. 47 of the incoming JRLA students from charter middle schools took the Explore test (developed by and aligned with the ACT college entrance exam). Of the 47, 5 were performing at grade level in math and 14 in reading. The average reading score was 13.1 with a score of 15 indicating 8th grade mastery. So on average the students entering JRLA from charter schools were reading at something like the 6th grade level. In math, far worse. The average score was 12.4 with a score of 17 indicating 8th grade mastery. So on average the students entering JRLA from charter schools were doing math at something like the 4th grade level. Not exactly charter schools are the answer. Far more like they are the problem too.

A more accurate description of schooling in Detroit is that most school operators – DPS, traditional public school districts serving Detroit students other than DPS, charters and private schools – are not effectively delivering the kind of teaching and learning needed to keep Detroit kids on track to success in college and careers. For most, not even close.

The hopeful news is that there are some in each category of schools that are succeeding. At Michigan Future Schools we want to work with those like JRLA – no matter what their form of governance – who are committed to getting high student achievement. There is no guarantee that JRLA – at the moment they are experiencing some not unexpected growing pains – or any of the other schools we have invested in will meet our ambitious student achievement goals. But if they do, it will be because of a set of characteristics that have little to do with whether they are a traditional public school or public charter. And far more to do with the quality of the educators, a commitment to the whole child rather than just teaching content and an acceptance by the educators that if the students are off track it is the educators, not the kids, who have to change.

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