Detroit schooling chaos

Good article in the Atlantic on Detroit schools entitled Detroit’s Education Catastrophe. Worth reading!

The article describes the consequences of an unregulated education marketplace with little or no quality standards. You end up with too many schools chasing too few students. Which leaves all education operators unstable––both public school districts and charters. And that instability contributes to low quality teaching and learning.

As the article explores this is the status quo that opponents of the proposed Detroit Education Commission want to maintain. That version of a reset for Detroit is at the core of the bill the state House of Representatives has passed. The Senate version of a reset includes the Commission as a mechanism for matching supply and demand and increasing quality standards.

If you listen to the advocates for an unregulated marketplace model for Detroit education you hear two arguments. One ideological: markets work better than government. And two that charters in Detroit are outperforming district schools. They contend the system of authorizing charters is working.

Its hard to imagine anyone reading the Atlantic article and concluding the current system is working. The Atlantic writes:

The scope of the problems plaguing Detroit schools—both traditional district schools and charters—is almost unfathomable. According to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 4 percent of Detroit’s eighth-grade students can read and perform math at grade level, the lowest rate among the nation’s big cities. Schools aren’t located where families need them, and campuses often open and close with no coordination or notice. Over the last six years, most schools in the city have either opened or closed—or both. In one neighborhood in the city’s southwest quadrant, home to a large Latino population and a number of industrial zones, a dozen schools opened or closed in the span of 18 months. And when a parent shows up to find a child’s classroom abandoned, good luck finding a new one. There are more than 200 schools with roughly 50 different enrollment processes and almost no standard for performance.

As we have explored previously (most recently here and here), the data on student achievement in Detroit charter schools also does not support the claim that the current system working is for charter schools students.

As the Atlantic article makes clear the notion that charter school students in Detroit would be disadvantaged by the creation of an entity that has responsibility for balancing supply and demand and for imposing higher student achievement standards on all school operators is not supported by the evidence. Both charter school and public school students––and their parents––are being served badly by the current system.

Around the country the urban charter school networks that are getting the kind of student achievement at scale that we all want are almost exclusively operating in states and cities with far more regulated marketplaces than Michigan and Detroit. Most in places with a single, or very few, authorizer(s) that balances supply and demand and with higher quality standards that guide opening, closing and expansion decisions.

Every time I write about charters I feel the need to remind readers that Michigan Future, Inc. is a long time supporters of charter schools. Our Michigan Future Schools initiative provided funding to help launch nine new charter high schools in the city of Detroit. And we continue to support six Detroit charter high schools.

We continue to believe that charters offer the best opportunity for breakthrough gains in student achievement. But that potential is largely unrealized in Detroit. Its become clear to us that the current policy environment––where no one is responsible for balancing supply and demand and with very low quality standards––is a major impediment to getting the kind of breakthrough gains in student achievement that are occurring in cities across the country, but not in Detroit.


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