When Roy Roberts became the emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools, he took on the nearly impossible challenge of turning around a system that wasn’t doing justice to the nearly 70,000 students currently enrolled in the district. However, instead of shying away from the challenge, Roberts took the proverbial bull by the horns and embarked on a major shake-up that is slated to occur during the next school year. While some are applauding Roberts’ efforts, others are concerned about what the changes will mean to students, teachers, and the neighborhoods that many of these schools call home.
School Closures Just the Beginning
From overcrowding in Detroit Public School classrooms to facing bankruptcy, the challenges abound for this Michigan school district. According to the Huffington Post, Roberts plans to close nine public schools next year and convert four more into charters in an effort to repair a broken system. This move is predicted to save Detroit Public Schools $7.5 million in annual operating costs – money that Roberts hopes to put towards educating children rather than maintaining empty classrooms.
"Rather than continue to support buildings that are far underutilized…we will consolidate,” Roberts was reported saying at Huffington Post. “We have been using an outdated educational model that we must discard,” Roberts added.
The Detroit Free Press reports that by this fall, Detroit Public Schools will be downsized to around 50,000 students – down from the nearly 70,000 currently in the school district and one-third of the district’s enrollment just a decade ago. Roberts is also hoping that many of the 800 to 1,000 teachers eligible for retirement will choose to take it at the end of this school year – reducing staffing and providing the district the ability to breathe new life into school faculty.
“If we aren’t bold in what we’re doing, we’re going to fail,” Roberts told the Detroit Free Press in another report. “I looked at major urban school districts across the country and everyone is failing or about two points different than we are. We’re not alone. But we’ve got to change things.”
This video from NBC News looks at the future of the Detroit Public Schools.
Schools Moving to the Education Achievement Authority
In addition to school closures, Roberts’ ambitious plan includes the transfer of 15 of the lowest-performing schools to the Education Achievement Authority. The EAA will be a separate school district for those schools that have shown three consecutive failing years in terms of performance, removing them from DPS jurisdiction entirely.
“Those 15 schools that we will name Thursday, the state will assume the responsibility for the education of all the kids…” Roberts told the Detroit Free Press. “We don’t know if the union will go over and be a part of the EAA yet…I can make the decision for them not to go to the EAA. The key will be: Can we have a union go to the EAA and have…a flexible agreement so that people can educate kids?”
When asked about the teachers who are currently working in those schools, Roberts responded, “We will have too many people, and a lot of people will get laid off. And EAA will end up hiring new people or hire people willing to come to work without a union.”
Seven more schools that have not been up to par will remain in DPS, ripe for a yearlong turnaround effort. According to Click on Detroit, this move will keep more dollars in the district, while separating out the handful of schools that appear to have the potential for improvement. Roberts explains that he wants to give these schools an additional two years to get their scores up to par on their own since they only have one year of poor performance documented thus far.
This video looks at the issue of Detroit's failing schools.
Parents Say Information about Changes Insufficient
Roberts and his team have traveled to many of the schools that will be involved in the changes to relay decisions regarding those schools. However, parents at many of those schools have complained that information is insufficient, and some are even considering leaving their neighborhood schools if their questions aren’t answered soon.
“They can’t tell us who’s going to be the principal or what staff is going over there,” Monique Baker McCormick, a parent of a student at Ludington Magnet Middle School, told Detroit Free Press. “If they could, there could be some comfort for parents. This is about the destruction of DPS…”
McCormick told Detroit Free Press that Ludington's parents were told the school would move into the same building as Langston Hughes Academy next year. However, she also said that she and other Ludington parents have threatened to leave Ludington if Roberts follows through with his moving plan.
“To me, it’s an experiment,” McCormick stated. “Why Ludington? Why attack something that works?”
Pamela Miller-Malone, a spokesman for EAA, attempted to explain some of the changes that will take place with the schools moving to EAA’s district, by stating to Detroit Free Press, “It’s a new approach to delivering educational programs and services with flexibility and autonomy. There’s a very deep-seated commitment to changing the culture and creating a culture of achievement.”
However, Miller-Malone’s explanation was not enough to pacify many of the parents concerned about how the changes in DPS would affect their children directly.
“That’s just educator-ese,” Shaton Berry, president of the Michigan PTA, told Detroit Free Press in response to Miller-Malone. “That’s not telling me what’s going to be going on in the school.”
“I need them to say how it is going to change things,” Berry added. “What’s going to be so transformational about this system? Does that mean each kid is going to get a laptop? What does this mean?”
Hopefully, the questions will be answered soon.
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