Update on Detroit: A System Still in Strife

Governor Creates Separate District for Low-Performing Schools
Originally published in the summer 2011 edition of The Leader

Detroit is working hard to get the American Dream back into education, but there still are many obstacles standing in the way. Since the spring edition of The Leader, in which the situation regarding Detroit was profiled, several important updates have occurred relating to Detroit and its education system.

Roy Roberts has replaced Robert Bobb as the new emergency financial manger (EFM). Bobb’s contract had been extended until June, but Republican Gov. Rick Snyder named Roberts the new EFM in May for a one-year term. Roberts is a former General Motors executive who served as group vice president for the North American vehicle sales, service and marketing division.

Snyder wasn’t done after naming Roberts the new EFM. On June 20, the governor announced a new, statewide plan for the lowest 5 percent of performing schools: all Michigan schools deemed underachieving will be placed in a new district called Education Achievement System (EAS). By the fall of 2012, the EAS will overhaul and absorb more than 40 struggling schools.

Gov. Rick Snyder recently announced that a new school district, called the Education Achievement System (EAS), will absorb more than 40 of the lowest-performing schools in Michigan.

The EAS will be under the direction of Roberts and will not have a school board or a central administration. Roberts will be charged with creating and publishing the criteria that will be used to determine which schools are selected for EAS, and will lead an executive committee that will provide oversight for the new district. Principals of the schools will hire the teachers and handle the day-to-day operations with their staff.

In addition to the creation of EAS, Detroit should expect to see more charter schools. In an uncanny resemblance to former Chicago Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010, Roberts plans to turn 50 DPS schools into charter schools in an effort titled Renaissance 2012. The plan has been marketed as “a transformative plan to engage proven charter school operators and create a portfolio of outstanding schools.”

Many have voiced strong opinions about the chartering effort and the state’s complete takeover of the education system. Barbara Haug, a teacher at Carstens Elementary in Detroit, opposes Renaissance 2012 because she thinks charter schools reject struggling students.

“They get the kids, they get the cash, and then a little bit after that [the students are] suddenly not a good fit anymore,” said Haug in a May 31 National Public Radio piece.

On July 13, Roberts named Doug Ross director of the DPS Charter Schools Office. Ross reports directly to Roberts starting in September and is responsible for the implementation of Renaissance 2012. Ross is a former U.S. assistant secretary of labor and co-founder and CEO of New Urban Learning, a charter school company that has opened seven charter schools in Detroit.

Detroit also is experiencing more budget cuts. A 10 percent wage cut is planned for all DPS employees, along with the termination of 853 staff positions and the selling of $200 million in bonds. These measures took effect July 1 as part of the attempt to trim the district’s $327 budget deficit for the 2011–2012 year.

The DPS budget cuts are based on the reduced number of students, an entirely different problem in itself. Since last year, the number of students enrolled in DPS dropped from 73,000 to 66,360. A decade ago, the student population in Detroit was 162,000.