Detroit week in review

Week in review: Vittis take center stage as they encourage parents to help improve Detroit schools

PHOTO: via Twitter
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and wife Rachel Vitti, seen here at a past event in Florida, spoke at a special education forum in a Detroit church this week.

New Detroit schools chief Nikolai Vitti has been in the spotlight since coming to town. But at a forum in a Detroit church this week, his wife Rachel came first. She gave a moving talk about her frustration in trying to get proper tools, classroom help, and guidance for one of her dyslexic children when her family lived in Florida. Then her husband told parents, teachers, and other community members at the special education forum that he wants parents involved — and invited them to participate more fully with the city’s schools. At another forum this week, Vitti reiterated that engaging parents was one of his top priorities.

Also this week, teachers at a closed Detroit charter school are finally are getting their summer paychecks, thanks to some generous donors. Check out the rest of this week’s education news and then enjoy these last summer days before school starts!

— Julie Topping, editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

IT TAKES A VILLAGE: Vitti, who knows he is in the hot seat, told a forum gathered at a downtown community college that district schools “can be successful again.”  He called parents the key to rebuilding schools. And at a retreat in Ann Arbor, district leaders and board members discussed creating a strategic plan, starting with a series of meetings with Detroiters.

Even as inspiring talks and high-level discussions take place, the district is still short hundreds of teachers as the first day of school approaches. A second teacher hiring fair will be held this week.

Luring teachers into Detroit with discount housing could help rebuild the city’s middle-class, one think tank says. Its survey shows the number of families with children in Detroit has declined by 43 percent since 2000.

One commentator believes Vitti’s support for K-12 schools is an evenhanded approach to quality education.  “I’m for competition,” he said. “And I’m for traditional public education.”

COURT ARGUMENTS: Attorneys representing Detroit students in a literacy lawsuit dispute a local editorial’s claim that the suit requires “turn(ing) the schools over to the courts.”

SWEET PAYDAY: Donors made sure teachers at a recently closed charter school who were told they wouldn’t get paid got their summer paychecks after all.

HONEST RACE TALK: This blogger’s tips on talking to kids about race are useful anytime, not just after recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. And the best discussions happen when teachers are bold, courageous, and honest with kids, one university professor believes.

LABOR DAY ROUNDUP: While more Michigan schools opt to open before Labor Day, schools that have taken advantage of the waiver have struggled to get kids in the door before the holiday.    

A MATTER OF POLICY: The state has updated and submitted its ESSA plan to the U.S. Department of Education, this time with a more nuanced “transparent dashboard” instead of the A-F rankings that Gov. Rick Snyder supports.

TURNAROUND…NOT: A large study on school turnarounds shows they don’t help student learning, and schools with more students of color are more likely to be shut down.

IT’S GAME TIME: A Detroit area utility and the owner of the Detroit Pistons are pledging $1 million each to start a Flint Promise program for high school students to go to college. But to help every kid, they need more donors.  

THE BIG PAYBACK: A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Detroit schools after the board of education agreed to pay $28 million to a janitorial company.  

HIGH STAKES: Learn what you need to know as Michigan’s third-grade reading law takes effect. Then find your school’s third-grade reading scores.

STEM, ANYONE? A Michigan State University grant will help researchers design programs that put computers into high school physics classrooms. A new digital learning and competition platform coming to schools in Detroit encourages more students to enter STEM and advanced manufacturing fields.

EXTRA CREDIT: Schools and parents can use this online tool to help navigate back-to-school shopping. This teacher’s school was almost shut down by the state. And the Wayne County Family Aquatic Center will host a back-to-school enrollment fair with the Detroit district from 11-3 Saturday at Chandler Park on the city’s east side. Admission is free.


Detroit week in review

Week in review: The state’s year-round scramble to fill teaching jobs

Miss Michigan Heather Heather Kendrick spent the day with students at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science in Detroit

While much of the media attention has been focused this year on the severe teacher shortage in the main Detroit district, our story this week looks at how district and charter schools throughout the region are now scrambling year-round to fill vacant teaching jobs — an instability driven by liberal school choice laws, a decentralized school system and a shrinking pool of available teachers.

The teacher shortage has also made it difficult for schools to find substitutes as many are filling in on long-term assignments while schools try to fill vacancies. Two bills proposed in a state senate committee would make it easier for schools to hire retirees and reduce the requirements for certifying subs.  

Also, don’t forget to reserve your seat for Wednesday’s State of the Schools address. The event will be one of the first times in recent years when the leader of the city’s main district — Nikolai Vitti — will appear on the same stage as the leaders of the city’s two largest charter school authorizers. For those who can’t make it, we will carry it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

Have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The State of the Schools address will pair Vitti with the leaders of the schools he’s publicly vowed to put out of business, even as schools advocates say city kids could benefit if the leaders of the city’s fractured school system worked together to solve common problems.

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: The city’s teacher shortage mirrors similar challenges across the country but the problem in Detroit is exacerbated by liberal school choice policies that have forced schools to compete with each other for students and teachers.

Hiring efforts continue at Detroit’s main school district, which is planning another job fair. Head Start centers are also looking for teachers. Three new teachers talk about the challenges, rewards and obstacles of the classroom.

WHOSE MONEY IS IT? The state Senate sent a bill to the House that would allow charters to receive a portion of property tax hikes approved by voters. Those funds have historically gone only to traditional district schools.

UNITED THEY STAND: Teachers in this southwest Detroit charter school voted to join a union, but nationally, union membership for teachers has been falling for two decades.

COLLEGE AND CAREERS: A national foundation based in Michigan granted $450,000 to a major Detroit business coalition to help more students finish college.

High school seniors across the state will be encouraged to apply to at least one college this month. The main Detroit district meanwhile showed off a technical center that prepares youngsters and adults for careers in construction, plumbing and carpentry and other fields.  

STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT: A prominent news publisher explains why he told lawmakers he believes eliminating the state board of education is the right thing to do. An advocate urged Michigan to look to other states for K-12 solutions. And one local newspaper says the governor is on the right track to improving education in Michigan.

This think tank believes businesses should be more engaged in education debates.

LISTEN TO US: The newly elected president of a state teachers union says teachers just want to be heard when policy is being made. She wrote in a Detroit newspaper that it takes passion and determination to succeed in today’s classrooms.

A PIONEER: Funeral services for a trailblazing African American educator have been scheduled for Saturday.

Also, the mother-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died in her west Michigan home.

FARM-TO-SCHOOL:  A state program that provides extra money to school districts for locally grown produce has expanded to include more schools.

BETTER THAN AN APPLE: Nominate your favorite educator for Michigan Teacher of the Year before the 11:59 deadline tonight.

An Ann Arbor schools leader has been named the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by a state group of school administrators.

MYSTERY SMELL: The odor from a failed light bulb forced a Detroit high school to dismiss students early this week.

EXTRA CREDIT: Miss Michigan encouraged students at one Detroit school to consider the arts as they follow their dreams. The city schools foundation honored two philanthropic leaders as champions for education.

And high school students were inspired by a former college football player. 

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The target on the back of the state board of education

State lawmakers this week began a push to eliminate the state board of education and replace it with an appointed superintendent. But before anyone starts writing the board’s obituary, note that the controversial effort would require approval from two-thirds of the legislature and voters in a statewide voter referendum.

Detroit schools, meanwhile, continue to struggle with hiring enough teachers to fill classrooms. The main district has taken the unusual step of putting some counselors and assistant principals in classrooms. Leaders hope the short-term measure won’t interfere with meeting the district’s  ambitious goals.

Read on for more on these stories and the rest of the week’s school news. Also, mark your calendar for the city’s first State of the Schools address, which will be held on October 25. Seats are available for people who want to attend in person. For those who can’t make it, we will be carrying it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Senior Detroit Correspondent

In the district

Across the state

  • The proposal to get rid of an elected state school board won praise from one editor but got a mixed response from lawmakers during a hearing this week. Eliminating the board, which one lawmaker called “irrelevant,” would require amending the state Constitution.
  • A senate committee has approved a bill that would allow charter schools to get a cut of tax increases that have traditionally benefitted district schools.
  • Trained college grads who give high school students advice about getting into college are relieving pressure on school counselors.
  • A federal court will now consider the legal case filed by a state teachers union against a right-wing spy. Read the union’s complaint here.
  • One educational leader called on the state to develop a way to recruit and retain 100,000 qualified teachers who could serve low-income children in cities and rural communities.
  • A state commission has ruled that a union cannot force the firing of a public school teacher who resigned from the union and stopped paying dues.
  • Career and technical education is on the rise in Michigan — but many students who enroll in those programs don’t complete them.
  • A new survey shows Michigan voters support their local school districts — but are less sure about the quality of instruction across the state.
  • A suburban mom says her son got 8 years of English as a Second Language instruction even though he’s a native English-speaker.