Michigan schools have gotten scrutiny from across the country this week after President-elect Donald Trump nominated local philanthropist Betsy DeVos to be his education secretary.
So it’s a little surprising to hear a charter school leader say regulations are standing in her way. But that’s exactly the critique coming from the co-founder of Detroit’s newest charter school, Detroit Prep, who says in our latest story that state rules could stop her from enrolling a diverse student body. Her workaround: enroll students in a way that critics call “exclusive” and “sneaky.”
“I think we’re failing our kids if we allow all kids to sit in rooms with kids that only look like them and that are from the same background so if people think we’re going about it in a bad way, I welcome that feedback because we want to hear all perspectives, good and bad.”
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— Kyle Smitley, co-founder, Detroit Prep
On DeVos, the Michigan philanthropist vaulted to a national stage:
- Read this to understand what you need to know about DeVos and why it matters that Trump chose her to lead the federal education department. Hint: She loves vouchers and hates the Common Core.
- The pick inspired criticism of Michigan’s charter schools, with the New York Times and others making the connection between DeVos and the troubling state of the charter sector. “As one of the architects of Detroit’s charter school system, she is partly responsible for what even charter advocates acknowledge is the biggest school reform disaster in the country,” an economics professor wrote.
- Right-leaning publications argued with — and fact-checked — that characterization. But left-leaning news sites sounded the alarm. “How much could Trump’s education secretary damage public schools?” one asked, then offered this answer: “Just look at Detroit.”
- Closer to home, the Detroit News lavished praise on DeVos, calling her a “powerful advocate for education innovation.” Its editorial page editor said the complaints about her are largely coming from teachers unions. The Free Press editorial page has been notably silent on the DeVos news, aside from republishing a September column about how the DeVos clan spent big to stop lawmakers from adding oversight for Detroit charter schools.
- Nationally, DeVos could reshape decades-old education policy debates, as old enemies ally themselves against her vision.
- Individual states are beginning to grapple with the possible future under DeVos, too. Here are reports from New York, Tennessee, and Colorado. Plus, what you should know about the Indiana school voucher program that could be a model for DeVos.
Right to read?
Detroit school children have no fundamental right to literacy, according to Gov. Rick Snyder’s attorneys. While Snyder says courts should recognize the “importance of literacy,” he argues the state isn’t required to give every child a decent education. “Literacy is a component or particular outcome of education, not a right granted to individuals by the Constitution.”
The governor’s arguments came in response to the Detroit schools lawsuit, which claims that deplorable school conditions in the city have violated children’s Constitutional rights. Lawyers for the seven children who brought the suit objected to Snyder’s lawsuit response. “Each day that the state chooses to fight this lawsuit is another day of education lost that may never be recovered,” one lawyer said. “Would the state try to wash its hands of this matter if the students suffering were not children of color from low-income families?”
The Detroit News says the lawsuit put the state “in the awkward position of arguing that students don’t have a right to literacy,” adding “but that doesn’t’ mean Snyder and education officials are indifferent to the quality of students’ education.” The paper called on the state to improve local schools but said, “Trying to force better outcomes through the courts … isn’t the way to do this.” (A local radio host disagrees.)
In Detroit schools:
- A new charter school is Detroit’s most diverse public school. Here’s why it might not stay that way.
- The Detroit Promise scholarship program has expanded to include free access to four-year colleges for every Detroit high school grad with good grades and strong test scores. Officials say Detroit is now the largest city in the country to offer scholarships to all of its graduates, with kids who don’t qualify for the four-year scholarships entitled to a free ride at local community colleges.
- A Detroit teachers union leader got a major raise.
- A yearlong effort by the Free Press to listen to the challenges facing Detroit children included claims from students that they haven’t been properly prepared for college. “DPS did not prepare me for the ACT,” one recent Cody High School grad said. “It was some stuff on it that I knew, but some of that stuff, I know for sure I was never taught.”
- The paper is highlighting programs that could benefit Detroit kids, including a curriculum that helps young children learn social-emotional and problem-solving skills.
- A local foundation is giving Detroit’s main school district a quarter million dollars to help the district grow and harvest vegetables to serve in school meals.
- Stalled plans to build a large urban agriculture park on the site of the shuttered Kettering High School in Detroit have picked up steam.
- Wayne County taxpayers will start feeling the pinch from the school tax increase when tax bills go out this week.
- A network of charter schools in Detroit and Dearborn requires students to complete a career-focused internship and senior project in order to graduate.
- A local advocate called for expanding after-school programs to help low-income kids in Detroit.
- Two local philanthropists are funding a program at a Detroit school that helps introduce children to yoga, health, fitness and nutrition.
- A local non-profit executive says Detroit needs to do two things to fix its schools.
- The Detroit Public Schools Community District is planning a parade on Monday to toast the high school football teams that won the state’s Division I and Division 2 championships — the first time in state history that both winners are from the same district.
Across the state:
- An effort to force new teachers out of state pension plans is moving forward in Lansing despite testimony that the move will cost billions of dollars.
- In a state with low reading scores, this west Michigan effort shows promise.
- A study of charter schools in MIchigan finds they use the same educational practices as the district schools they compete with.
- A Michigan children’s advocate says the only way to raise children’s reading scores is to help improve literacy for their parents.
- One school choice advocate called on the state to “revamp its school rating system” to better help parents make decisions about where to enroll their children. The state, he wrote, “needs a fairer measuring tool that doesn’t punish schools for enrolling a lot of kids with learning struggles.”
- This “field trip on wheels” will bring farm science to Michigan schools.
- A Royal Oak middle school student who placed a noose in a school bathroom has been disciplined and the school has brought on extra social workers and counselors. The district superintendent says the district “will not tolerate intimidation, harassment or bullying.”
- A suburban high school teacher is working with students to create a museum to honor his school’s history.
- An elite suburban private school is partnering with MIT to boost student learning.