Snyder builds DPS a new model and hope
MACKINAC ISLAND — So, is DPS dead?
Gov. Rick Snyder had an answer Thursday to the simple but daunting question posed in a Free Press story earlier this week.
It was yes. And no.
And despite the inherent tension in that reply, I think Snyder — who just appointed a second emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools — might be pushing the city toward its best possible hope for having sustainable, high-performing options in public education.
Yes, DPS is dead in the sense that the current system is insolvent and unsustainable. The system is still hemorrhaging students and, as a result, millions of dollars. And no one could effect the kind of dramatic cuts to match falling revenues without destroying the district’s ability to deliver fundamental services to children .
But no, Snyder also said, public education is not dead in Detroit. Far from it. What he hopes former GM executive Roy Roberts will do as EFM is redefine and, as a result, revitalize it outside the restrictive framework of the old-style school district. Encouraging innovation In Snyder’s ideal, all schools in Detroit would be created around sets of individual principles and ideas, by committed groups of educators, parents, community groups and whoever else wants to get involved. They’d all be “charter schools,” in the sense of being constituted around the models they chose. Some might be existing public schools. Some could be charters. They’d have remarkable freedom to implement their models, try new things, pursue innovation. But the key is that they’d be held accountable for student performance — either locally under a new school governance structure or by the state, if that’s where they were chartered. Snyder says the education reform plans that he announced last month will be tough on schools that operate under the state’s charter law, and if they don’t deliver, “they can lose their charters.” Focus on results This is what Snyder means when he talks about creating a “system of schools” to replace Detroit’s school system. He’s describing something that’s focused much more on results than on governance. It’s a system that would not look much like what the city has now. There are already some promising examples — the schools that were taken over by the United Way in 2008; the new public charters announced by DPS last week. But growing such models to serve all the city’s children is more than a difference of scale; it’s also a question of substance. There is still very little market incentive for anyone to take on responsibility for educating the city’s poorest and most isolated children. This plan also depends heavily on Snyder being successful in changing how the state evaluates, rewards and metes out consequences for schools. Michigan does an awful job of that right now. If he can work through the kinks, Snyder’s vision could offer real hope for public education in Detroit. And at this point, it’s the only hope I see on the horizon. • STEPHEN HENDERSON IS EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR FOR THE FREE PRESS. CONTACT HIM ATSHENDERSON600@FREEPRESS.COM , OR AT 313-222-6659.
Snyder: DPS may need to split
Empower schools, he says
MACKINAC ISLAND — Detroit Public Schools might be better off as “a system of schools” rather than a single, large entity run by top-down management, Gov. Rick Snyder told the Free Press on Thursday. Snyder, who appointed retired GM executive Roy Roberts as the emergency manager for DPS, said the district needs a radical overhaul — but, he said, it’s up to Roberts to enact changes. “The nature of the district needs to change,” Snyder said. “Structurally, it’s a failing format.” Snyder spoke to Free Press reporters and editors during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference. His comments were among several at the conference that focused on how to better educate Michigan students. Snyder said a new format would not necessarily convert Detroit schools to charter schools, but rather have them be managed like charter schools, with more autonomy. He said the school board could focus on measuring academic results instead of dictating curriculums and school-by-school management. “You need to empower the schools more, rather than having a command-and-control structure of the district,” he said. “How do you give the administrator in that school and the teachers a team? You make it more entrepreneurial and innovative. “It’s like they’re a business unit, and they’re there to help their kids grow. Give them the resources to succeed, and then, how do you hold them accountable?” Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, spoke at the conference and said public schools’ success rests solely with teachers, who should be fired if their students don’t go on to college. “If you get paid to educate a child and you cannot do it, then you should probably go into a different business,” he said. Harlem Children’s Zone takes a holistic approach to education, helping families in a 100-block area of Harlem so that children are prepared to succeed in school. More communities, like Detroit, need to adopt the model, Canada said. Canada said business owners should have a vested interest in helping produce better schools because eventually, they’re going to have to pick from the talent pool educated in public schools. In another forum Thursday, the Excellent Schools Detroit group talked about creating excellent schools and recruiting great employees. Their goal for 2020 is to graduate 90% of their students, with 90% of those students enrolling in college without remedial classes. The Michigan Future Schools Accelerator soon will open three high schools in Detroit: the Carson School of Science and Medicine, which is affiliated with the Detroit Medical Center; Detroit College Preparatory, and the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. The schools, funded with $800,000 each in foundation and grant dollars, will operate with no more than 500 students per school. Teachers will be hired from an open pool, instead of from a seniority list, and each school must have a counselor and a college coach who can help students after they graduate. “And if the kids are off-track, it’s the educators who will have to change,” said Lou Glazer, president of the program.