Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ain't No April's Fool Joke...Detroit's Education System In A Quagmire...

Drastic Changes Planned At 5 Schools
Staff Ousters, Smaller Sizes Expected

A day before Detroit Public Schools' high school graduation rates were found to once again be the worst in U.S. big cities, district officials announced plans to drastically reconfigure five schools and remove all teachers, administrators and staff there.

The changes were greeted Monday with surprise and some tears at the schools. The reforms, a precursor to more changes in the district, are the first phase of what is being called the Turn Around School plan.

The high school campuses -- Osborn, Henry Ford and Cody, as well as the Cody ninth grade academy -- will each be split into three to four new, independent specialized schools. Each new school of 450 students will have its own focus, such as technology or engineering, a new staff and administration and, possibly, sports teams.

The dramatic changes are legal under federal law, but rarely undertaken. Vetal Elementary will also be restructured in the same way.

Superintendent Connie Calloway said educators, parents and stakeholders are invited to a community meeting Monday at Cody to give ideas for the restructuring. There is no time line for implementing the new programs and the plan is still preliminary, but Calloway said she hopes to have one of the new campuses operating by fall.

"National studies show that students perform better in smaller, more personalized settings," Calloway said. "Models in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Providence and elsewhere are working and give hope for this initiative."

Each of the high schools in the plan has graduation rates below state and national averages. America's Promise Alliance was to release a report today in Washington that cited DPS's graduation rate at 24.9%, the worst among the nation's largest 50 cities.

It marked the third year in a row that researchers have given Detroit the dubious distinction. The suburbs of Detroit had a graduation rate of 75%, according to the report.

The report, compiled by Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, estimated the 2007 graduation rate based upon the number of students who were in ninth grade in 2003-04.

"The sad thing is that a young person born in a large city today has about a 50-50 chance of graduating. In Detroit, that's more like a 25% chance," said Marguerite Kondracke, president and chief executive officer of America's Promise.

The report's findings didn't surprise Kimberly Bishop, whose two daughters are in the ninth and 12th grades at Detroit's Henry Ford High School.

"I think there's not enough support from the staff," Bishop said. "And if we had more parent involvement, I think that has a lot to do with it as well."

School board President Carla Scott said the district expects teachers in the targeted schools to land at other schools in the district, but the principals could lose their jobs.

Teachers learned of the plan Monday. At Cody High School, seventh hour was canceled Monday, and teachers instead attended a meeting with Assistant Superintendent Sharon Appling.

They were told they must form committees, and develop a plan for a new school within the school. In order to stay at the school, they will have to sell themselves and their plan to the new administrators.

Current administrators will be reassigned to different buildings -- they will not return to their current school. Teachers being transferred away from the schools will have the opportunity to reapply to return.

Principals' contracts end at the end of the school year. If the district wants to keep them, then officials will offer them another contract.

The Turn Around School plan coincides with the governor's small schools initiative. Gov. Jennifer Granholm has asked the Legislature to endorse a plan to create the 21st Century Schools Fund, which would allow schools that enroll more than 800 students and miss federal standards for two years or more to create small high schools of about 400 students.

The schools to be restructured are, for now, being called: the New Schools at Cody, the New Schools at Cody 9, the New Schools at Henry Ford, the New Schools at Osborn and the New Schools at Vetal.

The No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001 allows districts to restructure schools that fail to meet standards for six or more years, including replacing staff. After four years of failure, a school must come up with restructuring plans. Most of the city's high schools have failed to meet federal annual yearly progress standards since the law's inception.

Calloway said these schools were selected because they are in areas densely populated with school-age children. Some educators and parents said they believed the plan is an attempt to create schools that will attract more students to the shrinking district. DPS enrollment could fall below 100,000 this fall, which would open the door for the creation of more charter schools, a major competitor for students.

Demographer Kurt Metzger, research director for United Way of Southeast Michigan, was baffled that DPS targeted the population around Ford and Vetal on the west side.

"I'm not sure what their current student body is, but in terms of the neighborhood itself, no it doesn't wash," Metzger said. "The northeast section ... the southwestern part of the city or along the Dearborn borders, those areas are growing in terms of kids."

Detroit is not the only district seeking to reboot failing high schools, the Michigan Department of Education said.

"Today's large, impersonal high schools were designed for a different era and a different economy and are leaving far too many young people behind," MDE spokeswoman Jan Ellis said. "Smaller high schools like those just proposed by both the Detroit and Lansing Public School districts have been shown to keep more students engaged, interested and attending school."

Contact CHASTITY PRATT at 313-223-4537 or cpratt@freepress.com.

No comments: