Cynical Synapse

Sun, 13 Dec 2009

Education—Time to Walk the Talk

Filed under: Behavior, Budget, Detroit, Economy, Education, Government, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 7:57 pm

Empty classroom

I’ve long felt the solution to Detroit’s problems—and any urban core, for that matter—is to ensure quality education. That’s the foundation for a quality workforce and productive members of society. Thus, money spent on education is money invested in the future of society. This point came to a head Tuesday with the announcement Detroit Public Schools test scores were the lowest ever recorded on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, a prestigious nationwide program.

In fairness, this is the first year Detroit Public Schools participated in the NAEP tests. But that doesn’t meant they’ve done well with Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) tests, either.

Robert Bobb calls scores an academic crisis

There’s no doubt Detroit Public Schools need immediate help. Detroit’s NAEP scores “are only slightly better than what one would expect by chance as if the kids had never gone to school and simply guessed at the answers,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban school districts. Casserly added:

Only a complete overhaul of this school system and how students are taught should be permitted at this point, because the results … signal a complete failure of the grown-ups who have been in charge of the schools in the past.

Detroit schools emergency financial manager Robert Bobb blamed principals and a failing curriculum. Noting that two action plans have largely been ignored by the Detroit School Board, he added:

If we had implemented 60 percent, 70 percent or 80 percent of what’s in those plans, there wouldn’t be a need right now for an emergency financial manager.

The problem goes beyond Detroit Public Schools and its school board, however. Successful schools have a lot of parent involvement, which Emergency Financial Manager Bobb2 is calling for. Detroit Parent Network Executive Director Sharlonda Buckman yelled, “they can’t read; they can’t count!” at a public meeting, saying parents should be irate their tax dollars aren’t educating their kids. The challenge for Detroit is parents who may be functionally illiterate. Nonetheless, parental involvement is a key to success.

Dazed and Confused

While some would say Detroit’s corruption is the problem, there’s no doubt Bobb2 has cracked down on corruption in Detroit Public Schools. Thus, throwing more money at the problem isn’t necessarily the solution. In fact, based on data from National Center for Education Statistics, Detroit Public Schools spends 50% of its funds on instruction in 2007, ranking 491st in the state. That’s above the average of 46% spent by Rochester, Pontiac, and Plymouth-Canton. It’s more than Ann Arbor’s 39% and Royal Oak’s 33%. Detroit ties with Wayne-Westland and is just below Hazel Park, Bloomfield Hills, and Dearborn at 52%. So the problem is not a question of money. Rather, it’s a question of commitment to the children.

Gov. Granholm (D) and Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford) both claim education is an important issue and vital to Michigan’s future. Yet both rolled to education funding cuts by Michigan’s Republican Senate. In fact, Granholm cut even more. How does that square with education, especially higher (college) education, as the solution to Michigan’s future relevance? Looks like the Democrats don’t truly believe, to me.

Still, Michigan—well, at least the Senate—is hustling to cash in on some $400 million in Federal funding. To date, the Senate has passed four school reform bills, all largely along party lines. These include:

  • S. 0925—Public school academies: 23-12-2 (For: R-21, D-2; Opposed: R-4, D-9; Excused: R-1, D-1)
  • S. 0965—Alternative teacher certification: 36-0-2 (For: R-25, D-11; Opposed: 0; Excused: R-1, D-1)
  • S. 0981—Restructure failing schools: 28-8-2 (For: R-22, D-6; Opposed: R-3, D-5; Excused: R-1, D-1)
  • S. 0981&msash;Collective bargaining in failing schools: 23-12-12 (For: R-21, D-2; Opposed: R-4, De-9; Excused: R-1, D-1)

As for Michigan’s House, they have voted on two measures so for.

  • S. 0981—Restructure failing schools: 78-28 (For: R-22, D-56; Opposed: R-21, D-7)
  • H. 5596—Alternative teacher certification: 79-27 (For: R-41, D-38; Opposed: R-25, D-2)

So, the Senate has approved 4 measures to secure additional Federal funds while the House has only acted on one of them. What’s up with that? I thought the Dems were the pro-people, pro-education party. Never mind that Gov. Granholm cut per pupil funding as part of Michigan’s budget fiasco. Never mind that Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford, agreed to Senate cuts to the budget, including education.

If we’re going to fix education, especially in Detroit, politicians need to stop the showmanship. Instead, they need to walk the talk, putting the money, oversight, and attention where it needs to be. Shell games and partisan politics won’t cut it any more.


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