Behind the Headline: Detroit schools’ decline and teacher sickout reflect bad economy and demographic shifts

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Detroit schools’ decline and teacher sickout reflect bad economy and demographic shifts
Los Angeles Times | 5/15/16

Behind the Headline
Fixing Detroit’s Broken School System
Education Next | Winter 2015

ednext-ototn-may16-detroit-latimesEarlier this month, teachers in Detroit staged a sick-out, shutting down 97% of the district’s schools.

In an article in the L.A. Times this weekend, Joy Resmovits looks at the financial pressures facing the school district that led to the sick out.

How did things get so bad?

The distrust and financial insecurity that exploded this month followed years of buildup — a mounting deficit, dramatically declining enrollment and management by one state-appointed official after another. The problems paralleled Detroit’s overall downturn as it lost population and jobs as industry declined.

An article in the Winter 2015 issue of Education Next looked at some ideas for “Fixing Detroit’s Broken School System.”

Robin Lake, Ashley Jochim, and Mike DeArmond note

Detroit is a powerful illustration of what happens when no one takes responsibility for the entire system of publicly supported schools in a city. Parents struggle to navigate their many, mostly low-performing options, and providers face at best weak incentives to improve academic quality. As a result, large numbers of failing district and charter schools continue to operate.

Still, hope is not lost. Many parent groups, nonprofits, and foundations in the city are working to step in where government has failed. Civic groups and leaders are helping parents learn what qualities to look for in schools, working to create high-quality schools in neighborhoods with the greatest concentrations of school-age children, asking schools to voluntarily agree to common enrollment deadlines and application processes, and putting pressure on charter school authorizers to close low-performing schools.

But to move forward, Detroit will need more than dedicated advocates and motivated parents. It will need strong civic leadership, a plan for investment and action, and creative problem solving. It will need to be strategic about what’s required to solve these complex problems, but also opportunistic about when and how they are solved. And if it’s to last, the plan needs to be owned and acted on by the community.

That plan will have to address negligent charter authorizers and persistently low-performing charter schools, and identify novel ways to build and attract high-quality school-management organizations. It will also have to come up with strategies for restructuring or replacing most of the schools run by the school district and the state-run EAA.

— Education Next

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