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Detroit's children continue to do worse in schools under state control

Here are links to two charts that underlie this guest column:
http://www.bit.ly/P70Hq9 and http://www.bit.ly/1dHguqA. The data in both charts is taken from the Michigan Department of Education MEAP website.

Reader Comment:A major issue that isn't included in this column involves the delivery of instruction in EEA schools. Students are forced to be on laptops using a computer program called Buzz for most of the school day. Some schools don't have any books. This means big money for the proprietors of Buzz, but goes against methods proven by research to be effective with urban students such as Direct Instruction and Collaborative Inquiry. The EAA also takes over school buildings paid for with local tax dollars which is an obvious unreasonable seizure of property. The MI House wants to let the EAA take over more schools across the state. Be aware.

by Tom Pedroni

A year ago, I watched in disbelief as the emergency manager of the moment, Roy Roberts, declared on NBC's nationally broadcast Education Nation Detroit Summit that Detroit Public Schools had surpassed the Michigan average in 14 of 18 MEAP categories.

As I dug through the MEAP results on the Michigan Department of Education website that day -- confirming that DPS students had scored behind the state average in all 18 tested categories, typically by 20 percentage points or more -- I made a discovery that I had not anticipated: in most categories, since 2009, Detroit̢۪s children in third through eighth grade (the grades in which all students are tested in reading and math) had fallen even farther behind their state peers. That year (2009) was the year that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared Detroit "ground zero" for education reform, and the state once again took away local democratic control of Detroit's schools.

I was particularly troubled that, since 2009, the youngest children taking the test -- third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders — had declined the most. Although already so far behind their statewide peers, Detroit's youngest test-takers had somehow lost even more ground.

Another year has passed. Has state-imposed emergency management now finally turned the corner with Detroit's public schools?

The new MEAP data, released Feb. 28, reveal that in both reading and math, Detroit's children have fallen even further behind their state peers. Somehow, in 10 of the 12 grade-level math and reading MEAP tests, Detroit's children under state control in DPS and the EAA have lost even more ground this past year.

Fourth-graders in Detroit's state-managed schools actually progressed marginally in reading relative to their Michigan peers, bringing the proficiency gap down by 0.8 points to 29.5 percentage points. But in every other tested grade -- third, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth -- they fell even further behind in reading. In math, Detroit̢۪s sixth-grade students gained marginally on their Michigan peers (by 0.3 points) and are now only 27.7 percentage points behind. But they lost even more ground to their statewide peers in all the other tested grades -- third, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth.

When the academic ground that Detroit students have lost to the Michigan average this past year is added to the previous losses since 2009, the fruits of state takeover, in all their desiccated glory, are plain to see.

Students in DPS and EAA schools have declined precipitously relative to their state peers in every tested grade in reading, third through eighth. In third grade reading, the proficiency gap has widened by 7.3 points to 28.2; it widened 2.1 points in fourth grade, 1.7 points in fifth grade, 3.2 points in sixth grade, 3.8 points in seventh grade, and 4.7 in eighth grade.

In math, although students gained marginally on their state peers in sixth through eighth grades, students plummeted relative to their state peers in third, fourth, and fifth grade. In third grade, the math proficiency gap increased by 5.2 points to 26.6; in fourth grade it increased by 6.8 points to 29.2; and in fifth grade it increased by 8.0 points to 30.9.

For DPS and EAA students under state control, another year of educational possibility has been stolen.

We know what works in urban education reform. Small class sizes provide the individualized attention and relationship-building that makes school a welcome place for students to learn and grow, particularly students whose lives have been battered by the decline of our cities.

And we know that experienced teachers bring the continuity in a student's life that make schools anchors of stability in their communities. Yet both of those elements have been sacrificed in the state takeover -- veteran teachers have been fired en masse and typically been replaced by inexperienced teachers with almost no connection to our communities. And class sizes have been expanded to levels that force even the most talented and experienced teachers to set aside the visionary task of inspiring and motivating our children to focus instead on crowd control.

Today, we have an even clearer portrait of the educational failure of state takeover across both state-controlled Detroit education sectors -- the EAA and DPS under emergency management. When will that moment of accountability come, when the state is held liable for its theft of our children's educational futures?

Tom Pedroni is director of the Leonard Kaplan Education Collaborative for Critical Urban Studies at Wayne State University.

— Tom Pedroni
Detroit Free Press





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