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Redesign firms for Detroit schools get mixed grades

While they talk about whether standardized test scores are up or down, 45,000 homes in Detroit are without running water?

No Eviction For Rosemary Williams

"Today was supposed to be a very sad day," said a member of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) to begin the press conference at Rosemary Williams's house this afternoon. The sheriff had arrived at nine in the morning with an eviction notice. Ms. Wiliams was packing. Her son, his wife and their two small children had gone to their other grandmother's house. Plans had been made for emergency foreclosure resistance. "We were ready to go to jail," said Cheri Honkala of PPEHRC. But twenty minutes before the press conference was to begin, one phone call changed everything.

The call came from Ward 8 City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who had met with Ms. Williams to discuss the foreclosure. A possible buyer (unnamed until the process is complete) had been found for Ms. Williams's home, a buyer who would lease the house back to the Williams family. The eviction was off.

"It's not about me," said Ms. Williams. "There are thousands of people in this community going down the same road." She described how "seven people on this block just disappeared" after receiving eviction notices. For her, she said, victory lay in how more people were now"struggling to keep their property instead of just running away in the night". She spoke highly of Council Member Glidden, "the only politician who has come foreward....she doesn't have to be here."

Everyone at the press conference emphasized that the movement was a shared victory. "It's people who make history," said Mick Kelley. Cheri Honkala thanked Ms. Williams for "putting her life on public display to have the press talk about her...letting people into her life" and thanked the National Lawyers' Guild for "tak[ing] on a big bank with no money".

Ms. Williams talked about the 45,000 homes now without running water in Detroit. She talked about donating clothing and household goods to Sabathani Community Center for people who have left their foreclosed homes with only what they can carry because they can't afford to hire a truck.

Although the press conference was celebratory, everyone spoke of the need to continue the anti-foreclosure campaign.

How many schoolchildren are in these waterless homes? How many schoolchildren left foreclosed homes with only what they could carry?

Interesting, isn't it that a private firm doesn't need to have a substantial history of success to get hired?

by Chastity Pratt Dawsey

The four companies charged with redesigning 17 low-performing high schools in Detroit have spotty records turning around student achievement at other struggling schools they have been selected to help in the region and across the nation, studies show.

Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, maintains that the companies have a "proven track record of raising student achievement."

However, experts and a review of achievement data show modest gains in some cases and losses in others.

Heading off more criticism from parents and some school board members, DPS officials clarified the school redesign effort, saying the companies will not manage the schools, but rather assist the staff and provide training, curriculum and security planning.

"This is not a takeover," said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, chief academic and accountability auditor for DPS.

Statistics highlight concerns

The most well-known and criticized of the four companies selected this month to redesign 17 Detroit high schools is EdisonLearning Inc., formerly the Edison Project founded in 1992 to manage charter schools.

Edison managed Inkster Public Schools from 2000 to 2005. In 2005, MEAP scores at Inkster High fell in all but one category with the highest score at 40% of students passing the reading exam.

Those statistics highlight concerns about whether EdisonLearning and three other consulting firms will be helpful in turning around performance at struggling schools.

The district also is vetting additional consultants to help redesign other low-performing schools, said spokesman Steve Wasko.

Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said hiring the four firms is a bad move.

"They don't have a track record of success behind them," Johnson said.

EdisonLearning, a New York-based for-profit company, is to consult at six of the schools; EdWorks, an Ohio-based nonprofit, is to consult at five schools; the Institute for Student Achievement, a for-profit based in Lake Success, N.Y., is to consult at three schools and Model Secondary Schools Project, a small for-profit company in Bellevue, Wash., will work at three schools.

All but Edison specialize in creating small learning communities in large high schools.

Hiring the consultants shows guts and inspires hope, but it is no guarantee, said Sharif Shakrani, codirector of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University.

"In some places, they have had success. In other places, they have not had very tangible success," Shakrani said of the companies. "The important question is, 'What lessons have they learned ... and how will they be able to apply that?' "

EdisonLearning Inc.: The most well-known and controversial of the firms, the Edison Project, has been in the Philadelphia School District where it manages 15 schools -- down from 20 in 2002 because of low performance.

Joseph Wise, chief education officer for EdisonLearning, said its consulting work in eight Hawaii high schools mirrors its plans for Detroit. After one year, the Edison students showed a 6.4% increase in math achievement while other students increased just 2%, said Mike Serpe, spokesman for EdisonLearning.

"We're using Hawaii and Philadelphia as a framework for what to do and not do," Wise said.

EdWorks: EdWorks primarily creates small high schools through the Ohio High School Transformation Initiative as well as the Ohio Early College High School Network that allows students to graduate with associate's degrees. Test scores at EdWorks schools vary, but graduation rates tend to rise.

At DPS, the company is to help staff create personalized learning plans for each student, revamp curriculum and review expectations, a relationship that usually lasts about five years, said Executive Director Harold Brown.

Dal Lawrence, past president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, said EdWorks' schools have resulted in good partnerships, but no panacea.

"The jury's still out," he said.

Institute for Student Achievement: ISA has been planning this fall's launch of four small high schools within DPS's Cody High and five in Osborn High with funding from the Greater Detroit Education Venture Fund.

ISA has developed 80 small schools nationwide, often on a 5-year contract, touting the small schools approach as more engaging with higher graduation and college-acceptance rates. ISA's spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

Michael Tenbusch, vice president of educational preparedness for United Way for Southeastern Michigan, authored the study "Meeting the Turnaround Challenge" last year, which reported that ISA will not work with a school unless allowed to help select the principal.

"ISA has a very effective model," he said.

Model Secondary Schools Project: MSSP developed the Detroit High School for Technology, a small school located within Pershing High, with funds from the Gates Foundation.

The graduation rate exceeds 96% each year, but standardized test scores lagged after the grant expired in 2005. This year, the 178-student school saw 4% of its students pass the Michigan Merit Exam in math and 24% in reading.

Now MSSP expects a 3-year contract, but the kinds of programs to be developed -- technology or health-related, for example -- will be up to staff and parents, codirector Linda Keller MacDonald said. "It's Detroit's high school and it's a Detroit decision how this gets organized."

Shakrani of MSU said within a year DPS should know whether the companies are worthwhile based on factors such as ninth-grade retention and failure rates and disciplinary suspensions.

Additional Facts
If you go

The Detroit Board of Education is to meet Thursday to discuss plans to bar the emergency financial manager, Robert Bobb, from hiring the four companies. The meeting is to begin at 5 p.m. and be followed by a 6 p.m. committee of the whole meeting that Bobb is expected to attend.

The meetings are to be at the Detroit Public Schools Welcome Center, 3031 W. Grand Blvd.

— Chastity Pratt Dawsey
Detroit Free Press





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