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NCLB Outrages

Shut down Detroit's dropout factories

Ohanian Comment: It might well be that these schools should be bulldozed. But how will that help the surrounding neighborhoods, with their burnt-out shells of houses, boarded up businesses, and other signs of urban desolation?

I'm reading Thomas Sugrue's The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, for an explanation that does more than blame the schools for the blight that is Detroit. Sugrue summarizes 2000 census data for an area where his father grew up: About one-quarter of all households in the neighborhood earned less than $10,000 per year. Altogether, 36 percent of families with children under the age of eighteen lived beneath the poverty line. And as a stark reminder of the chronic health problems that afflict many working-class and poor people, 35 percent of area residents between ages twenty-one and sixty-four were disabled. . . .

And this was by no means one of Detroit's poorest neighborhoods. Many census tracts had poverty rates of 60, 70, even 80 percent and many had lower household incomes. If the census were to take place today, after several years of recession (remember that the 2000 census data were gathered amidst the longest economic boom in the last fifty years), the situation would probably be much worse.

Poverty rates among people of color in major American cities are staggeringly high.

Vast tracts of urban land lie pockmarked with boarded-up buildings, abandoned houses, and rubble-strewn lots. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of acres of marshland, meadow, farm, and forest on the periphery of major metropolitan areas get gobbled up each year for vast tracts of new housing, shopping malls, and office parks. City governments struggle with shrinking tax bases and ever-increasing demands on public services, while wealthy suburban municipalities enjoy strong property tax revenues, excellent public services, and superb schools.

Those schools are "superb" because superb (healthy,wealthy, privileged) students fill them. How can inner-city Detroit fill itself with superb schools? It can't happen by ignoring the surrounding despair and desolation. And racism. The editorial page editor claims NCLB provides the answer.

The editorial page editor calls on provisions of NCLB to remedy the desperate situation: Call in the private vendors to come solve the city's education woes. Glancing at his blog further elucidates his viewpoint. He calls Hillary Clinton's proposed program a "socialist agenda."

by Nolan Finley

Bulldozers ought to be rolling across Detroit, leveling public schools that are trapping children in poverty and ignorance.

An army of civil rights lawyers ought to be marching up the steps of the federal courthouse on behalf of students being denied their basic right to a decent education by a chronically incompetent school system.

No other response is adequate to the report that Detroit Public Schools graduates just 25 percent of its students. That news last week should have rocked this city with outrage.

It isn't just a cold statistic -- its thousands of children each year who are washed out of the game before they even reach adulthood.

Most will end up either in prison or on welfare. The link between the dropout rate and the crime and poverty rates is indisputable. Seventy percent of Michigan prison inmates are high school dropouts, as are 40 percent of the state's welfare recipients. And most will be supported by taxpayers their entire lives.

Detroit School Superintendent Connie Calloway has a plan to dismantle five of Detroit's worst schools and replace them with smaller, more responsive schools staffed by new administrators and teachers. Good for her.

But Calloway is counting on those responsible for the current failure to implement her new strategy. Maybe she has enough dedicated, student-minded educators on staff to make the five chosen schools work. But what about the rest?

No additional evidence is needed to conclude the Detroit Public Schools can't be fixed. Three decades of one reform effort after another have produced a district with the worst big-city dropout rate in America.

Detroit Public Schools should cease to exist as a teaching body.

Calloway has the power under the federal No Child Left Behind Act to close any school that hasn't met performance standards for six years. Nearly every school in Detroit falls into that category.

She should shut down those schools and fire everyone in them. She should replace the DPS schools with highly accountable schools run by private vendors screened, hired and monitored by the district, and free to hire teachers and principals whose jobs depend on producing better results.

The Detroit school system could still operate the handful of schools that are meeting federal standards, but even those would benefit from being spun off.

The corrupt contractors, parasitic preachers and union do-nothings who have sucked the district dry will try to make shutting down any school district building into a racial issue, as they always do.

But I can't think of anything more racist than denying Detroit's predominately African-American students the same education that their white, suburban counterparts take for granted.

Not another dime of taxpayer money should go to subsidize this failure. Nor should the future of another Detroit child be destroyed by a school system that will never get it right.

If a 25 percent graduation rate doesn't make Detroit parents angry enough to demand radical change from the education system, nothing will.

Nolan Finley is editorial page editor of The News. Reach him at nfinley@detnews.com or (313) 222-2064. Read his blog at forums.detnews.com/blogs/, and watch him at 8:30 p.m. Fridays on "Am I Right?" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.

— Nolan Finley
Detroit News


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