The EAA isn’t the only experiment being conducted on Detroit children
In all of the sturm und drang over Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s Educational Achievement Authority experiment with Detroit children, it’s easy to forget about the other experiment they are part of: state control of the Detroit Public Schools by an Emergency Manager. I’ve written reams on this topic but not much recently given that the EAA has sucked so much oxygen out of the room.
However, I haven’t forgotten about this and neither has my friend Dr. Thomas Pedroni, Director of the Leonard Kaplan Education Center for Critical Urban Studies and Associate Professor for Curriculum Studies at Wayne State University. Last year at this time, he took an in-depth look at claims made by former DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts on national television that DPS students were making remarkable gains. I wrote about his piece HERE but go to his site, the Detroit Data and Democracy Project, for the Full Monty.
During NBC’s Education Nation Detroit Summit, Roberts told Chelsea Clinton and a national audience the following breathtaking falsehood:
But the key is, the academic side that you talked about, this past year on the state testing MEAP test, every grade in the Detroit Public Schools increased and improved and, in 14 out of 18, did better than the state average. That’s what it’s all about.
Pedroni’s analysis showed quite the opposite. He wrote:
Given all the recent bad news in Detroit, Roberts might be forgiven if his facts were a bit off the mark. It turns out, according to the Michigan Department of Education, that DPS did not outshine the state in 14 of 18 MEAP categories. The actual number was somewhat lower —- zero. DPS trailed the Michigan average in proficiency in all 18 categories. And not just by a bit—by more than 10 percentage points in the two science categories, and by 20 or more in the other 16. But it was a happy moment at the summit. No one—not one panelist, not one moderator, not one preselected member of the audience—raised an eyebrow over Roberts’ innovative facts.
Perhaps Roberts had merely stumbled over his own words. Maybe he really meant to say that DPS schools were gaining ground on the Michigan averages -— that yes, DPS was still behind, but was steadfastly narrowing the achievement gap in 14 of the 18 categories.
Unfortunately, that’s not the story the MEAP numbers tell either.
Instead they show that the Detroit Public Schools have fallen even further behind the state average since gaining an Emergency Manager in 2009. The picture the numbers paint is particularly bleak when the 15 schools handed to the EAA just before the fall MEAP administration are factored in. They show that Detroit’s third through eighth graders continue to lose ground in reading and math proficiency in most categories.
The hardest hit have been our youngest test takers—those who have spent most of their school years under emergency management—our third, fourth, and fifth graders. Although Detroit students scored among the worst in the nation in 2009, Detroit’s third graders have since fallen 5.3 percentage points farther behind the state average in reading proficiency. In math, they have fallen another 5.1 percentage points below the state average.
Now that the most recent MEAP test results are in, Pedroni has taken another look which he details in his piece “Another lost year: Children in state-managed Detroit schools lose even more ground to state “. Like last year, the news is not good. In fact, relative to their peers around the state, DPS students are falling farther behind still:
Sadly, grievously—the new MEAP data, released February 28, reveal the further deepening of a devastating pattern. 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, Detroit’s sixth grade students in state-managed schools 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.
The entire premise of Emergency Management is that it solves problems municipalities and school districts are unable or unwilling to solve on their own. Granted extraordinary powers, Emergency Managers are put in place to drastically change things and put them on the right footing.
What the Detroit schools situation shows is that the problems in Detroit aren’t simply financial and they aren’t simply a matter of poor management. Without addressing the core issues of poverty, blight, crime, and a host of other modern plagues experienced by our aging urban cores, no amount of cost-cutting, privatizing, experimental teaching models, or management gimmickry is going to have the desired impact.
We have a serious problem in Detroit when it comes to education. The question is whether our political leaders will have the courage, creativity, and desire to address them with something more than window dressing and un-democratic takeovers. At the moment, that answer to that question, at least from the Republicans in the legislature and our Republican governor, appears to be “no”.
As Dr. Pedroni asks: “For Snyder’s theft of Detroit’s children’s future, will a moment of accountability ever come?”