This is an excerpt from a column I wrote for Dome Magazine:
Thirty-four years ago, a sweeping assessment of K-12 schools released by President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education shook America to its core.
The report’s title said it all: “A Nation At Risk.” The study’s revelations of an increasingly mediocre American education system smashed patriotic assumptions while hammering home the connection between quality schools and a strong economy, plus a vibrant middle class. The warnings led to numerous reforms at the local, state and federal level.
Yet, more than three decades later, the headline that best describes the K-12 school system in Michigan’s predominant city, Detroit, could be: “A City In Freefall.”
What must Detroit students think when their school is labeled a failure, worthy of closure by the state, only to learn that they will be sent to a new school where failure is the common option?
Across the city, malfunction is everywhere. An analysis by the Detroit Free Press found that only 20 schools citywide – five in the Detroit Public Schools Community District and 15 charter schools – are ranked in the 25th percentile or above, based on the statewide testing system.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The state School Reform Office (SRO) proposes closing 38 of Michigan’s “poor-performing” schools. In truth, these schools are not merely trailing – they are a disaster. But the SRO proposes sending Detroit kids from schools that rank in the state’s bottom 5 percent, based on standardized test scores, to schools that rank in the bottom 25 percent.
Planning school closures without presenting an acceptable alternative represents a rudimentary mistake by the SRO. Worse yet, the agency suggested that students in failing schools could transfer to schools in the suburbs, as far as Monroe or St. Clair counties, which would involve an 80- or 100-mile round trip daily. Is this government planning at its worst?
When the list was released on Jan. 20, Natasha Baker, director of the SRO, conceded that transportation issues had not been resolved in a city with an erratic public bus system and a significant percentage of parents who do not own a car.
The new SRO list of Michigan schools headed for shutdown represents yet another effort by the Snyder administration to rely on numbers and spreadsheets to dictate public policies that have a dramatic impact on average families.
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