I have deferred to Dr. Thomas Pedroni in the past for his remarkable insights on what is happening to Michigan, particularly Detroit, schoolchildren. What follows is an update:
March 3, 2014One year ago this month 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. At the time I suspected that Snyder's appointee, a former auto executive with no education background, had simply misspoken or just didn’t quite have his facts straight. What bothered me more was that none of his carefully selected co-panelists—including EAA Chancellor John Covington and Detroit Parent Network President/CEO Sharlonda Buckman—batted as much as an eye over Roberts’ jubilant mispronouncement. A clearly impressed Chelsea Clinton declared that when the day came she would gladly enroll her own children in the public schools of Detroit.
As I dug through the MEAP results on the Michigan Department of Education’s 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 I had not anticipated: in most categories, children in Detroit’s public elementary and middle schools had fallen even farther behind their state peers since 2009. That year (2009) was the year that U.S. Secretary of Education 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—3rd, 4th, and 5th graders—had declined the most. Although already so far behind their statewide peers, Detroit's youngest test-takers had somehow lost even more ground.
I wrote my findings in a column submitted to the Detroit Free Press, which the paper accepted for publication. Hours later the paper changed its mind. In a bizarre sequence of events, the paper’s editorial staff accepted and rejected the column two more times, finally telling me I was free to take it elsewhere.
I published the column here, at the Detroit Data and Democracy Project, instead, and posted a link on Facebook. While this site typically receives only 2 to 4 hits a day, within a few hours the piece had accumulated thousands of hits. In the ensuing days I was interviewed on four radio programs, Rachel Maddow tweeted a link to the column, and The Huffington Post, Truthout, and The Michigan Citizen all asked to reprint it. Apparently there was a hunger for educational fact sharing and analysis beyond what was available at NBC and in the local dailies.
A year has passed since my original column. Has state-imposed emergency management now finally turned the corner with Detroit’s public schools? Five years after the State concluded that the main thing holding Detroit’s schoolchildren back was the ability of their parents to choose their school board, are we finally receiving the long overdue dividends of electoral disenfranchisement?
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 (see Figure I).
Figure I. Proficiency gap between DPS/EAA students and their Michigan peers.
Click to enlarge.
Cumulatively, since Detroit became ground zero in 2009, students in DPS and EAA schools taken over by the state have declined precipitously relative to their state peers in every tested grade in reading, 3rd through 8th. In third grade reading, the proficiency gap has widened by 7.3 points to 28.2. The reading proficiency gap also widened by 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 (sixth, proficiency gap decreased 0.5 points to 27.7; seventh, 0.5 points to 28.5; and eighth, 0.1 points to 23.2), 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 5th grade it increased by 8.0 points to 30.9 (see Figure II).
Figure II. Proficiency Gap, Year by Year, and Comparatively 2009-12, 2012-13, and 2009-13.
For DPS and EAA students under state control, another year of educational possibility has been stolen. The long saga of state control of Detroit's public schools, characterized by this unconscionable erosion of our children's educational futures, drags on. As we saw last week, Snyder's experiment on Black children in Detroit, the EAA, notwithstanding the rosy and self-serving pronouncements of its high-paid leadership, has been an unmitigated disaster. Now 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. For Snyder's theft of Detroit's children's future, will a moment of accountability ever come?