The Coalition Has Spoken: Excellent Schools Detroit, Reconsiderations and Efficiency — Part III

Written by: Stefanie Marshall

Primary Source: Green & Write

In part one of this series, I summarized the report as presented by The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren (CFDS) to the public. In part two, I presented responses to this report by Elena Herrada, an elected member of the Detroit Board of Education, Dr. pencils Tom Pedroni, an Associate Professor at Wayne State University, and Karen Twomey, a member of the Ferndale Board of Education and teacher in Bloomfield Hills. In this blog, I will present additional responses from interviews with Herrada, Pedroni, and Twomey, specifically concerning the recommendation of constructing the Detroit Education Coalition (DEC) (described here).

 Excellent Schools

 CFDS is not the first coalition formed with the intent to change the education scene in Detroit. The Excellent Schools Detroit Coalition was formed in partnership with the Skillman Foundation in late 2009, and then released recommendations in a report released in 2010. The Excellent Schools Detroit Coalition made many recommendations, which include support for alternative teacher education programs in Detroit, such as Teach For America, mayoral control, and called for a Detroit reform district, which we now know as the Education Achievement Authority (EAA). As a result of this history, Pedroni stated that he was suspicious initially of CFDS because the recommendations made in the past have led to many of the changes that have come to pass, and have yet to have proven to be effective.

Although it is understood that the report from CFDS are recommendations, there are concerns that Governor Snyder has a greater role in the development of CFDS than being presented. It is believed that many of the recommendations align to Detroit schools having portfolio district (as discussed here). Tonya Allen, the CEO of the Skillman Foundation, denies this, but as stated by Herrada, Pedroni, and Twomey, several of the key players in CFDS are the same as the Excellent Schools Detroit Coalition formed in 2009.

 The Detroit Education Coalition (DEC) Should be Reconsidered

CFDS specifically states that it recommends that the governance of DPS (Detroit Public Schools) be returned to an elected school board. However, the board would have limited power due to the proposed DEC, (described here) which would be a board appointed by the mayor. Twomey stated that the responsibilities of the elected school board include, but are not limited to, “budgeting, collective bargaining agreements, coming up with the vision for the district, and establishing and implementing a budget.” If the DEC were put in place, what decisions would be left to the elected school board?

Dr. Pedroni advocates for the Detroit Board of Education to be provided equivalent powers and support from the Michigan Department of Education as other districts. This would result in students being drawn back into Detroit schools.I’m quite confident, especially if the Michigan Department of Education became a true partner to the district, that it could do a great deal in really leveling the playing field, drawing quality students back into the schools, even helping close down some of the wors examples of charter school corruption, mismanagement, poor performance in Detroit., which Pedroni says “[D]rawing of parents back into a fully supported DPS could cause other schools to fall apart while leaving the better performing charter schools intact.”

 Efficiency is Essential

Twomey spoke of the fact that administrative efficiency should have been a primary goal of CFDS. She recommended taking advantage of currently elected boards with the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and the Intermediate School District- Wayne RESA (Regional Educational Service Agency). Twomey asked, “What if we were to invest and allow [MDE and Wayne RESA] to do what is also within their expertise instead of creating another layer of bureaucracy?” Twomey went on to say that, “If you have a finite amount of money, what you need to really do is to be more efficient,” “If we utilize those organizations already in place, we may be able to find a more cost-effective way to do the same functions but keep more dollars in the classroom.”

There is so much more to unpack concerning the history of Detroit schools since the reality of emergency managers and state takeovers has become salient in Michigan’s educational context. Ultimately, what should be acknowledged from these interviews is that several of the recommendations from the last coalition came to pass, CFDS may not be as transparent as stated. Also, the recommendations presented by CFDS fail to consider resources that are pre-existing, and may have been more efficient options. Time will reveal if the recommendations of CFDS will be implemented. One thing is clear; a change is needed in Detroit Schools.

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Stefanie Marshall
Stefanie Marshall is a doctoral student in Educational Policy. She is interested in inequities in science education, specifically in urban contexts. Before coming to MSU, Stefanie worked in various capacities in education including a teacher, a district manager for a Supplemental Educational Service provider, a Teach For America field instructor, and summer school administrator. Stefanie earned a Bachelors of Science in biology from Oakland University and a Masters in educational policy and leadership from The University of Michigan.