There is no better word to describe the lame excuses, finger-pointing and irrelevant self-focused testimony provided in Lansing last Thursday by Detroit Board of Education members, their interim superintendent, and their small but regrettably vocal band of supporters, whose existence and claim to fame is owed fully to the confusion, ineptness, and unfocused world that this board has created and festered for more than four years now.
If you listen to these people, you’d believe that they have had absolutely no role in, no tools at their disposal to correct, and no responsibility whatsoever for the academic emergency facing our schoolchildren. That, my friends, is BS.
Granted, Detroit’s test scores did not all of a sudden hit the crapper within this time frame solely. And the well documented societal, family, emotional, cultural, medical and economic frameworks our kids find themselves in makes the job all the more tough. Further, it is well known that turning a fully loaded freighter or ocean liner around, particularly in tight straights is not something one can do on a dime. Moreover, there is blame sufficient blame to be spread about.
But those stepping forward and elected to lead our schools, in office now for some 1,470 days have had ample time to develop plans, build a community constituency, and put those plans in place. To bluster forward now, to suddenly see the light, to get religion when threatened with losing what minor control legal purists may still be bestowing on them, is too little, too late. Robert Bobb, in less than a quarter of that time, has on the financial side of the house put controls in place, developed cost-savings plans while retaining essential and valuable services, and basically shown the kind of take-charge, no- nonsense leadership that a sizable majority of the citizens seem to embrace as the solution they have been looking for.
The Board did not have to wait this long to develop its plans. In fact, it could have stepped into office, day one, with the blueprints laid out by the hundred or more community members, as drafted by the Governor’s Transition Team. Board members could have embraced the constructive criticism of peer district officials submitting reports under the Council of Great City Schools in several operational areas as well as curriculum and academics. It should have heeded nearly 90 audit findings in changing the way it and the district did business. In fact, in each of these cases, the Board not only did not follow these recommendations, they arched their figurative backs in a manner that suggested to all that they knew better and, make no mistake, they were in charge.
In charge they were, and they failed. Failed so much so that these staggering statistics compiled by DPS now face our children, our schools, and our community:
• More than 10 percent of the entire student body, and at the ninth grade as many as 25 percent of the students, are not promoted to the next grade. • More than a third of the district’s high school students are overage for their current grade. • A mere 58 percent of the students graduate on time. 27 percent drop out. • Forty-two percent of the students read at grade level. • More than two-thirds of the schools do not make adequate yearly progress. • Sixteen percent of the students are absent on an average day. • Detroit Public Schools students score an average of 15.6 on the American College Testing (ACT) program, well below the national average of 21.1. • MEAP reading, writing, math, science and social studies scores are each 22-29 percent below the state average.
This is in addition to the devastating national test scores, released in December, that show 69 percent of the district’s 4th graders and 77 percent of the district’s eighth graders earning a score of “below basic.”
Standing before the state legislature and cheering because DPS fields such top-notch schools as Renaissance and Cass misses the point entirely. Surely there are success stories within DPS. Clearly some students are moving on to college well prepared and flush with scholarship and grant offers. Undoubtedly one can attend a school performance or assembly and witness outstanding singers and dancers, superb orators and fine poets.
Surely there are scholar athletes who should be our heroes. We are well aware of those. This newspaper arguably does a better job of chronicling these achievements year-round than any other media in town.
But the overall grade is an F. And it’s time for this community and the state legislature to make the needed changes to raise that grade. Putting the tools necessary in the hands of Robert Bobb and his academic deputy, Dr. Barbara Byrd-Bennett, is the most obvious solution and the one that can be implemented most quickly.