This year has been an important one for Detroit’s schools – both traditional public and charters. The Detroit Public Schools Community District is well into its second school year and has new board and superintendent. Charter authorizers, working to improve school quality, have closed more schools than they opened during the last school year.
Data from the Michigan Department of Education documents where both the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) and the city’s public charter school sector began the 2017-18 school year. Now’s a good time to take stock. Eric Anderson and Walter Cook, two statisticians working with New Detroit and the Skillman Foundation, compiled recent proficiency results for all of the schools in DPSCD this year as well as those from the charter schools located in Detroit.
The DPSCD data include both the schools the district operated last year as well as the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) schools that rejoined the district in the fall but had been taken over by the state for several years. They also exclude specialty and alternative DPSCD schools focused on credit recovery and strict discipline that have lower academic expectations. The purpose is not to look back or hold DPSCD responsible for the results of the EAA schools, but rather to establish a performance baseline for each sector that can be used to measure future student academic progress. Here’s what Anderson and Cook found.
Two facts emerge from the data:
With the exception of the charter sector’s high school graduation rate that exceeds the state average, both sectors struggle with educating low-income children to the same level as middle-income children, and fall far short of Michigan’s performance standards. The deficits are particularly pronounced on the M-STEP and the SAT, the state’s standardized tests. College enrollment rates also lag the state average.
Claims that the city’s charter schools do not perform appreciably better on average than the traditional Detroit public schools (DPSCD and EAA combined) are not supported by the data. With the exception of the SAT where DPSCD/EAA performs better owing to the strong scores from its test-admission schools Renaissance and Cass, Detroit charter schools on average outperformed the current portfolio of DPSCD schools by significant margins.
However, the issue going forward is not whether traditional or charter schools are better. The question we must answer is how do we dramatically increase the academic performance of the city’s schools from both sectors, each of which educates roughly half the city’s children. The data provide a baseline for measuring progress for this coming year as well as the years immediately following. Everyone in the public education sector in Detroit needs to study those “beat the odds” schools, whether DPSCD or charter, that perform the best and share their strategies and practices with other schools.
The next few years are not about DPSCD-charter competition. They are about learning together across DPSCD-charter lines about the best ways to help Detroit children get the education they deserve, and providing the quality public schools the city urgently requires if it is to continue to move forward.
Doug Ross is a former U.S. Assistant of Labor, founder of the University Prep Schools in Detroit, and served as the chief innovation officer at Detroit Public Schools.