The Lights Are On, But How Far Does Our Vision Reach?

By Bernita Bradley

Yes, Detroit’s a boom-town. But without excellent school options, longtime residents can’t share in the prosperity, and newcomers won’t stay.

If the New York Times reported it, it’s official: Detroit’s lights are on! So how far of a future can we really see for Detroit’s hardest hit? 

Detroit is returning, stores are opening, dilapidated buildings are turning into vintage clothing shops and quaint places to go have lunch with business partners. I love the way the city looks right now--or should I say, the fact that we are on the rise. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the new lights shine truth on the fact that most neighborhoods are still struggling. 

This is not to throw shade at any of those who are doing a great work of revitalizing. Mayor Mike Duggan has had conversations with youth and young adults about how to find out what’s needed to get them to the next level. My son was one of those young adults.

I also commend all the upgrades and enjoy visiting as many new places as possible. I just don't want areas like East Seven Mile and Dequindre, or Mack and Conner, or Lasher and Interstate 96 to have lights but no real vision in place. Places where no matter how many lights are on families still won't send their children to the local gas station for snacks. The path to get there is now lit but the number of vacant homes those kids will still need to pass on their way to and from outweigh the joy of new lights. 

There are more busses, but at every stop there is a legalized marijuana shop and fear of robbery. I know this; my son was robbed. Similarly, I commend our police force and trust that they are doing greater work under new leadership, but more can be done on both sides.

So while these new lights have been switched on please don't forget about those who can’t afford the luxury of taking advantage of the revitalized areas not designed to accommodate all. And by the way gentrification is talked about more often than not during this resurgence. 

We see more clearly, but have yet to see a vision for those hardest hit neighborhoods, where school buildings lie dormant even though the youth in the community are in desperate need of high-quality, easily accessible, sustainable birth-to-grade 12 programs. My community, zip code 48224, has very few options.

Detroiters need to know that we are counted. While wonderful investments are being made, please don't forget about those of us who have been invested in our communities for generations and who refused to leave because we love our city. We love the thought of the comeback--but comeback for who is our fear. 

And those who we have embraced as new-found family won't stay if their education options are few. They, too, will send their children to schools in other communities. Eventually, they may abandon the areas of the city that are on the rise right now. 

Accountability needs to be the focus. We must see past new skyscrapers and create accountability for all schools. Detroiters should have a say about what schools are working and where new schools open. This accountability would let us address schools that open and close whenever they want and that fail children. Who we know will then go on to be adults who make minimum wage and can't afford to live in the city where they were born. 

Lights on or lights off, we need to see everybody clearly. Because a people without a vision will perish. Let us know what you think. Tweet your thoughts @DSchoolsRock. Our go to our FB page at Detroit Schools Rock. 





Trump's New Education Secretary Will Inherit a Growing Number of Civil Rights Complaints

By Citizen Stewart

The US Department of Education’s overburdened Office of Civil Rights must be sweating as they face leadership changes in both their department and in the White House.

Especially when that new leadership will come from Donald Trump’s pool of people not terribly concerned with civil rights.

To be fair, we don’t know what Trump or Betsy DeVos (his education secretary) will do. He said so little about education on the campaign trail besides “common core is a disaster,” we need school choice, and appeals to local control.

He also returned to an old Republican canard: getting rid of the Dept. of Education.

“A lot of people believe the Department of Education should just be eliminated. Get rid of it. If we don’t eliminate it completely, we certainly need to cut its power and reach.”

As a practical matter expect that to amounts to nothing. But, the department’s OCR could be in real trouble under Trump’s new regime.

Under President Obama that office gave continuous guidance to states and education officials encouraging them to stay in compliance with civil rights laws. It wasn’t always well received.

Republicans argued that the guidance letters overstepped the authority granted to the Department of Education (which isn’t much) and attempted to regulate how schools approach discipline, gendered restrooms, and teacher salaries – all things they say should be determined locally.

The “local control” argument in education is an American standard. So is federal intervention when people’s civil rights are violated. In the past few years civil rights claims in public schools have grown explosively, and it’s uncertain how those claims will be handled if OCR is substantially weakened.

Consider this from a recent Ed Week article: “The number of annual complaints to the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights more than doubled since the start of President Barack Obama’s administration, increasing from 6,364 in fiscal 2009 to 16,720 in fiscal 2016.”

The article cites a government report detailing “ongoing civil rights issues the department [of education] sees…ranging from teacher and staffing inequities in schools, to chronic absenteeism and racial disparities in school discipline policies.”

In just one state, California, the feds settled nearly 100 cases of discrimination. According to a story in EdSource “in fiscal year 2016, the office reached 99 resolution agreements with school districts across the state.”

The claims resolved in settlements like these aren’t trivial. EdSource says investigators “found that African-American and Latino students in the Lodi Unified School District were disciplined more severely than white students for similar offenses, a special-needs student from Oakland Unified School District was denied his education because of harassment and excessive punishment, and female and male athletes in the Los Angeles Unified School District must have access to comparable facilities.”

Similar cases can be found across the country.

In East Hartford, Connecticut the OCR found district leaders “failed to ensure that LEP parents/guardians had comparable access to information that was provided to non-LEP parents/guardians in English during the enrollment and registration process.”

Minneapolis Public Schools were found to discriminate against black students by maintaining a two-tiered system of disciplinary consequences based on race. The resolution letter from the OCR offers multiple examples through the district.

Here’s one, “At Sheridan, a white kindergarten student was assigned to an alternate instruction room for repeatedly wandering around the classroom and leaving the class, while a black kindergarten student received a half-day out-of-school suspension for leaving the classroom and running through the school.”

While these cases aren’t new (as mentioned above, they have grown during Obama’s presidency), there is fear that Trump’s campaign rhetoric, heavy on racialized sentiments against Mexicans, immigrants, and Muslims, let a new genie out of the bottle. Schools are starting to encounter that genie and expressing fear.

We will have to wait and see how Trump and DeVos approach civil rights abuses in education, but if past is prologue, it isn’t looking good.

Citizen Stewart is a writer for Citizen Ed. An education reform blog. 


How Martin Luther King Jr. Drives My Passion For School Choice

By David McGuire

In 1983 Congress passed legislation which President Ronald Reagan signed into law: the creation of Martin Luther King Day. Then, in 1986, the federal Martin Luther King Day officially went into effect. We have just celebrated the 31st annual Martin Luther King Day. While schools were closed and students had the day off, many were encouraged to not just sleep in but to participate in celebrations and activities centered around the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I myself had the day off. But there was no time for sleeping in. I got up bright and early to work a unity tournament basketball game hosted at our school. I then took a break from that and helped to run a Keep the Dream Alive Martin Luther King day event at for the families in our charter network.

As I reflect on my short time not only as a principal, but also more importantly as an educator, I think about my own journey to provide quality education for all children and how it began the moment I decided to step into a classroom. That journey now has morphed into a variety of roles: principal in a public charter school, a writer and advocate for educational equity, and a policy fellow working to ensure that legislation related to education is informed by the school and classroom.

In 2013, I decided to join the staff at a school that was in the process of trying to reshape and transform an already struggling school. We had many successes and failures in my two short years, but what is most powerful is that we gave a school and a school community a second chance. And we gave them hope.

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best:

Faith is taking the first step even when you cannot see the whole staircase.

I could not see the path when I took that step and decided to embark on this journey; however, I knew where I wanted the path to take me.

Every year on Martin Luther King Day we see footage of many of Dr. King’s most famous speeches. I reflect on those speeches and how they have shaped my fight for school choice. I think about one of his most famous speeches, “I have a Dream,” when King said simply, “Now is a time to make justice for all God’s children.” He is right and for me, that means that all children deserve the right to quality education in a quality school regardless of zip code or socio-economic means.

The pursuit of educational excellence and opportunity for all children is the force that drives my passion. I will continue to fight for educational freedom for America’s children in large part because of the words of Dr. King. I challenge all who care about school choice to remember how fortunate we are to have had a man willing to give up everything in the hopes that could give others everything.

This year on Martin Luther King Day I have reaffirmed my dedication to ensuring that all children have access to a quality education. It is the best way I know to honor and truly live out the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

David McGuire writes for Citizen Ed. An education reform blog. 


Betsy DeVos: Skepticism & Hope

By Brian L. Love

While we await the pending confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos's nomination for Secretary of Education. There have been a lot of stories written about Mrs. DeVos's history, motives and potential as our nation's next education czar. 

There is definitely a lot of skepticism of how she will approach leading our county's public schools. Education Next's Michael Q. McShane writes an interesting story on Mrs. DeVos. It's interesting because it gives a short story of where she comes from for those who don't know her history. With views of her pros and cons that are being heavily discussed across the nation. His piece says Betsy DeVos will be an advocate for accountability.

I hope to see that. Detroit suffers from a lack of accountability in our schools. The state of Michigan does not have strong accountability rules for charter schools. That is why the Detroit "market" is over-saturated with schools and there are thousands of empty classroom seats across the city of Detroit.

As the father of a child who attends a charter high school, I'm very happy that it is a great school with a strong curriculum. But most Detroit parents can't say this. 

Traditional public and charter school parents suffer from the same issue: Not enough great schools for their children to attend. 

Please read Michael Q. McShane's, Betsy DeVos: The (Relatively Mainstream) Reformer.

Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @DSchoolsRock. #Voices4Ed #Allkidsmatter #ChoiceIsOurs

Faces of the D: Meet "The Educator." Jihad Fahs Teaches for the Love of Language

BY Bernita Bradley

Grammatical errors are everywhere—and I should know. Despite the energy and thought I give to pouring my passion into every blog I write my writing remains imperfect.

This brings me to the thought of how important it is for our young people to learn to write. It's so needed in a world full of ebonics and shortcuts! We replace U with you, 2 with to, too or two, and IKR is one of many acronyms used in everyday writing. I think a new one comes out daily.  

This week’s Faces of the D subject is Mr. Jihad Fahs, aka “The Educator,” has taught reading and writing to eighth-graders for two years. He’s 25 and has worked with families since 2010. Educators ignited him to become a great educator himself, willing to find ways to ignite imaginations and spark action in our youth.

Currently his class at DEPSA Junior Academy is reading “I Know why the Caged Bird Sings,” a classic that every child should indulge in. He challenges students to hear what they read and make a connection to the stories. Thought-provoking conversations called team talks prompt students to act as reporters and monitor current events.

 And he loves checking for errors.

 No doubt if one of his students is interviewed 10 years from now their answer to the question, “Who inspired you to be a teacher?” will be "The Educator," Mr. Jihad Fahs. 

Q: Why Detroit?

A: Detroit is my second home. Even though my family and me are Lebanese born, I still consider Detroit my home. My cultural identity as an Arab (Lebanese) person is incredibly important to me. The reason I love Detroit so much is I see the spirit of my people within the city. Detroit has been stepped on and destroyed by outside interests, corruption and mismanagement, just like my country.

However, the tenacity and refusal to give up is why I love it here so much. The people here have pride for their home, and that is rare. 

Q: Name an experience that prompted you to work in your field.

A: Growing up as an English-language learner, I can attribute my success to all my English teachers. They helped to give me the most important gift of all--communication. I loved my time in school and I want to help other learners feel the same way. 

Q: How would you like to see the city grow? 

A: I would like to see the neighborhoods grow. Yeah, the revitalization of Downtown and Midtown is great, but all that does is bring in richer people from the suburbs, raising rent and displace the people who have already been here. I want an ethical government/person to invest in the neighborhoods and uplift the people already here. Bring back the local businesses and public schools we can be proud of! 

Q: What would you tell a youth that you wished someone told you?

A: Natural intelligence and skill doesn't matter. All that matters is how hard you work. Yeah, natural talent makes things a bit easier, but all the natural talent in the world means nothing unless you work at something. 

Q: What would you like to share with others?

A: In Donald Trump's America, it's more important than ever that we all stand together, especially people of color.