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Another Black Eye for Detroit April 3, 2008

Posted by emsgeiss in education, parenting & family, politics, WAHM/WAHD Stuff.
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It’s been a whopper of a year for Detroit, and it’s only April. So far, aside from job cuts, strikes affecting the auto industry and the worst housing market, we’ve had three big national blows to contribute to the Motor City’s perception of being the nation’s Swamp of Suckiness. Perhaps since bad things come in threes, this will be it for a while, and Detroit can manage to get out of the quagmire…but only with a lot of help.

First, Fit Pregnancy listed Detroit as the worst city to have a baby/raise a child. Second, we have Mayor Kilpatrick to thank for the “Text Message Scandal.” (New York, we feel your pain.) And now, Tuesday’s report from America’s Promise showing Detroit to have the lowest high school graduation rate in urban public schools in the United States.

I’m sure people all over the country, who are aware of these events are wondering why people even live here. Okay, so I don’t actually live in Detroit, but what happens in Detroit does affect the rest of us in the Mitten. (Youppers might disagree, but then again, many call those of us in the Mitten “trolls” since we live “under the bridge.) But I digress. This recent news really has me steaming though. I can deal with Fit Pregnancy’s report–not everyone realizes that they have choices when it comes to where they give birth or how, and that’s an issue for another post. I can almost deal with the mayoral scandal, and will wait to see the developments unfold as they’re reported in every major paper in the state and on every network—including CNN. But as a parent with a child who will be going to school in the not too distant future, the statistics about our public schools are not only appalling, but scary and it doesn’t sit well with me one bit.

While the news reported the number of graduates who both school systems and No Child Left Behind are failing, what wasn’t reported in the news was the other part of the study, which is how bad the graduation rate is even in the suburbs and surrounding metro urban areas.

One of the most telling factors in the report about each state is the urban-suburban gap, which overall, may be what prompted No Child Left Behind to be re-examined. According to the recent news reports: “Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is currently planning summits in every state to help students better prepare for college and the workforce. Spellings has called for requiring states to provide graduation data in a more uniform way, under the renewal of the No Child Left Behind education law still pending in Congress.”

Many metropolitan areas showed a considerable gap in the graduation rates between urban public high schools and the surrounding suburbs. The report states: “An analysis by the EPE Research Center also shows that high school graduation rates are 15 percentage points lower in the nation’s urban schools when compared with those located in the suburbs.” It continues: “…Extreme disparities emerge in a number of the country’s largest metropolitan areas, where students served by suburban systems may be twice as likely as their urban peers to graduate from high school.” The most severe urban-suburban disparities are located in the Northeast and Midwest, and students in the suburbs of these regions are “more than twice as likely to complete high school with a diploma” according to data in the report.

A case in point: while the Detroit Public School System has the lowest graduation rate of 24.9 percent, the urban-suburban gap for the entire Metro Detroit area is 27.1 percent, making the Metro Detroit area 11th in the urban-suburban gap rankings. In the school districts of urban areas within the Metro Detroit area, only 47.9 of students graduate compared with 75 percent of students who graduate from Detroit’s suburban districts. By comparison, Boston, which is known for its higher educational excellence (and is where I grew up) has a public high school graduation rate of 57.0 percent and is ranked 24th , and yet the urban-suburban gap for the Greater Boston area is 24.9 with 58 percent of students graduating in urban districts compared with 83 percent (among the highest) of students graduating from suburban districts.

When studies such as these are reported, it is no wonder that many parents are choosing to home school their children especially when not all areas offer “schools of choice” or “open enrollment” that allow parents and guardians to select a school for their child that may be in a district with a higher quality of education and when often, the tuition for parochial and independent schools can be as costly as college tuition or near it.

Living in the ‘burbs, and also knowing that education starts at home, I’ll say the thing that I’m sure many are thinking, but nobody is willing to say aloud. “Let ‘them’ drop out. It means less competition for my kid.” On the other hand, my sense of social responsibility overshadows my competitive nature, because to let this dropout rate continue will only serve to (not only put Detroit behind) but put our country behind as the next generations mature, reach adulthood and become the decision makers.

Instead, I’ll ask another question. What the hell happened to No Child Left Behind? Clearly, if the urban drop out rate is so high, and schools in their surrounding metro areas are barely doing better, there is a significant number of children who are being left behind. Even if 70 percent of students are graduating with a diploma on time, the last time I checked, a 70 was a C. In college you can’t even keep your fellowship or grant money with grades that are at C-level. So 70 percent nationally is unacceptable.

Shouldn’t the goal of the No Child Left Behind revisions be to identify where the weak links are in the educational chain and strengthen them? That educational chain isn’t only the school systems, but the whole educational triad—parents, schools and students. None can do it alone. Parents need to enforce good learning habits from day one, and be on top of teachers and school administrators—schools are not baby sitters folks and as I already stated, education begins and continues at home. Schools on the other hand need to teach students to be critical thinkers and effective scholars; not only of “the three Rs,” but of life, and help encourage that at home and work with families. And students need to be empowered to realize the point of a good, solid education is not just to pass a test (or a bunch of them), but to become effective, informed citizens by taking an active part in their education. Sure, it will be hard and difficult work…but doesn’t anything worth doing or having take hard work?

I think a little more than those measures mentioned by Spellings need to taken. How does the Bush Administration (or any other that may be elected in a few months) expect the country’s future citizens and leaders to compete globally? Leaving children behind academically means that America will be left behind in other avenues; way behind. And that’s unacceptable for Detroit and for the country.



1. swededad - April 5, 2008

A little review of political comments on NCLB will show that almost all the pressure is directed as eliminating any real measurements and hence responsibility. Trying to actually educate poor children instead of discarding them into a permanent underclass is expensive, frustrating and incompatible with teacher union’s work rules and the comfort of politically connected school admins. And their (increasingly single) parents don’t vote or attend parents nights.

Take a look at the promises both Hillary and Obama have made to the NEA. For that matter, check out what the Detroit council members have to say: most big city school systems’s major purpose to the people who make the decisons is as a patronage haven. Guiliani and other NYC mayors have taken over their school system to reform it and are having success but I don’t think Detroit is going to elect a reformer any time soon. (Given US politics, its a lot easier to win a primary as a school reforming mayor if you are running as the R word. And Detroit is much too loyal to Senator Byrd’s party for that to happen.) Though Menino in Boston is having some success, so maybe there’s some hope. Do any Detroit politicians mumble?

One possible “solution” is the one India seems to be heading for. In India, most rural and many urban teachers are patronage no-shows. So the number of private schools is growing fast. Of course, that is a lot easier when the teachers expect Indian wages.

Maybe we can recover by home schooling reinforced with lots of Internet resources and really effective tutoring games on Super-Wiis? Psychology is rapidly becoming an experimental science enabled by direct observation of the working brain. Eventually it ought to start helping. Urrg. Doesn’t sound very universal to me any time soon. Especially in the context of our increasing rate of unmarried births.

Unfortunately, we also probably have to assume that Rap’s Thug Culture will reform or get replaced. “Studying == Acting White” is not what the Civil Rights movement was about.

In short, like most big, long lasting problems, public schools outside rich suburbs are a problem that is complex, hard to solve and the known partial solutions step on a lot of powerful toes. And all we have is partial solutions: teaching for high stakes tests is non-optimal. But so far it seems to be the best available way to force some reforms from outside.

2. emsgeiss - April 6, 2008

Well said, Dad. 🙂

So, readers…now you know where I get it from. (Mom’s pretty outspoken too.) LOL.

In the context of homeschooling though, even that is under threat by some public school systems (see my babiesonline blog post: http://blogs.babiesonline.com/2008/03/26/homeschooling-under-scrutiny/)
so without real reform (by school systems and municipalities) homeschooling parents may too, become challenged to provide their kids w/a proper education that is competitive.

As for the issue w/parents (esp. those who are unwed), that’s why I mentioned the educational triad. Many parents don’t realize that they *must* be actively involved in the educational process besides getting kids on the bus or to the doors and asking of they’ve done their homework, and many school systems, I don’t believe encourage active parental participation. An the unions (as much as I believe in unions) need an overhaul, so that teachers are held accountable (by some measure or another) for their success in having students meet educational goals. No more teaching to the test. No more social promotions. No writing kids off because they don’t think that the kids will do or learn something. No, not all teachers do that, of course, but in the cases where they do, something must be done so that the best, brightest, motivated teachers will do it not just to collect a paycheck but to pass on the knowledge to their charges.

There is much that needs to be done to change the graduation rates (and eligibility for university and a strong, vibrant, capable workers for those who enter the work force w/o university) on all levels.

And in light of the 40th anniv of Dr. King’s assassination, I agree, people who think that “Studying = Acting White” are sorely wrong, and that it is indeed not what the Civil Rights movement was about. On the other hand, those of us who have achieved a certain amount of success should do something to actively set an positive example of being able to maintain one’s cultural/racial affiliation/pride/identity (or whatever) and still be smart and active citizens. (Hmm…may be inspiration for a another blog post.)

3. Mike - April 6, 2008


4. Nick - April 8, 2008

Ahh my Friend. I am going to do my best not to go off on my own rant here but one quick snippet. What do any of the statistics you mentioned have to do with civil rights?

The No Child Left Behind Act is a complete and utter failure from the ground level teacher to the Goverment. Take notice I did not mention The President and why you ask because it IS NOT his fault. W only signs bills and makes them into law after YOUR Congressmen and Senators pass them. E you know I love the George so I had to get that off my chest.

Money or more of it is not the answer to the nations educational woes. If you want an example of that look at the amount of money spent by Kansas City on education. The city spent almost $1.5 BILLION yes BILLION dollars or almost $11,700 per student. You can read a report from the CATO Institue here http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-298.html

Don’t blame poor education on the goverment, don’t blame poor education on bad teachers (some are but most are excellent) blame the students and their parents or lack thereof. Don’t blame it on the students economic standing either being poor does not make one stupid just as being rich makes one smart. I can pay $150,000 on a Harvard education or $20,000 at a state college and be just as well educated when I leave either place. An inner city student can get just as good of an education as a kid in the burbs.

In the Marines we have a saying “there are no bad Marines just bad leaders”, the same can be said of the students and parents in the failing school districts. The teachers and the system did not make the students not come to class, not study, not pay attention and drop out. It is not the responsibility of the goverment at the national, state or local level to force students to learn. It is their responsibility to teach, mentor and provide them the educational tools needed to learn.

What I am trying to say is this. Responsible parents (married or single) in the inner-city or the burbs have an interest in their children. When the parent cares the child cares.

5. emsgeiss - April 8, 2008

“…It is not the responsibility of the government at the national, state or local level to force students to learn. It is their responsibility to teach, mentor and provide them the educational tools needed to learn.

What I am trying to say is this. Responsible parents (married or single) in the inner-city or the burbs have an interest in their children. When the parent cares the child cares.”

Right you are, Nick…but it’s not *just* the parents/families or *just* the teachers or *just* the government. All need to be held accountable and rise the to the same expectations. I’m going to add to the statement though that when the school/teacher cares, so do the kids and in turn do something to ensure that the parent knows what is/isn’t occurring in the child’s academic life. (By the same token, parents who care are doing the same.)

A case in point: when I worked at a local museum, during our renovation of an exhibit, a group of kids on tour, went into the hardhat area. (The door between the exhibit being constructed and the exhibit that was open to the public was left open by the workmen when they went to lunch.) One of my colleagues and I heard the sound of kids’ voices where they shouldn’t have been and went to look. I told the kids that they couldn’t be there and why, and asked where their chapperone was. They told me, she was right behind them. I had them direct me to her, explaining to these teenagers the situation. (None of them was rude to me, or anything.) When we got to their teacher, I explained the situation, told her who I was and I explained why I’d initially yelled at the group. Do you know what this woman said to me? “You can yell at them. It doesn’t matter. They’re alternative ed kids anyway.”

And believe me, I’ve got other stories about teachers with similar attitudes about their charges. Hence my commentary about teachers like that. I can’t slam all teachers…my mom’s a retired teacher, my great aunt was a teacher in two counties, I taught on the university level, and I had fabulous teachers. So I’m not teacher bashing.

What I’m bashing is NCLB, which in principal, should work…but it won’t without active participation from the educational triad of parents>teachers/schools>students. (Imagine that looking like a recycle graphic.)

In response to your question about NCLB/school stats and civil rights…that’s a whole ‘nother issue…but stay tuned.

6. Nick - April 8, 2008

E this was not an attack on you i was just ranting a little myself. I think I need to get my own soapbox to preach on…

7. emsgeiss - April 9, 2008

Nick, I know. But, you did bring up a point (or two) that I thought made sense to address. 🙂 ❤

And yes Nick…you should have a blog. 😉

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