Spirited attempts to modestly reform the Detroit Public School District, led by former Superintendent Porter and School Board President Patrick, have not been warmly received by existing administrators, staff and unions. For instance, on July 18, 1990 as part of the Detroit Quality Education Plan (DQEP) a proposal was issued to provide empowerment, on a very limited basis, along with an opportunity to become a school of limited choice. Less than 5% of the schools in the Detroit Public School District applied to be a part of this program.
This plan defined empowerment as "the granting of greater autonomy through increased authority to make school level decisions."  This proposal attempts to be comprehensive in terms of goal setting. It is also comprehensive in terms of rule setting. Compliance with nine other monographs is a requirement for empowerment. In addition, application by a variety of school constituencies such as teachers, staff and parents, is also a requisite. In addition, it must be an excellent or satisfactory school with adequate building utilization. This panoply of requirements inhibits and constrains true reform and inhibits true local school autonomy. Moreover, compliance with the standards for becoming empowered entitles the school to only $10 more per student, but no less than $5,000 per school to be utilized at the school's discretion. Some flexibility in scheduling and budgeting is granted, but importantly, direct hiring and firing authority is not granted. As Chubb and Moe note, informal criteria is important in determining good or poor teachers. Accordingly, it is important that power to hire and fire reside in the hand of the principal.
Detroit private schools act without substantial central administrative constraints. Hiring and firing decisions are made autonomously. The primary constraint faced by private schools is the market itself rather than elected school boards, or institutional bureaucracy. Accordingly, strong leadership at the school level emerges.
As the principal of St. Gerard says, "We simply implement discipline and high standards for our children." The market in the city of Detroit responds accordingly. The private schools we looked at are not uniform in terms of mission. Each school responds to the market somewhat differently. Parents are free to assess the school, its resources and likelihood of success for their children. The bottom line at most schools we surveyed is improved educational opportunity for poor and middle income students, even students who have discipline problems. For instance, Evangel Christian Academy reports that approximately 10% of its enrollees were rejected by the neighborhood public school because of discipline problems. While these incoming students are behind their appropriate grade level by up to 4 years, the gap narrows the longer they are at Evangel.
In addition to constraints from local central administration, the public school faces bureaucratic interference at the state level as well. The Detroit Public School Board at this writing proposed an innovative open-enrollment academy geared towards the city's disadvantaged black males. However, state bureaucrats at the Department of Education discouraged this plan because some believed it violated Federal anti-discrimination laws, notwithstanding the existence of all-girl academies. In fact, in August 1991, a Federal Judge – as the result of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the National Organization for Women's Legal Defense Fund – ruled the schools as proposed to be illegal. Once again, an innovative attempt to deal with a significant problem within the context of the public schools was thwarted. Meanwhile, the plight of black male youth is incontrovertible.
Wayne County has the nation's worst homicide rate for black males aged 1524 and the school dropout rate for black males is 70% in a district where the overall dropout rate is 40%.  It seems no matter the problem, nor how promising the solution, bureaucratic constraints arise to preclude progress.
The bureaucratic structure at the district, state and federal level is very adept at building political connections which protect itself from discerning scrutiny. As Paul DeWeese says, this administrative organism is quite effective at creating justifications for its own existence. Above all, it continues to maintain a facade of unjustifiable optimism in the face of the most catastrophic failure. As an example of the blinders worn by the administrators of our public school monopoly, the National Center for Educational Information, in a nationwide survey late in 1987, found that 87 percent of the public school superintendents contended that schools in their communities had improved in the last five years. In striking contrast, a Gallup poll a few months earlier had reported that only 25 percent of the population polled concurred with this assessment.