Contents of this issue:
  • Detroit graduation rate worst of 50 major cities
  • Ypsilanti district sells building for private education
  • Detroit plans to restructure five schools
  • Willow Run Schools invest in radio advertisements
  • Royal Oak tries to win back students
  • Community colleges: "Wait and see" on Detroit charters
  • Comment and win an iPod

DETROIT — A new study measuring graduation rates in the country's 50 largest cities ranked Detroit Public Schools at the bottom, according to The Detroit News.

The study was released by the Washington, D.C.-based America's Promise Alliance, a coalition of education policy specialists. Graduation rate studies can cause controversy, sometimes due to the variety of calculations used. Detroit Public Schools' graduation rate has been estimated to be 66.8 percent by the Michigan Department of Education, while a Michigan State University study calculated the district's graduation rate at 31.9 percent, The News reported. This newest study calculated Detroit's graduation rate to be 24.9 percent.

Chris White, a parent and member of the local Committee to Restore Hope to Detroit Public Schools, told The News that he thinks the number is inaccurate, but doesn't deny there is a dropout problem.

"I have to question the numbers within the study; however, that doesn't negate the fact that district officials have to develop good programs that encourage learning, especially at the high school level," White told The News. "Even if the graduation rate were 50 percent, that's not good enough. We have lot of work to do."

The new study found an average graduation rate of 51.8 percent among the country's 50 largest urban areas. At 71.8 percent, Mesa, Ariz., had the best graduation rate of districts examined. The study used the method of calculation being implemented by the Michigan Department of Education beginning this fall. As opposed to calculating a graduation rate by comparing the number of students who were seniors in the fall with the number who graduate at the end of the year, the study's method estimated the number of freshman who graduated in four years. The study found that suburban districts nationwide graduate 74.9 percent of their students, while all districts in urban areas graduate 60.4 percent of their students. The study also found that 17 of the 50 urban districts had a graduation rate less than 50 percent, The News reported.

The Detroit News, "Study: Detroit schools rank last in graduation rate," April 1, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Graduation Rates an Imperfect Measure of School Excellence," Jan. 7, 2002

YPSILANTI, Mich. — The Ypsilanti school board voted 7-1 to sell a vacant elementary school building to Hidaya Muslim Community Association, which plans to use the building as a private school and community center, according to The Ann Arbor News.

The building was sold for $3.9 million and will result in a revenue surplus of $2.3 million, which the district will apply to a projected 2008-2009 deficit of $2.6 million. This will save the district from making cuts that seriously impact students or staff, The News reported.

The Hidaya Muslim Community Association runs Michigan Islamic Academy, with an enrollment of 175 students pre-kindergarten through high school. Most of the students live in Ypsilanti Township. The Association made the purchase primarily because it has outgrown its original building and needed a gym and other recreational areas, according to The News.

The Ann Arbor News, "School board sells Ardis Elementary," April 6, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Private special ed school might be forced out of building," March 24, 2008

DETROIT — The Detroit Public Schools announced restructuring plans for five of its schools after years of missing federal achievement standards, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Turn Around School plan will affect three high schools, a ninth grade academy and an elementary school. Each pre-existing school will be split into three or four specialized schools within a school and will offer a specific curriculum. The schools will have about 450 students and have an entirely new staff and administration, the Free Press reported.

"National studies show that students perform better in smaller, more personalized settings," DPS Superintendent Connie Calloway said. "Models in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Providence and elsewhere are working and give hope for this initiative."

The planning is in its preliminary stages, but Calloway hopes to have one new school up and running in the fall. Teachers at the existing schools will probably transfer to other schools in the district, but will have an opportunity to reapply for their jobs. However, many principals may lose their jobs. These sort of restructuring plans are allowed under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to the Free Press.

The Detroit Free Press, "Drastic changes planned at 5 schools," April 1, 2008

Michigan Education Report, "No Child Left Behind law demands 'adequate yearly progress' and offers school choice options for parents," Nov. 17, 2002

WILLOW RUN, Mich. — The Willow Run board of education voted to spend $65,000 on radio ads to promote the district's academic offerings, according to The Ann Arbor News.

The 30-second radio ads will be broadcast on four Detroit radio stations over a three-month period. The vote was 7-1, with the dissenting vote cast by Harold Wimberly, who questioned whether this is something the district can afford, The News reported.

"I don't think we are ready for something of this magnitude yet," Wimberly said, according to The News. "We are improving in some areas ... but I think it's too much money and I don't think it's time for it now."

"It's all about getting a return on our investment," board member Clifford Smith said, according to The News.

The Ann Arbor News, "Willow Run schools to spend $65,000 on radio ads aimed at boosting student enrollment in district," April 4, 2008

Michigan Education Report, "Advertising for students: Schools use radio, TV, billboards to lure 'customers'," May 24, 2007

ROYAL OAK, Mich. — The Royal Oak Public Schools has decided to focus marketing and promotional efforts towards students living inside the district boundaries but who choose to attend school elsewhere, according to the Royal Oak Mirror.

About 1,100 students otherwise assigned to Royal Oak schools attend private or parochial schools, while an additional 270 students attend other districts through schools of choice.

"We're trying to make sure they know what the options are for their students," Royal Oak Superintendent Thomas Moline told the Mirror.

The district offers a "pod" program at the elementary level, which promotes multi-age learning, while one high school offers the International Baccalaureate program. However, Moline noted that 84 percent of district residents don't have school-aged children. The schools are considering using their buildings for more public events, to draw a closer bond with the community, according to the Mirror.

The district also has plans to work with the city administration to help promote the city to homebuyers.

"It's a mutual benefit for the city and the schools to work together to promote the community," school board member Christine Hartwig told the Mirror. "That looks like it's going to be an exciting new area for us."

Royal Oak Mirror, "Royal Oak schools want to bring back their own," April 6, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Conclusion: Competition Is Improving Public Schools for Michigan Children," in "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 24, 2000

DETROIT — Further enrollment decline could open the door for more charter public schools within the Detroit Public Schools boundaries, but would there be takers?

Two community colleges — Bay Mills Community College in the Upper Peninsula and Wayne County Community College — would gain the ability to authorize public school academies in Detroit if the district loses its unique "first class" status under Michigan law.

Detroit is the only first-class district in Michigan, defined as a district with at least 100,000 students. Enrollment there stood at approximately 105,000 in the fall of 2007, down from about 150,000 in 2003.

Officials at each community college told Michigan Education Report that, given the opportunity, they would consider authorizing charter schools in Detroit, but that neither has an application in the works. Meanwhile, a state representative has introduced legislation to lower the first-class threshold to 75,000 students, making the charter question moot.

The charter school provision is one of about a dozen in state law that relate only to first-class districts. Others involve school board elections, state aid payments for student transfers and uses of bond proceeds.

Michigan Education Report, "Community colleges: 'Wait and see' on Detroit charter schools," April 8, 2008

Michigan Education Report, "DPS enrollment down by thousands," Feb. 23, 2007

MIDLAND, Mich. — Go to and post a comment for a chance to win one of three iPods.

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Sarah Grether at

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