Bob Thompson, Dave Bing and the Skillman Foundation are
trying to give kids in Detroit a quality education. As Americans, we believe
that providing a quality public education to every child is a fundamental
freedom. Yet, the question remains: are we providing that education?
One recent study revealed half of Michigan’s teachers say
they give up on disadvantaged students at least "sometimes," if not "a lot."
Another study noted that state colleges and universities spend about $600
million a year to teach students what they didn’t learn in high school (which
says nothing of youth who never make it to college).
Add to that the thousands of students displaced this summer
when the Detroit Public Schools and the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit in
separate actions shuttered nearly 50 schools. These families had few if any
options, with most charter public schools at capacity and suburban schools
threatening to oust and arrest incoming "carpetbaggers."
It may take months to see how many of the 10,000 students
Detroit’s public schools are projected to lose this year have indeed found
someplace else to go – or hit the streets, but school officials say they may
close another 20 to 30 schools to offset a $200 million deficit.
Can anyone argue the city’s children don’t need additional
choices in public education? Or that the future of Detroit and the state don’t
demand a far-reaching educational turn-around?
Such arguments can’t be made, at least not in good faith.
It’s time to get all students in quality schools, keep them there, keep them
safe, and engage them in the kind of active learning that positions them to be
There are answers, if only decision-makers would keep the
interests of children at the forefront.
The most obvious solution comes from businessman and NBA Hall
of Famer Dave Bing, who’s teaming with Detroit’s Skillman and Thompson
foundations to build 15 small charter high schools, allowed under a unique 2003
law. The first school would be near Bing Group headquarters, where he also is
building 40 middle-income homes, in part to serve the company’s 1,400 workers.
The new schools would pledge a graduation rate of 90 percent, with 90 percent of
those going on to college. Grand Valley State University is supporting the
effort, helping to ensure the schools are beacons of hope.
"We all have a duty to make a difference," Bing said. "I can
no longer sit idly by and watch this city, this community, continue to fail.
People don’t have to live like this. … Our residents need to know that people
care and that there is an alternative to what we have now. It has to be done
today; we can’t wait another moment."
Are charter public schools really different? Do they work?
A 2005 Michigan Department of Education report shows charters
perform at or above their peers — even while serving many students who were
plummeting in other schools. It’s heartening that Detroit-area charters
surpassed the local district in all 7th- and 8th-grade subjects on the 2005
MEAPs, including by 13 percentage points in reading and 15 points in writing.
Are charters different? Well, they’re small. Each is its own
district, so bureaucracy isn’t an issue. Academic performance and nurturing
environments are a given, or changes are made. As one Detroit charter leader
says, if a teacher can’t hug and love children, that teacher is in the wrong
Detroit has charters focused on the arts — one has computed
that students each receive the equivalent of nearly $225,000 in private arts
lessons during their 13 years of schooling. Others focus on the basics, moral
character, or ethnic cultures. Extensive tutoring is frequently available.
Importantly, charters welcome parents into the school,
arrange parent support programs, and involve them in the learning process.
One school tracks involvement through ID cards, and had 431
parents last year volunteering 10 or more hours. Total time volunteered? More
than 7,000 hours. This school’s MEAP scores even beat the state average in
fourth and seventh grades.
Charter public schools
proven themselves, as the families of 50,000 southeast Michigan students can
Consider the Detroit mom whose daughter attended a charter
until the 20-minute commute became impossible. Shortly after the girl
re-enrolled in the nearest conventional school, a neighbor saw her walking. When
the neighbor heard what was happening, she contacted the mom and said, "Your
daughter is going back to [the charter school]." She noted that the girl had
loved her charter and worked hard to excel there. She said no child should be
deprived of an excellent education, and she now takes the girl to and from
school, free of charge.
That’s the child-focus we all need.
Every child deserves a quality education — as Americans, we
believe this. Like Bob Thompson, Dave Bing and the Skillman Foundation, let’s
get to work. Let’s not get in the way. Let’s move forward and provide excellent
schools for every family and every community.
Daniel L. Quisenberry is president of the Michigan
Association of Public School Academies.