During the 2000-2001 school year, more than 160,000 students attended Detroit public schools. This fall just 96,000 students are enrolled. The school district has lost about 10,000 students a year for the past five years. While the struggling economy in the Motor City has driven some families out of the region, the district can no longer afford to dismiss the declining enrollment, says Detroit Board of Education President Carla Scott. As enrollment drops, so does the amount of money the school district receives from the state.
Cue a 200-page report released last week that tackles the questions of what the Detroit school system needs to do to improve. "When you clean out your closet, you see the mess and the disorganization. You see the worst first," Scott says. "But now that we have this report, we know what we're dealing with, and we can start putting the pieces of our school system back together in a more efficient way."
The report, prepared by the Washington, D.C.-based Council of the Great City Schools, traces Detroit Public Schools' history of poor student performance to inconsistent, incoherent curricular instruction. It also finds that the content publishers choose to put in textbooks has replaced state standards as the driving force behind what gets taught in the classrooms The district's financial diagnosis was equally as troubling. The council found that the school system struggles with its long-term financial planning and also criticized it for passing a budget that fails to correlate with the district's instructional priorities. Not to mention the budget the report examined suffered a $500 million cut just months after it was passed to avoid an unforeseen shortfall. Another financial weakness discussed in the report is the school system's reliance on an outdated information technology system that could cause it to lose electronic tax and payroll records that would take years to replace.
Scott says the report helped her understand the scope and severity of the district's problems and added that choosing to ignore them is not an option. Executive Director for the Council of Great City Schools Michael Casserly said other urban school districts have faced challenges comparable to those now facing Detroit and that he's confident the district will be successful if it follows the recommendations and proposals made in the report. "I feel good about the path we've laid out for Detroit," Casserly says. "Though the path forward remains to be plowed, I remain an undying optimist that it can be."