Thursday, May 01, 2008

Detroit Needs Vouchers Right Here, Right Now by Akindele Akinyemi

Let us look at the facts here in Detroit. Only 24% graduate from Detroit Public Schools. Over 55% of s read on a fifth grade level. Less than 1% of Black men are working in any educational capacity. And there are restrictions on alternative teacher certification programs even though state universities can activate them at any time.

What I am realizing is the fact that Detroit Public Schools are not, nor was ever, designed to keep children free and help children excel in society. This system was designed to fail. Now we have State Rep. Bettie Cook Scott playing politics by introducing criminal legislation to lower the number of students to 75,000 to protect DPS's first class district status to avoid more charter schools in Detroit.

Let me take this a step further. Detroit has the potential to become a financial market just like the Four Asian Tigers. We can generate a economy similar to Hong Kong and Singapore if we can restructure our education system.

Have you heard ANY of the Presidential candidates talk about education? Hillary will not talk about it. Obama is lying to the people about he has never heard of Black Theology or Jeremiah Wright's tirades in the church. McCain is just old asnd just happy to get the nomimation. But seriously, NO ONE is talking about education. We never do in Michigan except when Gov. Granholm wants to reduce class size by building smaller high schools. A building will not help transform the child's mind and educational level. If you want educational reform you have to reform the Black church and begin to discuss relationship building. To call a school like Denby High School in Detroit "Denby Tech" and have a 9.1% in math is a prime example of Detroit school leaders window dressing the severity of the problem.

I talk about education every single week on the Michigan Minority Report's podcast at You should listen to our podcast and weigh in by emailing us at

Educational reform is the cornerstone of my existence. We cannot have strong families in the home if we are not educated on the issues at hand. We cannot save our children if parents cannot read themselves. We talk about getting rid of ESL programs in the schools but that would be a mistake because most Black childern in Detroit Public Schools and charter schools need ESL because they are so used to speaking slang off the streets that when it is time to speak correct English they struggle just like someone from Yemen trying to speak English. Black children use English as a second language also in the inner city.

I can tell you one reason why public schools in Detroit fail year after year. Our time-bound mentality has fooled us into believing that schools can educate all of the people all of the time in a school year of 180 six-hour days. The consequence of our self-deception has been to ask the impossible of our students. We expect them to learn as much as their counterparts abroad in only half the time.

For nine months of the year, schools generally open and close at fixed times such as 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., offering six 50-minute instruction periods, no matter how well or poorly students comprehend material. Graduation is based on attendance time rather than academic attainment, yet state regulations require a minimum of only 41 percent of secondary school time to be spent on core academic subjects.

Unyielding and relentless, the time available in a uniform six-hour day and a 180-day year is the unacknowledged design flaw in American education. First, students arrive at school ready to learn in the same way and on the same schedule. Second, academic time can be used for nonacademic purposes with no effect on learning. Third, yesterday's calendar can continue to serve students' needs despite enormous changes in society. Fourth, schools can be transformed without giving teachers the time they need to retool themselves and to reorganize their work. Fifth, students can deliver world-class academic performance within the time-bound system that is already failing them.

Students in other post-industrial democracies receive twice as much instruction in core academic areas during high school. Here are the estimates for required core academic hours during the final four years: United States, 1460; Japan, 3170; France, 3280; Germany, 3528. In practical terms, this means that most foreign students are studying language, literature, science, or two or more languages while many of our young people spend their time in study halls, pep rallies, driver education, and assemblies.

Schools abroad protect academic time by distinguishing between the "academic day" and the "school day." In Germany and Japan, learning is serious business. "Academic time" is rarely touched. In the United States, conversely, students earn a high school diploma if they devote as little as 41 percent of their school time to core academic work.

Many of our economic competitors supplement formal education with significant out-of-school learning time. In Japan, parents spend over $7 billion annually on private tutorial instruction called juku. In Europe, half of the students do two or more hours of homework a day but only seven percent watch five hours of television; in the United States, only 29 percent do that much homework, while 20 percent watch that much television.

School performance abroad has consequences and is closely related to opportunities for employment and further education. Apart from the small percentage of students interested in highly selective colleges and universities, most students understand that possession of even a mediocre high school diploma is enough to get them into some kind of college or job. Conversely, in Germany and Japan, students must pass demanding competitive examinations for admission to universities.

Teachers in other countries enjoy freedom and respect as professionals. Japanese teachers generally spend only 20 hours a week in front of classes, and Germans 21 to 24 hours. The rest of their work weeks-in Germany, 38 hours-are devoted to preparation, grading, in-service education, and consulting with colleagues. In Germany, teachers are held to high standards and treated as professionals.

We can do the same here in Detroit except we have ghetto standards for educating our children. We have a ghetto mayor, ghetto city council, ghetto school board, ghetto State Representatives and ghetto State Senators and a ghetto teacher union. We deserve better.

The other issue here is the fact that our children are not being prepared to learn global education. True educational reform should be placed on heavy rote learning. Rote learning is a learning technique which avoids understanding of a subject and instead focuses on memorization. The major practice involved in rote learning is learning by repetition. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it.

Rote learning is widely used in the mastery of foundational knowledge. Examples include, phonics in reading, the periodic table in chemistry, multiplication tables in mathematics, anatomy in medicine, cases or statutes in law, basic formulas in any science, etc.

We also need to look at the extended school year. For example, an elementary school with 800 students from 20 linguistic and ural backgrounds should operates year-round. The school could alternate between 12 weeks on and three weeks off and close only for one three-week interval in July. During the three-week breaks, the school offers special programs to provide remedial or enrichment classes for about 150 students.

Reinvent schools around learning, not time. There is no point to adding more time to today's schools if it is used in the same way. We must use time in new, different, and better ways. I support the notion that students should master the following common core subjects: English and language arts, mathematics, science, civics, history, geography, the arts, and foreign languages. Detroit and other urban students can meet this core set of expectations just as students abroad do.

Higher education needs to get involved. Higher education already offers a that holds learning fixed and makes time a variable. The school reform movement cannot succeed unless academic institutions honor the results of new standards and assessments. Also, colleges and universities educating teachers must align their programs with the movement to higher standards.

We should also take a look at vouchers again in the inner city. Whatever Dick and Betsy DeVos did before in 2000 did not work. I think we should explore the possibility of creating an exploratory committee to see which voucher program would be the best choice for parents whose children are trapped in failing schools. We have some parents who would love to keep their children in private schools but cannot. These same inner city parents support vouchers.

I fully support vouchers because it helps with competition. Vouchers would inject a desperately needed dose of competition into an arthritic system that has brought the intellectual growth of its youth to a grinding halt. An ideal voucher plan would allow families to add their own money to the amount of the voucher--so that a family willing to pay, for example, $2,000 for education could add that to a $3,000 voucher and be able to afford a $5,000school. Privately funded voucher plans in Milwaukee, and other cities have been used by many low-income parents to pay half the tuition at nongovernment schools in order to remove their children from undisciplined, ineffective, and often dangerous government schools. Surely middle-income families would be willing to put forth the same proportional effort.

In Taiwan, 95% of the children go to college. 96.1% can read. They only go to school 9 years. We go 12 years and our educational system STILL ranks near the bottom.

In Detroit, it is time for true educational leaders to help push for true educational reform to save families from going under. Forget the year 2000 when the DeVos family pushed for vouchers. It is time that we had a new effort to bring all educational options to the table. This includes vouchers.

7 comments: said...

You had me at the title...

Education freedom... novel concept.


live dangerously said...

I applaud your courage for being a Conservative in Detroit. Hope you don't mind but I linked to your post and Rightmichigan's to point out the failure and dangers of the "Bureaucratic Union Complex" of which I wish some retiring President would warn us of. lol. As always great post.
Regards, Live Dangerously.
ps. I finally met my county Clerk, Karen Buie.
pss. link to my article.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Akinyemi:
The topic of education has been the proverbial "hot potato" of late yet interestingly enough, remains the shield of choice for our "leaders" when expedient(see rampant spending). It would be better to view the decay of Detroit's (Michigan) education system in terms that apply to children et al, not specifically the black community.

As a society, the sooner we begin to eliminate labels and categories, the sooner our children will begin to attain the freedom that comes from enlightened education.

The death grip of the MEA on the educational system is only partially at fault. If by some miracle a voucher bill passes and the cash is allowed to flow, it still does not address the other component that is the root problem. Parental involvement. To buttress this statement I need only to showcase our elected officials. City councils, mayors, governors, legislators, boards of education etc etc. We (the people) have (and continue to) create our own problems. It is not money that will solve our educational decay, it is involvement. Demanding performance and accountability from all parties concerned, boards, teachers, unions and parents.

We all claim to want the same thing and yet it continues to elude us at the expense of our children and their futures. It is time to step back and take a hard look at those who claim to want educational reform and those that will truly affect the difficult changes necessary. Again, it is not more money that will facilitate the reform but rather a return to basics.

Insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results.

live dangerously said...

Hi anonymous .
I agree labels can be destructive in effective communications. But think about it. Words are labels. The use of labels can be compared to the use guns. Neither are wrong , both can be good or bad it depends on the user. IMO Mr. Akindele Akinyami is using them as a tool to help change the very wrong use of those labels we have seen and you are probably talking about.
-----Again I agree that all change as all politics is local. Change must start locally and that is what Akindele has been trying to do. In his community. His black community. He has used labeling if you will in regards to other ethinc communities (Asian, Jewish ect) as role models of how people can change things for the better. He has advocated and tried to start networks for changing social problems like literacy (adult + children), setting up networks for local entrepreneurs, and political groups. All in the effort to change things on the local level IMO for the good.
-----I agree with you that money (especially government money) will not cure everything; nor from what I read does Akindele Akinyemi. He has talked of shrinking the public school system especially in relation to balancing the state budget.
-----Akindele is trying to do different things to get different results.
Regards, Live Dangerously Be A Conservative
Ps. Check out the top Video at his site on the Video Bar.

maidintheus said...

I think a simple method of showing how Mr. Akinyemi's (and many other's) suggestions lead to success is to imagine a student of any skin color in a learning environment such as his. It would be good for all, not just some.

Take learning by rote. Athletes know this, video gamers know this, even dog trainers know this. It's the most fundamental learning tool. That's how we learn our phone numbers, our names, and the first words of ma ma and da da.

If grocery stores had vouchers it would be injurious for the crappy ones but the ones who get off their arse and do their job would prosper. We wouldn't go without and it would be better and better.

Simplistic and basic except for the big problem, some don't want competition.

live dangerously said...

To All.
I just found this excellent article by George Will from last week. Reiterates the point Akindele Akinyemi makes about growing time spent on non academic classes.
Regards, Live Dangerously

maidintheus said...

Live Dangerously,

That was a great article. Thanks!