Friday, December 19, 2008

Break Up Detroit Public Schools by Akindele Akinyemi


There are many that want to attempt to save the free falling Detroit Public Schools. So here is how our community can save what's left of the school system.

Break it up.

Let's face it, the Detroit Public Schools must break up their school district similar to what we see in Warren, Michigan.

If you look here at this link (http://www.misd.net/directory/) you can clearly see how the Warren, Michigan has five school districts inside one.

1. Warren Consolidated
2. Warren Woods
3. Center Line
4. Van Dyke
5. Fitzgerald

The same can be found in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.

1. Lakeshore
2. Lakeview
3. Southlake

What I am proposing is not the old Area system of the late 70s and 80s. I am actually proposing actual smaller school districts broken down into 5-6 school districts that can be held accountable.

This is also different from the proposal that Gov. Jennifer Granholm recommended to the State Legislature in terms of smaller high schools. Again, I am speaking of a master solution to the woes in Detroit Public Schools. That is breaking down the entire district into 5 smaller school districts.

30 years of research shows that four factors consistently affect student achievement—smaller school size (300-500 students); smaller class size, especially at high schools; challenging curriculum; and more highly qualified teachers. The communities with the largest schools and school districts have the worst achievement, affective, and social outcomes.

There was strong, consistent negative correlation between district size and student achievement in low income populations. The higher the level of poverty in a community served by a school, the more damage larger schools and school districts inflict on student achievement.

In terms of school district size, the research is more sparse compared to the literature regarding school size, but again there is no universal consensus on what constitutes a large school district or a small school district. Florence Webb, in a 1971 Education Research Service study of 26 reports completed between 1939 and 1969, stated that the most common recommendation for district size was 10,000 students. In another study, it is suggested that the optimal district enrollment is approximately 6,000 students. Another report shows how researchers and practitioners should promote an appropriate curriculum, extra-curricular activities, and a safe and nurturing environment. Therefore, a school district should enroll at least 260 but no more than 2,925 students.

What is evidenced by the literature is that small school districts and small schools have many advantages over larger school districts and schools.

The research that has been conducted in the past decade has had a focus on the relationship between the size of a school or district and student achievement. Much research has also been conducted on the impact of poverty in relation to the size of schools and districts.

Research dictates how smaller school districts produces higher grades and test scores, and improved attendance and lower dropout rates DPS's large school district hurts attendance and dampens enthusiasm for involvement in school activities. Also, large schools have lower grade averages and standardized-test scores coupled with higher dropout rates and more problems with violence, security and drug abuse. Behavior problems are so much greater in larger DPS schools that any possible virtue of larger size is canceled out by the difficulties of maintaining an orderly learning environment. Students in communities with smaller districts and smaller schools have higher SAT and ACT scores.

If the Detroit Public Schools are serious about repopulating the district as well as reinvesting in deteriorating school facilities they should not be so eager to increase school size in most instances, if higher student achievement, especially in poorer communities, is a goal.

Some of the disadvantages to think about if we are serious about looking at breaking up the Detroit Public School District is to small school districts are more likely to have a building with a feature in less than adequate condition and that lower budgets and decreased access to quality teachers often means fewer educational resources and fewer specialized courses and services.

In summary, it should be emphasized that disputes on breaking a larger school district into smaller school districts may be costly diversions from the more important issues of disadvantage and equal opportunity, especially as they relate to school performance. School district reorganization should not be founded only on opportunities to reduce costs, and the financial savings should never be the sole reason to break down school districts. Size does not guarantee success, as “good schools come in all sizes.”

There is little or no agreement on optimal school size; “one size does not fit all.” Detroit Public Schools should carefully consider a multitude of options for the struggling district due to their size. The impact on student achievement and the community well-being should be extensively examined, as many researchers have insinuated combining two small failing districts will only result in one larger failing district unless the proper measures are taken into account. Smaller districts in Detroit will help bring the problems and opportunities back to the local level. This freedom will spur innovation, flexibility, and commitment by both parents and teachers. Only then will true accountability, educational quality, and efficiency be within our reach.

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