Thursday, July 09, 2009

Detroit Public Schools Must Go Charter by Akindele Akinyemi

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert <span class=

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb has stated that Detroit Public Schools may have no choice but to file Chapter 9 bankruptcy. DPS has a $259 million deficit that could well go higher as more information is uncovered. Bobb has said in the past that he may not be able to balance the budget.

While Detroit Public Schools are trying to figure out what to do its time for charter advocates to put on our silver rights hats and start promoting educational entrepreneurship by building public-private partnerships in the school district. One major plan is to take a look at moving the state legislative school cap on charter schools here in Michigan.

The debate on charter schools is no longer viewed as a Democrat vs Republican thing. It is viewed as a silver right initiative. Take a look at what is going on in other states on charter reform.

-- Illinois. On Tuesday, April 14th, Duncan kicked off his nationwide “listening tour” in Chicago, saying “business as usual, to be clear, would basically eliminate Illinois from [Race the Top] competition” and citing funding inequity, a limit on the number of charter schools, and marginal efforts to police teacher quality as the biggest areas in need of change. In the wee of hours of June 1st, the Illinois state legislature answered Duncan’s call and ended its session by approving 45 new charter schools for Chicago, 5 of which would reserved for high school dropouts, and an additional 15 charter schools for the rest of the state. As a result, about 13,000 students now on charter school waiting lists or in otherwise low-performing schools will be enrolled in high-quality charters subject to stricter accountability requirements than other Illinois schools.

-- Colorado. Gov. Bill Ritter took the unusual step of appointing Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien to serve as “Race To The Top Czar,” to make sure the state was positioned with enough progressive education policies to win the race outright.

-- Tennessee. In late May, Duncan said Tennessee would “not be helping its chances” for Race to the Top funds if it continued arbitrary caps limiting the growth of charter schools. This set off a chain of events in which the state legislature held a special session and Democrats were freed to reverse their positions against charter school expansion from their leadership (and given a pass from the Tennessee Education Association), culminating in approval of charter school expansions in six school systems on a lopsided vote of 79-15.

-- Rhode Island. On Monday, June 22 at a conference attended by thousands of charter school parents, teachers, and Administrators, Duncan said, in response to a question from the audience, that Rhode Island risked eligibility for Race to the Top funding if it continued to roadblock efforts to establish and equitably fund charter schools.

On Friday June 26, just after 2 a.m. the Rhode Island legislature approved a final budget deal that fully restored funding for a system of “mayoral academies” that will serve students attending some of the lowest-performing schools in Providence. The first school, set to open this Fall, will be run by Democracy Prep, a Harlem charter operator. The lottery for slots will be held the first week of July.

-- Connecticut. Duncan’s comments regarding Rhode Island rippled out to Connecticut, when on June 26, virtually simultaneous with Rhode Island’s action, Connecticut reversed its decision to cut charter school budgets, and moved toward an agreement that would fully restore charter school funding.

The victory was hailed not only by charter school advocates, but also by those who are working on behalf of statewide school reform efforts, like Alex Johnston, Chief Executive Officer of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN): “The education reform movement in Connecticut is gratified that this budget averts the tragedy of half-completed public charter schools so that they can continue their work to close Connecticut’s largest-in-the-nation achievement gap.”

-- Massachusetts. On Monday, June 29, Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville announced that Gov. Deval Patrick will soon introduce legislation to lift the cap on charter schools in school districts in the lowest 10 percent on performance exams. Earlier this year Patrick said he was opposed to lifting the cap on the number of charter schools – proposing instead to increase spending on them in the lowest-performing districts.

-- Louisiana. On Thursday, June 25, on the last day of Louisiana’s legislative session, Rep. Walt Leger III, a New Orleans Democrat, introduced legislation lifting the cap on charter schools. The state Education Department’s press release indicated that states that lift caps on charter schools will be viewed more favorably by the federal government in the Race To The Top.

-- Indiana. The new state budget approved by the Legislature this week lifted the cap on charter schools and allows student performance to be used in teacher evaluations. Duncan had warned Indiana legislators that a failure to remove obstacles to reform, like charter caps, would jeopardize the state’s standing in the contest. These are encouraging developments.

State Representative Lamar Lemmons Jr (D) has introduced House Bill 5084 on June 11, 2009, to authorize a ballot measure in Detroit that would place the Detroit School District under the authority and management of the mayor. I would like for an amendment added to allow the authorization of charter schools under the Office of the Mayor here in Detroit.

Detroit as well as Michigan needs serious educational reform efforts. This includes repealing the archaic teacher certification process and replacing it with a leaner and more 21st century certification process. We also should place alternative teacher certification as a priority as many workers who are laid off are seeking new career paths. Finally, certification should be allowed for multicultural instruction such as African American History.

Detroit Public Schools must reopen some of their schools as charter schools. Management companies must be able to manage the schools for a very short period of time and then phase themselves out to allow the school's leadership to become self-sufficient.

Detroit Public Schools must break up into 7 smaller school districts to make it more leaner and more fiscally efficient.

Detroit Public Schools must also leave the New Center Area (Fisher Building, Albert Khan and New Center One) to save the district money.

Detroit will not be able to produce wealth until the schools are drastically reformed. However, while educational policymakers are reforming the district our faith based and non-profit entities MUST help create a counterculture to redirect the negative energy in our community and help make parents stakeholders in their children's education. In fact, faith based and non-profits must join in the charter revolution to produce quality and accountable children to help them compete in the 21st century.

Additional charter schools under the auspices of Detroit Public Schools, as well as partnering with the KIPP and Green Dot schools will help reduce classroom sizes and increase individualized instruction to students who need it.

This is our task as charter and educational reform advocates. Let's make it happen.

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