Saturday, September 19, 2009

Building A Better Regional Approach To Education by Akindele Akinyemi


The founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Operation HOPE, John Hope Bryant, has a mission statement that makes total sense.

"There is a difference between broke and being poor. Being broke is a temporary economic condition, but being poor is a disabling frame of mind and a depressed condition of your spirit, and you must vow to never, ever be poor again."

His vision for the poor, the under-served, and the wealthless of the world is to help them see themselves -- differently. We can do this by helping to expose, to educate, to empower, and ultimately to inspire them.

This is deeply rooted in what we call silver rights. This is a concept that documents and validates the next phase of civil rights: the empowerment movement not only of American minorities, but of majorities as well. That is, we transition beyond giving a fish, beyond teaching to fish, to owning the pond itself.

Yesterday, I was part of a quality education tour sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber. The group that made up the tour were both stakeholders in the policy, educational and business sectors.

The first school we attended was the Detroit Edison Public School Academy (DEPSA). DEPSA
is the FIRST CHARTER school in the state of Michigan to be honored with the prestigious Blue Ribbon Award bestowed by the Department of Education. It is also accredited through the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement.

The school has an excellent curriculum, clean and modern facilities, tons of extracurricular activities, a dynamic superintendent who is always striving for higher levels of achievement, caring and involved principals, and great teachers. I was amazed by some of the things that they are learning. I love the attitudes of the teachers and administration as far as learning and raising the bar.

The vision of DEPSA's Superintendent Ralph Bland is current, appropriate, solid and well disciplined. The children are being challenged as we were parents to excel in studies. It was great to see our children study like we did in college. You won't find anything like it in the City of Detroit. The quality of education your child receives all comes down to the teachers, the students and parental involvement.


After we left DEPSA we went to the Foreign Language Immersion Cultural Studies (FLICS). FLICS is one of the best kept secrets in the Detroit Public Schools. In fact, it is probably the most important school in DPS because language immersion programs have grown for a number of reasons: competition in a global economy, a growing population of second language learners, and the successes of previous programs.

This school offers a rigorous core curriculum that includes total immersion in French, Spanish and Japanese languages as well comprehensive study of English language arts with Open Court Reading. Beginning in kindergarten, students receive instruction in the target language from native-speaking teachers and highly qualified instructors. An appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity is stressed.

One of the key principles of immersion education is that linguistic and cultural knowledge is a resource—the more you know, the better off you are. Immersion education adds knowledge about a new language and culture while building on a child’s English language skills and knowledge of U.S. culture.

Students from the French program have won first place in the National French Contest for two years in a row.

<span class=This teacher was teaching a Japanese language course at FLICS. How many black men do you see teaching Japanese on any given basis to children? Despite having no Japanese heritage, the students can rattle off the hiragana characters of the Japanese language. No one in the class was speaking English.

<span class=
This teacher was teaching Chinese to a group of children. Again, no English in the classroom. Keep this in mind. FLICS is located right here in Detroit at the old Renaissance High School (which moved next door). Some of these children can speak Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and French better than their suburban counterparts.

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More Chinese instructional learning going on at FLICS.

The challenge for Detroit Public Schools or charter schools is to develop at foreign immersion cultural high school at the high school level. As we move into a global society these types of schools will be needed.

The afternoon session of the Quality Schools Tour included testimony from various educational stakeholders in the community on the needs to improve quality education in Michigan. The House GOP Educational Committee met with us to hear our concerns. We testified the need for alternative teacher certification, quality charters, and I even gave a testimony for allowing Wayne RESA to control failing school districts that are operating financially in a deficit like Detroit Public Schools. This is a better alternative as to allowing the Office of the Mayor to run Detroit Public Schools.

The quality schools tour that was sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber is part of a growing silver rights movement. This movement is rightly focused on an inclusive policy, aimed at empowering the wealthless of America. Because we believe that education is the ultimate poverty eradication tool it is necessary for us to put our differences aside and come together on educational policies that makes sense.

This includes creating a curriculum that links students to the jobs and careers of the 21st century in Michigan by building learning partnerships between businesses and schools to develop in-demand job skills and talents as well as expanding mentoring and internship
opportunities, especially for minority students.

Our K-16 curriculum needs to focus on critical thinking and problem solving as well as global perspectives and languages. This, including the core courses that children needs to compete, will help create a new well balanced student.

There is no way we can improve our economic conditions in the State of Michigan without addressing the needs of education FIRST. There is no way we can reinvigorate and diversify our
economy by forging unique niches that draw on established and emerging assets without realizing that global education needs to be paramount. This includes treating the arts and culture as both educational and economic tools of regional growth as well as improving core infrastructure. Also, encourage businesses to partner with school districts to develop an entrepreneurial curriculum.

Educational reform fits into the platform of the silver rights movement because we believe in giving individuals "a hand up to a hand out," and actively promote programs aimed at helping people, people help themselves. Whether those programs are financial literacy or public health we need a proactive and coordinated partnership between the private sector, government, technology and the community.

Through global education we can begin to convert the economically uneducated to the economically literate, and empowered. Showing people how to help themselves and creating more stakeholders in Michigan. Our movement is reflective of all people and all races, because without strong, consistent and positive intervention, all the major trend lines suggest a large and growing educational disparity gap; and "any nation is at its greatest risk by those who have no stake in it." But with positive intervention, consistency we can realize the rebirth of the American dream of equality for all.

We have to create an era of educational prosperity that will lead to family building and wealth in Michigan. An educational era where selfishness is replaced with enlightened self-interest. This will in turn lead to an economic era giving birth to the stakeholder class. Lodged between the working class and the middle class, the stakeholder class doesn't necessarily make more money, but makes better decisions with the money they make. All deeply rooted in education. There would have been no financial crisis if people would have been smarter about their money instead of making it a political issue. If we need a tea party we need one for financial literacy. It's easy to point the fingers at someone else but hard to point it at yourself.

If we continue to support organizations like the Detroit Regional Chamber, Skillman Foundation, MAPSA, the Hannibal Public Policy Group, Emerging Leaders Think Tank, Detroit Parent Network, and others who are in the mix in terms of building educational and regional power here in the State of Michigan we will begin to see a transformation in our region. These groups I mentioned not just have a vision for Detroit but all of Michigan. This is why I travel across the State of Michigan talking about educational reform efforts.




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