Below Basics: A Failing Grade For Leaders On Detroit Public Schools Issue


Below Basic.

That says it all. This is not low performing. It’s not performing at all. It’s not working.

The performance of most of the Detroit students participating on a recent national reading test, 60 percent of 8th graders and as many as 73 percent of 4th graders, is, according to the test, just that: Below basic.

Below basic is just what it sounds like. The smart people who design these tests that a large number of urban communities like Detroit participate in, don’t even consider “Below Basic” as one of their Levels of Achievement…levels such as Proficient, Advanced or, minimally, Basic. “Below Basic” does not even earn you the entry ticket to be considered for success.

Detroit’s educational and academic disaster has been allowed to become so bad that as few as 5 out of every 100 students in the 4th grade, and 7 out of every 100 students in the 8th grade, are at the level considered as solidly passing. Picture that. Gather a group of 100 children at ABC School. Sit them down in the auditorium. Pull out 95 of them to go to another room down the hall. The remaining five children sitting there are those that Detroit’s school leaders have succeeded with. The rest they have failed.

Below Basic describes it all. Below Basic is how Detroit’s, and Lansing’s leaders have performed for far too long when it comes to making the hard decisions about our city’s schoolchildren and their futures. Elected officials (that includes school board members but also the legislators and the governor), state bureaucrats such as Supt. Mike Flanagan, and our own community’s leadership have over a long period of time performed at a Below Basic level on this subject matter. They deserve the failing grade that we are giving them.

Our so-called leaders have kept themselves busy with all kinds of other things while Detroit’s Most Below Basic cadre —its school board  — battles to stop the academic improvements that Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb is implementing. These great minds on the school board apparently think the status quo is just fine, thank you. Even if it means there are only five students left sitting in seats in that school room described above. Their illustrious programs, that which they are fighting to maintain, should be given all the credit for those five —c ount them, five — fourth graders out of every 100 that have been given the tools to succeed. Rather than championing reforms to what should be considered one of the greatest civil rights issues of our time, they are championing a continuation of social promotion.

So here we are on Mackinac again and much will be deliberated in open forums and behind many closed doors and private sessions. Will the issue of governance of Detroit Public Schools be decided or even discussed?

Will legislators, state officials and our region’s leaders give clarity to the law so that educational improvements can move ahead in Detroit Public Schools?  Will Detroit’s legislative delegation cease acting like an oversized school board and have the leadership to make the changes needed? Or will they too continue to receive the Below Basic grade that they have thus far earned?

It’s time to stop blaming others for the educational conditions placed in front of Detroit’s students and their families. It’s beyond time to drop the turf warfare and come together behind a unified educational plan. It’s well beyond time to cease the courtroom drama that the school board is punishing us with as they grasp for the power that they have rightfully lost.

It’s time to step up from Below Basic.

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