The NBC Learn Town Hall series "Finishing the Dream" continues in Detroit, Michigan as panelists talk about the state of education in Detroit, and how it can be improved.
How Can Detroit Public Schools Be Improved?
CARMEN HARLAN, Moderator:
Detroit’s graduation rates, some of the lowest in the nation. But as this piece from 2009 shows teachers, students, and advisors at University Prep High School have found a way to defy the odds.
MARA SCHIAVOCAMPO, reporter:
Samantha Cole is just starting high school in a city where most students won't finish. According to Michigan State University, Detroit high schools have a graduation rate of thirty-two percent, the lowest in the country but at Samantha's school the odds are much better.
SAMANTHA COLE [IN CLIP]: My educators and my advisors here have really pushed me to do great.
MARA SCHIAVOCAMPO [IN CLIP]: This is University Prep High School, a public charter school with five hundred twelve students and a remarkable success rate.
DOUG ROSS [IN CLIP]: We graduated a hundred percent of our students and we sent ninety-four percent on to college. No excuses, not for us, not for them. If a child fails, it’s our fault.
SCHIAVOCAMPO [IN CLIP]: Seventeen-year-old Senior Antonio Williams is on track to graduate and plans to go to college. He says if not for U-Prep his life might be very different.
Antonio Williams, student [IN CLIP]: In my neighborhood, I can easily go sit in a drug house and sell drugs all day if I wanted to.
SCHIAVOCAMPO[IN CLIP]: Antonio says the school's high expectations motivate him. Students are told dropping out is not an option.
Williams [IN CLIP]: When I’m at school, I know that I have to be on top of my game, complete all my work, do all my homework, turn in all my assignment on time.
SCHIAVOCAMPO [IN CLIP]:: Expectations and accountability. U-Prep pairs each student with an advisor who’s responsible for them, no matter what.
ESOHE OSAI, University Prep Advisor [IN CLIP]: It makes a big difference to know that your teacher is going to call your home, your parent’s job, maybe your grandmother’s house, maybe your uncle's house to find you when you’re not in school.
Antonio’s Mother [IN CLIP]: So Antonio who was school today?
SCHIAVOCAMPO [IN CLIP]: --another partner, the family.
SCHIAVOCAMPO: The school demands that the parents are involved.
U-Prep has no admission requirements, accepting students to a blind lottery. Proponents say this proves that with the right system, any child can succeed.
AMBER ARELLANO, Detroit News: It shows that minority children and low-income children can do just as well as other children, right? I mean, that’s-- it’s not really them that’s the problem. It’s the schools and the quality of the education that’s the problem.
HARLAN: Well, that ought to give you something to think about, huh. Why is this school the exception? It angers me when I think that this should be for everybody. This should be the standard, why is it not?
DR. DANIEL KRICHBAUM, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL RIGHTS: One reason, which the-- the scene mentioned, there’s no connections between the school, the home, and the neighborhood. Being a student is a twenty-four hour a day job for someone. It’s a twenty-four hour job.
HARLAN: Do we have to educate the parents as well as the children?
CAROL GOSS, PRESIDENT & CEO THE SKILLMAN FOUNDATION: Well, parents are a big part of it. But really and truly, we know how to educate kids well so we have to have the will to invest in the right thing so that we are educating kids well. So we know that smaller schools work better. That we know that strong principal leadership really interested invested teachers, a rigorous curriculum. We know what works. What we don’t have is the will to make that happen for every single child.
HARLAN: How can we do that?
SHIRLEY STANCATO, PRESIDENT & CEO NEW DETROIT, INC: It goes back to the issue of courage and being focused on the children.
STANCATO: We are focused on too many of the adult issues instead of the issues with the kids. And if we stay focused on the kids we’ll make the right decisions. That has not been the case. But as Carol said the community has to demand it.
I have always said that-- that I will know that we’ve come a long way in Detroit, particularly as it relates to the school system, if when the MEAP [Michigan Educational Assessment Program] scores come out and they’re particularly low, people are marching around the buildings where the administration is saying this is not good enough as opposed to at other times so--
HARLAN: We’re going to ask you to hold that thought because we’ve got students here from the University of the Prep High School with us tonight. Tell me why it works in your opinion.
TAREA WILLIAMS, student: Well, first my name is Tarea Williams.
HARLAN: Speak up a little bit louder, please.
WILLIAMS: My name is Tarea Williams, proud graduate of University of Prep, aspiring journalist and freshmen at Grand Valley State University in the fall. I believe University Prep works because from the start, they instill in you that you will be successful. College is an option always. The next step from that is figuring out where you going to go and what you’re going to do. So it’s always there and you have that support system, you have those opportunities presented to you and it’s—it’s wonderful.
HARLAN: That’s got to make you feel good when you hear a student who’s experienced that school, talk about her experience that way.
GOSS: Do you know Carmen-- one of the greatest civil rights issues of our time is the lack of access to quality education for every single child. Young people need the same opportunities that their suburban counterparts, young people in Detroit, that their suburban counterparts have and we are not as a community, we should be outraged. We should be marching down Woodward Avenue.
HASSAN JABER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACCESS: The other thing is that education is in crisis not only in Detroit. It’s statewide and it’s nationwide. In fact, we are as a nation behind many other countries in terms of education--
HARLAN: Absolutely. Yeah.
JABER: And I agree that this is not a political issue, this is an education issue. We have to stop the politics of this and focus on what make it successful and have the support system-- the community support system behind the schools.
HARLAN: Sounds like they agree with you?
TAREA WILLIAMS: I do wholeheartedly because I interact with kids my age who didn’t graduate from University Prep and didn’t have the experience that I had. And it’s kind of alarming to me that people-- some kids my age don’t consider college or they don’t know what college is all about. They haven’t actually been on a campus, they haven’t had a tour. They haven’t talked to admission’s counselors. Things like that make a difference in the child’s life.
GOSS: I do think one of the most important things at U-Prep is that they all have advisors.
GOSS: There is a single adult in that high school who is responsible for every child. So it’s someone that they can go to, they can talk to about their problems, their curriculum, going to college, anything they want that there is someone that’s available to them.
STANCATO: And the research demonstrates and New Detroit has done a lot of research over this that having a single adult responsible for a young person whomever that person may be, that is one of the pieces of the puzzle that it takes to change-- turn education around and ensure that young people get the kind of-- kind of education that-- that they deserve.
REVEREND ROBERT SMITH, PASTOR NEW BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH: Let me just say something about facilities. My sisters went to a biology class where they had one microscope in all six classes, had that one microscope and the teacher prepared the slide and you got to peep at it. I went seven and a half miles away to what we called the white school first day in biology class, I got my own microscope individual to keep in my locker, like the facility you are in. So part of the inspiration she received was from the facilities that she was in because I’m at a school where the ceilings falling out, has no toilet tissue.
HARLAN: So you felt better about yourself.
HARLAN: You can see it.
SMITH: The grass is not cut.
HARLAN: You can see it here.
HARLAN: Why aren’t we outraged about the quality of education of our schools in Detroit?
MOSS: You know, I-- I think that’s a really good question. I just want to say Nelson Mandela once said that “There’s no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.” It’s not just in the city of Detroit.
In Grand Rapids, they’re talking about virtually almost an entirely online curriculum for kids, unacceptable. So it is an issue that should outrage people and we have an election coming in November.
If you don’t know the position of the Republican and Democratic candidates on education, please find out, ask them, ask them what’s their position on education.
STANCATO: And young people you know what goes on in your schools. Go home and talk to your parents, your ministers, other adults that are part of your life. Let them know that you are not satisfied.
Your voice is really, really, really important. Your voice is one of the voices that we need to hear to help us understand what’s going on in the schools. And also to encourage us and get us moving in the direction, say, this is not acceptable.
I recently got an e-mail from a young woman who said-- “I want to sue everybody, I want to sue the governor, the mayor, the school, I want to sue everybody because I am not being given the education that’s the constitutional right for me.” Came to New Detroit. I was blown away by this young woman. She is just so—she’s so passionate. In the ninth grade and she’s able to say I need someone to help me. So you have a voice, ask for help and make it as loud as you can make it. But we need to hear from you, that you are not satisfied with-- with what’s going on.
HARLAN: All right.
More than 85 of Detroit's approximately 100 public schools were closed Wednesday as teachers staged a sickout to protest the system's overcrowded classrooms, broken finances and crumbling facilities.