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Week in review: Too many candidates, not enough information

Attendees at last night's CitizenDetroit School Board Candidate Forum hear from candidates Sonya Mays and Ryan Mack in a "speed dating round" on how they would ensure transparency and robust community engagement if elected. (Courtesy CitizenDetroit)
Attendees at last night's CitizenDetroit School Board Candidate Forum hear from candidates Sonya Mays and Ryan Mack in a "speed dating round" on how they would ensure transparency and robust community engagement if elected. (Courtesy CitizenDetroit)

With 18 days until polls open in Detroit, local schools advocates are starting to turn their attention to who will serve on the board of the new Detroit Public Schools Community District. This will be the city’s first school board with any real power (though not complete power) following years of state-appointed emergency managers. But with more than 60 candidates on the ballot, voters might have trouble figuring out whom to support.

Read on for some guidance, plus the rest of the week’s headlines. Thanks for reading!

Sifting the ballot

In the race to select the first seven-member Detroit school board, endorsements have started rolling in from the Detroit News, the Michigan Chronicle, and the state teachers union.

Candidate forums are being held around town including one that was expected to draw hundreds of Detroiters last night. And news organizations plan to publish reports soon to help voters sift through their options.

Not all of the candidates are doing their part, however. Only 25 of the 63 candidates filled out the candidate questionnaire on the district’s website. When a pair of TV reporters selected 20 candidates to investigate, they found that only seven had campaign websites (one of which didn’t work).

The Free Press hasn’t endorsed in the school board race yet, but the paper is urging voters to support a tax hike that will steer an additional $385 per student to schools in Detroit and other Wayne County districts. Only district schools will benefit, however, which has charter school advocates grumbling.

The Wayne County proposal is identical to one that voters rejected in 2014 and could be a tough sell. For more information on how the Wayne measure will affect Detroit schools, the district posted answers to several questions.

In Detroit schools:

  • In the New York Times, a law professor writes that the federal right-to-read suit filed by Detroit students will be “the opening chapter in a long legal saga.” The question, he says, is whether “a state can constitutionally provide a vast majority of its students with an excellent or at least adequate education while a minority of students receive an education that denies them the chance to acquire … minimum skills.” He adds: “The simple fact is that these schools are a disgrace.”
  • Graduation rates are up in Detroit. But one critic notes that those numbers aren’t very useful. “We are graduating kids who are illiterate and who can’t read their diploma,” he said.
  • State graduation rates are also up – but lag behind the national average.
  • Head Start programs will get a $6.2 million boost from local foundations.
  • A report from a local advocacy group calls for an expanded focus on preschool and other efforts to support children before they fall behind in school. “Our systems are underdeveloped and disconnected,” contends the report.
  • An author and education reformer asserts that Detroit needs a “home-grown education leader and change agent.”
  • An advocate for teacher quality argues that the solution to Detroit’s teaching shortage isn’t welcoming uncertified teachers, as some have suggested, but higher standards.
  • A parent blogger explains why she chose to keep her children in Detroit Public Schools.
  • A Detroit congressman says the federal government needs to help more kids get the glasses they need to succeed in school.
  • A local college president is calling for a community-wide push by parents, teachers and residents to “keep the focus on the children” and fix Detroit schools.
  • Five hundred area high schools learned about plumbing, masonry, and carpentry at a Construction Academy event this week.

Across the state:

  • The ACLU of Michigan is suing school districts that serve Flint kids, saying students are not getting the services they need in the wake of the lead water crisis.
  • Public spending on private school students is up 51 percent from three years ago.
  • State lawmakers are pushing back on a federal proposal that would require Michigan to prove it spends the same amount on schools that get federal poverty funding as those that don’t. New federal laws are designed to make sure that states aren’t using those federal funds as an excuse to shortchange high-needs schools.
  • A state teachers union leader says Donald Trump’s campaign has led to classroom bullying.
  • Legislation approved by a state senate panel would require schools to stock medication to treat drug overdoses.
  • Forty-five Michigan schools picked up grants to upgrade their cafeterias and kitchens.

In other news:

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