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Week in review: The future coming into focus for Detroit’s schools

Alan Petersime

This was a week of breakthroughs, small ones that offered clues to what the future might bring for education in Detroit. Representatives from Detroit’s charter schools and main district were on the same stage answering questions from parents and teachers at the city’s first State of the Schools address. The heated exchanges between participants allowed the audience to get a new perspective on Detroit’s education leaders.

In addition, Detroit superintendent Nikolai Vitti unveiled a three-year strategic plan for the city’s main district. And its enrollment grew for the first time in many years.

One new piece of research that was not so welcome: A major national study says African-American children in Michigan rank last nationally when it comes to education and well-being.

Have a good week.

– Philissa Cramer, Chalkbeat managing editor

SHOWDOWN: This week’s “State of the Schools” event laid bare deep divisions between the city’s main school district and the local charter sector. The intense debate included Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti calling some charter schools “disastrous” and vowing to win more students back from them. Catch up on the highlights and one constructive outcome — new details about what district and charter schools offer. Plus, reactions from people who were there.

THE COUNT: Enrollment is up in Detroit’s main district for the first time in 15 years, driven mostly by the return of 11 schools that had been run by the state. The enrollment boost comes with $11 million in state funds. Meet one family that chose the district.

THE PLAN: Vitti used the enrollment announcement to detail his strategic plan. (Our early reveal.)

THE PULSE: One insider is optimistic about the city’s schools for the first time maybe ever.

MARKET SHARE: Flint has now surpassed Detroit to claim the No. 2 position for largest proportion of children in charter schools in the nation, with 55 percent of students in charters compared to 53 percent in Detroit. (Only New Orleans has a higher charter school market share; in 200 urban districts across the country, 1 in 10 students now attend charter schools.) Charter school enrollment is actually down in Flint, but public school enrollment dropped faster.

PARTNERSHIPS: Eleven Detroit high schools got college advisors through a new program this year. Nine after-school recreation centers are opening next week after the Detroit district and parks department teamed up. A new fund’s first initiative will be to retrain teachers at struggling schools. A rapper and a billionaire walked into a school to inspire children.

MAKING HISTORY: For the first time ever, Michigan’s Supreme Court heard arguments in a Detroit public school — with students watching on.

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: A Detroit teacher with ties to Oprah Winfrey is running for City Council. A father explains why he trekked to Lansing to lobby for his daughter’s education.

D.C. IN DETROIT: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and First Lady Melania Trump visited a suburban middle school (whose graduates include our own Erin Einhorn) as part of an anti-bullying campaign. Not included, easily at least: reporters. More about how DeVos spends her days.

HIGH SCHOOL CHOICES: Enrollment in career training programs is up statewide. Computer science could get a boost. And could Michigan get a special diploma for students who are bilingual? Some are pushing for the option. (Here’s a Colorado student’s take on the idea.)

LOW PERFORMANCE: One national report says African-American fourth-graders in Michigan have the lowest rates of reading proficiency in the country.

LANSING REPORT: Under debate: a bill that would redirect some county taxes to charter schools. Charter advocates are (unsurprisingly) on board; Detroit schools chief Vitti says the change would cost his district millions of dollars. A columnist says they’re both right.

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