Surprise! Detroit students are set to take fewer exams this year after an announcement by new Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. Of all of the changes he’s made since joining the district in May, it’s the one most likely to make a concrete difference in students’ experiences in school.
Others getting unexpected good news this week: teachers at a closing charter school who learned they might get paid after all, and a Detroit educator who got a shout-out from a student who is making it in Hollywood. Read on for the details and have a great weekend.
— Philissa Cramer, Chalkbeat managing editor
DOWN WITH TESTING: Educators and parents who have long pushed back against what they say is excessive testing in Detroit schools found an ally in Vitti. On Thursday, he announced that the district would reduce the number of required tests from 186 to 57 — a 70 percent drop.
“We have whittled it down to essentially what is required at the state level … and what is required for teacher evaluations,” Vitti said. The superintendent “listens to teachers,” national union chief Randi Weingarten tweeted. The Free Press expressed cautious optimism. One principal had a less nuanced take: “This is awesome.”
BACK TO SCHOOL: Detroit launched pop-up enrollment centers to help families find schools this week; they’ll be open until Aug. 18. A credit union that planned to take teachers’ requests for donated school supplies until Sept. 9 closed the request line after everything was claimed in two days. A law firm that gives out backpacks to students every year is adding 3,000 “Teacher Totes” this fall. And more districts than ever have gotten permission to start before Labor Day (but not Detroit).
DEJA VU: For Detroit families, finding a good school is a struggle with lots of uncertainty. The same idea, from a year ago. The state’s forthcoming plan to comply with federal education law could help the situation — but will it?
ABOUT THAT PLAN: Michigan education officials checked in with the U.S. Education Department this week in an ongoing process of overhauling the state’s school accountability system. Next, the feds will give formal feedback on the state’s plan, which will detail what information is shared about schools and what happens to low-performing ones.
DEVOS DESCENDS: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was on her home turf of Grand Rapids this week to visit a community college and a private summer program for middle schoolers. Five teachers who met with her said they oppose the Trump administration’s proposed teacher training cuts. Superintendents also weighed in, but Vitti said he couldn’t make it.
MONEY MATTERS: Everyone agrees that Detroit teachers deserve more than the 7 percent raise over three years included in their new contract. On the upside, teachers at a closing charter school who were told they wouldn’t get paid now might.
RACE TO MANOOGIAN: Jeffery Robinson, principal of Detroit’s Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy, is a write-in candidate for mayor, one of 13 people hoping (probably quixotically) to unseat Mayor Mike Duggan in Tuesday’s primary. Inside Robinson’s school on Vitti’s first day.
FRESH LOOK: Fifteen city schools will get spruced up during the annual ARISE Detroit! Neighborhoods Day on Saturday. Another fix-up program, Life Remodeled, launched this week with a base at a school building it controversially leased from the city for $1 a year.
DEBT DEBATE: Two years after the Detroit school district was ordered to pay a contractor $24 million, the two parties are still fighting over the money.
HISTORY CLASS: Fifty years ago, a program called the Neighborhood Educational Center had success educating poor students in Detroit. But when an initial grant ran out, the initiative disappeared.
DISAPPEARING TEACHERS: Since 2008, the number of Michigan college students preparing to become teachers has fallen by half, in line with national trends. “We can’t identify causation,” a state education official said. “And we don’t know yet if it’s a good thing, or not.”
EXTRA CREDIT: Shawntay Dalon, the east side native who stars in “Detroiters,” shouted out her high school English teacher this week on Instagram. Kristen Marschner LaMagno taught Dalon at Finney High School before it closed; she now works at Western International High School.