Why you should pay attention to a new coalition's recommendations for education in Detroit

Last week, the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren (CFDS), a cross-section of educators, business people, philanthropists, clergy members, and other local leaders, released its recommendations for sweeping changes to improve the educational landscape for Detroit students.
It is a report that all who care about the city should pay attention to, whether they have children or not. Why? Because, despite the significant investment happening in the city's core, the local economy will stagnate if our schools don't provide kids with a better education.
Mainstream local media focused on one of the coalition's key recommendations that the state of Michigan assume responsibility for the Detroit Public Schools' $350 million debt accumulated while the district was under state oversight. (The fact that Governor Snyder did not immediately shun this suggestion caught their attention.) Yet other recommendations by CFDS warrant attention, too, particularly those that have to do with teacher quality and parent-community leadership at the citywide and individual school levels.
Here are some of the CFDS's key recommendations for investing in strong teachers:

- Develop a strategy to recruit, develop, competitively compensate, and retain high-quality educators across all schools in Detroit. 

- Provide continuous, content-rich, and collaborative professional development for all teachers in partnership with surrounding colleges and universities. 

- Use assessments to improve teacher performance and promote a growth culture in schools. 

- Establish a leadership academy to prepare educators to become school leaders, with specific training on improving achievement at low-performing schools. 

Here are some of the coalition's key recommendations for community-based oversight and coordination of education:

- Establish a leadership team at each school consisting of parents, staff, students, the principal, and community members; the team will weigh in on the school improvement plan, budget, and school-parent compact. 

- Establish regional councils consisting of select members from school leadership teams within each City Council district to ensure community voice in decision-making. 

- Develop community-informed action plans to accelerate achievement in low-performing schools. 

- Establish the Detroit Education Commission to coordinate and rationalize citywide education functions for all Detroit schoolchildren. (The commission will have a number of regulatory powers and functions, including setting performance standards, appointing a public advocate for parents, and preventing low-performing charter operators from opening schools.) 

The release of the coalition's recommendations brings up an important question: Do we need another group meddling in education reform? While a number of foundations, citizen groups, and nonprofit organizations (Excellent Schools Detroit, Michigan Future Inc., Education Trust-Midwest, to name a few) are already working on improving the quality of education for Detroit students, there cannot be enough players in the field.
"It doesn't matter if we've tried it [reform] before. We have to try again and differently," says Ali Webb, director of Michigan programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. "We have to keep pushing until we achieve the goal that all children have a high-quality education. That's just nonnegotiable."
Comprised of a diverse cross-section of community leaders, the CFDS has produced an aggressive, progressive platform. It was no small task to come up with 37 direct – and oftentimes onerous – recommendations with more than 100 different opinions sitting around one proverbial table. (The coalition was made up of five co-chairs, 30 steering committee members, and 70 volunteers serving on six subcommittees.)
Amazingly, they conducted their research and sketched out a plan in 100 days.
"Folks in Detroit put their shoulder to this effort in a really collaborative way that included parents, business people, philanthropy, and government," says Webb.  "The way we look at how change happens in the world, it's that kind of cross-sector collaboration that has the best possibility for success."
Webb credits The Skillman Foundation for being the "neutral convener" that brought the coalition together and allowed the conversation and hard work to happen. While public education is a public function, private organizations, like foundations, can play a role in facilitating, catalyzing, providing resources, sharing knowledge, and bringing new ideas forward.
And it's those new, forward-thinking, ambitious ideas presented by the coalition that we are hopeful will take flight, setting Detroit on a new trajectory toward higher standards, higher outcomes, and a brighter outlook for Detroit's young people.
This story is part of a series of solutions-focused stories and profiles about the programs and people that are positively impacting the lives of Michigan kids. The series is produced by Michigan Nightlight and is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read other stories in this series here.

Read more articles by Melinda Clynes.

Melinda Clynes is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Model D. She is the statewide project editor of Michigan Kids, a series of stories that highlight what’s working to improve outcomes for Michigan children. View her online portfolio here.
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