Model D TV: Innovation in education speaker series recapped

Anticipation began early for last month's Model D speaker series. Way early. The seeds for a wide-ranging panel discussion were planted last December, soon after our event on Gentrification ended. Many in the audience wanted to dig deeper into the importance of education, and the role it plays in attracting people to Detroit. And keeping them here. 

So the Innovation in Education event, held at Youthville in New Center in late August, was just short of nine months in the making. It included partners from The Huffington PostUrban Innovation Exchange and Michigan Nightlight, with support from MSHDAW.K. Kellogg FoundationJohn S. and James L. Knight Foundation and ACLU of Michigan.

The event was moderated by Kary Moss, Executive Director of ACLU of Michigan, who quickly introduced Amber Arellano of Education Trust-Midwest. 

Arellano began with a sobering presentation that pulled no punches on where Detroit schools -- and its students of color and from low income families -- placed in national rankings.

"Michigan's overall performance is far behind (other states)," she said. "It is the lowest performing state for black students in the U.S."

And Detroit's (learning levels) were so low, Arellano said, "it was as if the students were never in the classroom. They could have stayed home and gotten similar results."

Moss cited a recent lawsuit that the ACLU filed against the Highland Park Schools, the State of Michigan and other agencies over low literacy rates for Highland Park students. Moss emphasized that the suit was on behalf of the students and "not pro or against public or charter schools, or unions."

Other panelists were Sharnita Johnson, Kellogg Foundation; Michael Brennan, United Way; Armen Hratchian, Excellent Schools Detroit; Michael Khoury, Cristo Rey High School; and Stephan Quicksey, senior at Osborn Academy of Mathematics.

Brennan cited an equally alarming narrative: half of the children arriving for school each day are not prepared to learn. "There are thousands of early childhood programs out there but we're stll not preparing kids. (We know) caregivers should be reading to a child at least 20 minutes a day, but many households have no books."

Johnson talked about how the Kellogg Foundation wants to bring resources to the table and collaborate with others trying to turn around the course of K-12 education in the city. "We know there is no one answer, no silver bullet," she said. "Kellogg wants to see the big picture and provide support." 

Khoury also went big picture in describing the success of Cristo Rey High School, a Catholic school in Southwest Detroit which he said had a "100 percent graduation and college acceptance rate." Khoury talked about the school as "being an eight-year program -- we don't consider our work done until the student graduates from college."

He talked about some practices that work at Cristo Rey, including a school day that begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m., an academic year that runs from early August to late June, and mandatory Latin language classes. Why Latin? "Because data says students that take Latin do better on standardized tests."

Stephen Quicksey, the only student on the panel, said it was his performance on a standardized test that made him realize that he needs to be better prepared to meet the challenges of higher education.

"I'm a 4.0 student (at Osborn) but when I took the ACT test there was a lot I didn't know," he said. "It was an 'A-ha' moment when I knew that the curriculum was not as advanced, and that I wasn't really prepared for this. Students need a better foundation for learning, or they won't be ready."

In his video, Tony Eggert extends the discussion and interviews the panelists individually. He also captures the buzz in the room during the event and keeps this complex and valuable conversation going. Watch it below.

Photos by Marvin Shaouni

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