The common assertion is outsiders point and laugh at Detroit, unfairly choosing the historic city as an object of ridicule. The idea’s false for me because I view the city as a microcosm of what’s happening in other large cities, states and, more specifically, urban districts. Watching equal parts The Wire and WSHH come to life could never be considered a joke.
A little over a month ago, we spoke on Detroit’s potential move to close half of their public schools due to budget constraints. On Monday, word released stating the state government had approved the proposal.
“The state of Michigan approved a plan for Detroit to close about half of its public schools and increase the average size of high-school classrooms to 60 students over the next four years to eliminate a $327 million deficit.
“The plan was submitted in January by Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools’ emergency financial manager, as a last-ditch scenario if the district couldn’t find new revenue sources, which it hasn’t so far. Final approval came after Mike Flanagan, the state superintendent of public instruction, cleared Mr. Bobb’s initial plan with some new requirements, including that the district not file for bankruptcy protection during Mr. Bobb’s remaining months in office.” [WSJ]
Closing schools should always be a last option, but should shuttering doors ever be considered in the first place? Strong measures should have obviously been in place long before a school system creates a whopping $327 million deficit, right? Apparently, steps were taken as early as two years ago.
“Mr. Bobb was appointed emergency financial manager for the district two years ago to help close what was then a $218 million deficit, and moved quickly to close schools and root out waste. But the deficit deepened during his tenure, weighed down by salary, pension and health-care obligations. The longtime municipal manager said that without the cuts and cost-savings measures he has made since 2009, the district would face a deficit of more than $500 million today.”
How do the money woes & impending closures relate to anyone outside of Detroit? Most metropolitan school districts are ultimately businesses and many are operating in the red, obviously some in deeper debt than others. Having spent well over a decade involved with public schools, I assuredly say numbers – both test scores & budgets – determine the day-to-day ability of schools to operate and students to learn. When the dust settles, cutting the number of schools to 72 from 142 creates a classroom with nearly 60 to 1 student to teacher ratio, when an efficient classroom should function at approximately a low 20 to 1 ratio.
Assuming anyone reading this probably last attended class in a university setting and envisions a lecture hall setting, thinking “it worked just fine as far as I remember.” Yes, in a college setting, a high ratio may work…because, not for nothing, everyone in college as the underlying incentive that their education comes at a cost and lifelong relationship with Sallie Mae.
But think back a few years prior to a typical high school. Remember all of the bad asses in the back of Spanish I class? The one or two students who had learning disabilities, requiring extra attention. Think of the more advanced students who excel but went ignored and nurtured to continue challenging them. Now, multiply that number times three as classes are increased from 20 to 60 students. While leaps like this aren’t occurring everywhere, small, unnoticed changes like these happen daily where a classroom teacher in middle America just got five new students pushed into the classroom for Random High School Subject A, a space already packed with 30 students and not enough texts or desks.
When T-Baby’s “It’s So Cold In The D” plays, we all laugh but we post it here with instrumental intentions to make someone ask why it’s cold there, hoping further questions are asked. Truthfully, Terry Cole’s “Ways To Lose Detroit” spring to mind after thinking of the aforementioned track, knowing the same can be said for many forgotten locales, both urban and rural i.e. the places where states and our federal government lose sight of before it’s too late.