STATE ORDERS DETROIT TO CLOSE HALF ITS SCHOOLSI had to read the headline twice just to make sure I wasn’t misreading it. It seems Detroit has a huge public school budget deficit - $327 million. State officials in Michigan, in their lofty wisdom, have determined that this deficit must be wiped out by 2014, and the way to do that is to simply close half the schools. And get this: by closing the schools, the average class size in a Detroit high school will be 60 students.
Have you ever stood in front of a classroom full of high schoolers and tried to teach something? Those 20 or 25 faces that peer back at you are generally jaded and disinterested in education. Place 60 kids in a high school classroom and a good number of them will likely disappear. Best evidence? The dropout rate tells the story. In 2008, only 52 percent of high school students graduated after four years in America’s top 50 largest cities, according to Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.
Guess which city has the highest dropout rate in the country – Detroit. The vast majority of high school dropouts in the U.S. are either black or Latino, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Detroit’s population is 81% black, according to Detroitareaconnect.com, a demographic tracking service. In 2009, the Washington Times newspaper did a story about poverty in Detroit.
Here are some of their findings: Between 2001 and 2009, the median household income in Detroit dropped 24 percent about $35,000, well below the $54,200 figure statewide. The literacy rate for adults in the city is just under 50 percent. Fifty percent of the city’s children live in poverty. The public school system received a D+ from the National Council on Teacher Quality in the group’s 2008 annual report.
So there you have it: Detroit on paper sounds much like a third world country. The city is always on the list of the 10 U.S. cities with the highest murder rates. And it is this city that the state of Michigan has decided should close half of its public schools. The other half will remain in their decaying, sub-standard facilities. Reportedly, in 2007 Detroit had 201 public schools. It now has 142. When the new cuts are made it will have 72. Oh, and worth mentioning – Detroit’s unemployment rate tends to hover around 10 percent. When the schools close, that figure is likely to spike, with hundreds of newly-unemployed teachers.
So, let’s review: Detroit is poverty stricken, racially unbalanced, inordinately illiterate, grossly under-employed and extremely dangerous. With all of that knowledge in their back pocket, the state government still decides the solution to the deficit problem in Detroit public schools is to close half the schools.
Detroit may be ground zero for the national public school crisis, but how many other cities will emulate its budget cutting, education slashing quick financial fix? Will New Orleans be next? East L.A.? Camden? Birmingham? Cleveland? South Chicago? East St. Louis? It is estimated by the American Association of School Administrators that 275,000 U.S. education jobs will be eliminated this year due to budget cuts. For each of those positions, how many students suffer dire consequences? One can only imagine the environment in a Detroit classroom where 60 students are crammed into a room meant for half that number, where lighting, textbooks, plumbing, desks and more are so old and decrepit as to inhibit the full impact of even the best teaching methods. Add to that a huge drug crisis among high school aged kids and federal budget cuts to drug education and rehab programs, and what you have is an academic Armageddon.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. is projected to spend more than $100 billion on the Afghanistan war this year. And for what? Meanwhile, public schools coast to coast are crumbling, losing teachers, over-populating classrooms and at an extreme – closing. In the near future, keep your eye on this: President Obama has proposed in his 2012 budget big increases in spending for public school education. But MN Rep. John Kline, head of the House Education and Workforce Committee told the New York times this: “Over the last 45 years we have increased our investment in education, but the return on that investment has failed to improve student achievement. Throwing more money at our nation’s broken education system ignores reality and does a disservice to students and taxpayers.” Stay tuned.