Tuesday, February 2, 2010

AB.Guest Post - Shady Grady's Detroit Dilemma.

[Editor's Note: My main man Shady Grady is one of the most prolific, and on-point commenters here at AB.com. I invited him to write a guest post on any topic of his choosing, and he picked the very contentious subject of inner-city public education. Please take the time to read this post in its entirety and chime in on this very spirited debate. As usual, show our guest some love, you-know-where.]

I was born and raised in Detroit in an intact two parent home. I no longer live in Detroit. I attended a Detroit public high school. It was one of the two more competitive magnet schools that the district offered at the time. Before high school I exclusively attended religious or secular private schools. My high school was more diverse than the average public school. It was still majority black-as is the City of Detroit.

The school had and still has a reputation for producing high achievers of all races and standing as a shining example of what Detroiters could do. So it's sad to see the current state that the Detroit School District is in and even worse to see the finger pointing and blame shifting that accompanies this state of affairs.
Fourth- and eighth-graders in Detroit Public Schools scored the worst in the nation in math, according to national test scores released Tuesday, highlighting the expansive task administrators face in trying to right a district beset by multiple problems. The Detroit scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress test were the lowest in its 40-year history. Among fourth-graders, 69 percent scored below basic levels, as did 77 percent of eighth-graders.
The sample of students included 900 of Detroit's 6,000 fourth-graders and 1,000 of the district's 6,000 eighth-graders.

Those scores on the prestigious test are in the same range as would be expected from children who never attended school and simply guessed at the answers, said Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager of Detroit Public Schools, during a press conference Tuesday.

"This is a complete indictment of the adult leadership in this district. ... It cannot be attributed to parental shortcomings, real or imagined. It is directly the result of the failure to lead, the failure to manage, failure to establish rigorous academic and strong professional standards." Bobb said the low math scores can be linked to students' ability to read. Reading test scores that will be released in the spring, he said, will show a link between reading and math comprehension.
The southeast Michigan area is one of the most segregated areas in the nation. Detroit is around 80% Black. Detroit either leads the nation or is close to the top in a whole host of social ills-including but not limited to homicide rates, lead paint in homes, unemployment, families on government assistance, single parent homes, hunger, poverty, STD's-etc. I think everyone knows the list. It is totally unrealistic to expect that these issues would not then impact the education of children. Unless you are from the area I really don't think you can get the level of hostility that exists between the city and the suburbs. Just about EVERYTHING is seen through the filter of race by just about EVERYONE. That's just the way it is. I have seen more Confederate flags in the SE Michigan area than I've ever seen down south. I've had visitors from areas of the South which I thought were backward comment to me on how racially divided the Detroit area is.

[Editor's Note: Robert Bobb was a DC City Administrator who left the District under some not-so-ideal circumstances. I had no idea he'd landed in The Motor City.]

All that said though, the City of Detroit and the Detroit School District has been under Black political control since the early seventies. So these educational problems are just not something that can be easily laid at the door of whites or other bogeymen. I do think that internalized self-hate is a big problem throughout the black community-rich or poor, educated or not and that this self-defeatism or depression might be one big cause of the low test scores. If people have all of the other issues which I listed above they may not necessarily believe that they can achieve or even should achieve.

The local school board has had a tumultuous relationship with Lansing. The Detroit School District is undergoing its second state takeover in a little over a decade. The finances of the Detroit School District are now under the control of the Governor Jennifer Granholm (D), a white woman, who has appointed Robert Bobb, a black man, as Emergency Financial Manager. Bobb was the former City Administrator and Deputy Mayor of Washington D.C. The School Board and Bobb do not get along. He has uncovered criminal activities and in turn they have sued him to try to get him out of their business. Bobb is arguing that he needs control over more than just finances to do his job correctly. This plays into Detroiters’ fears of disenfranchisement.
The intense debate over who should run Detroit Public Schools exploded into accusations of racism and outside influence as Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb pressed state legislators Thursday to give him more control over the beleaguered district.

Some critics at the Lansing hearing said Bobb is playing into racism by hyping up the poor test results and trying to take away Detroit control of the district. But Bobb bristled at the idea and noted that he, like the vast majority of the district's students, is black. The growing academic emergency in Detroit Public Schools is a "call for all of us to act," Bobb said at the hearing.

Seeking control of academics, Bobb slammed the district's previous administrations for "a culture that failed to take its fiduciary responsibilities seriously." "Who's to blame?" he asked at one point. "Not the kids ... the adults who have maintained a system that has overwhelmingly failed." Bobb's critics attacked him and his supporters for trying to bring in outsiders to rule over Detroit children. One parent, Christopher White, said Bobb and others used the low test scores released last month as a way to bash Detroiters and increase their power.
Detroit has the nation's worst high school dropout rate. Only 25% of freshmen in Detroit Public Schools will graduate. This record of low test scores and achievement in Detroit schools (and by extension, predominantly Black schools or among professional examinations across the nation) has been seized upon by conservatives and racists of any political persuasion to argue for a whole range of particularly unpleasant conclusions. Whether the tone is one of scientific detachment, confused disappointment, barely restrained glee at being "proven" right, or over the top naked vitriol, several professional racists use this data to buttress their old one note argument of essentialist black inferiority and pathology. John Derbyshire is particularly adept at this.

In addition, thanks to one Ward Connerly, back in 2006 Michigan voters outlawed public sector affirmative action via constitutional amendment. So if Black students do more poorly on standardized tests, regardless of whether or not the tests accurately measure knowledge, they no longer have any assistance in admissions to public colleges or universities.

This amendment was very deliberately aimed at the affirmative action practices of the University of Michigan. And chances are Ward Connerly is coming to your state very soon. Regardless of what we might think of affirmative action in general it was just not a political winner in the state of Michigan and probably won’t be elsewhere-especially when there were "objective" standards of merit such as exist (or are purported to exist) in education.

I don't believe in black inferiority at all but neither do I believe that black people are doomed to consistently score lower on tests or do worse in school and thus need a thumb on the scale in college admissions. Although education will get you in the door it won't solve all the issues around race. I have advanced degrees but in my area of expertise I've discovered that advanced degrees or certifications are often discounted if the holder is Black. But that's a different topic for another day…

Question: How can we explain these problems in the public school systems? More importantly how can we FIX them? Should the State of Michigan take total control over public education in Detroit? Is there just something particularly wrong with Detroit? Have you taken The AB Challenge?

For Detroit Public Schools, the new battle in Lansing is curriculum [FreeP]

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