Detroit schools must stop poaching students during the school year

Across the city of Detroit, student learning is being disrupted by what’s nearly become a combat sport – predatory enrollment campaigns.

When schools should be focusing on increasing student learning, instead much effort, money and time is spent hosting open houses, sending mailings and buying radio ads.

It’s a side effect of a bigger problem. Detroit has too many schools with too many seats – some sources suggest more than 20,000 seats are empty.

Because of that oversupply, schools across the city are far more accountable for ensuring they get kids through their doors than being accountable for actually helping them learn.

So quality suffers. Consider this: 85 percent of the 81,000 K-8 students in Detroit attend schools that scored F’s in academic status in the Excellent Schools Detroit scorecard, just under half of which also failed to show they’re improving. On another score, just 3 percent of 8th grade students in Detroit Public Schools DPS were proficient in math, the lowest performing of all cities.

But instead of focusing everything on fixing that, schools are adding to the chaos with misleading ad campaigns in a battle to pull kids from one failing classroom to another.

Marketing in spring or summer is understandable. Suburban districts do it, too. But when recruiting is happening mid-school year, you have to question its intent.

One district (DPS) sent all students from another, the state-created Emergency Achievement Authority schools, a letter in January stating that their assigned school had switched, effective second semester. It was not true, and DPS later issued an apology and said the letter was a mistake. Mistake or not, apology or not, confusion was created.

Is the intent behind these practices to boost enrollment in time to capture some state funding on Feb. 12, which is Count Day (a day when students are counted with the numbers determining how much state money the school will receive)? Is it about bragging rights? Political clout?

Whatever the intent, the fact is some students will indeed jump from one building to another now, in the middle of the school year. And that is an immense disservice to the city’s children.

Several studies have demonstrated that a mid-year change of schools damages student outcomes. The individual student must learn new rules and customs, develop new relationships, and try to cover the ground for items not taught in their previous classroom. And in the new classroom, students are disrupted as their teacher must take extra time get newcomers up to speed.

Now multiply that for each new arrival. One area charter school teacher reported having five new students in her classroom in January alone.

Parents in Detroit need to be more careful consumers. Be wary of ad campaigns, and use resources like the ESD scorecard, and others like the newly launched Detroit Great Schools page, to find the right school before the school year begins.

That said, changes need to be made across all levels of the system if we’re going to get serious about stemming the impact of predatory enrollment on the city’s youth. We propose:

  • State legislators, state Board of Education and city leadership: Ask tough questions and look for evidence of whether your constituents are actually being served by Detroit’s education system. You have the authority and the responsibility to hold those operating on public funds accountable for real results.
  • Michigan Department of Education and charter authorizers: Take a hard look at poor performers in the city and determine which schools need to be closed or transformed. Then work with parents and community members to determine a process that will both benefit students and build on neighborhood assets.
  • District leaders and charter management organizations: Stop active recruitment mid-year. Instead of working against each other, develop a shared timeline, and create a common understanding of what will be “fair play” when it comes to enrollment and what practices you can collectively agree to terminate immediately. Then focus on improving.
  • School leaders and school board members: Work with parents to stabilize the student population. Far too often, parents move their children from one school to another because they feel that the administration is ignoring their concerns. Fix this.

The Skillman Foundation will continue to support efforts that make the education marketplace work for the benefit of children. We as a community cannot turn a blind eye to the disastrous consequences of a largely unregulated marketplace of schools. We must show through our actions every day, and in every way, kids matter here.

Kristen McDonald is the vice president of program and policy at The Skillman Foundation, a private grantmaking foundation with a goal to improve meaningful high school graduation rates in Detroit so kids are prepared for college, career and life. The Foundation funds education, youth development, safety, social innovation, neighborhood and community leadership work in six Detroit neighborhoods.

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Comments

Duane
Mon, 02/10/2014 - 10:00am
“We as a community cannot turn a blind eye to the disastrous consequences of a largely unregulated marketplace of schools.” It seems Ms. McDonald turns a ‘blind eye’ to the schools, she doesn’t offer us what they should look like but she wants the government to regulate it, she isn’t willing to trust to the public and offer what they could be looking for when selecting a school, she offers no examples of success, she only condemns and finds fault. If she only looks for failure, she will only find failure. Detroit once had glaring examples of success, then others starting looking for failures, and that was what they found and all they spent on. Today it seems all of the successes disappeared and we get what Ms. McDonald wants, more laws and Lansing control, more spending, with no accountability. I encourage Ms. McDonald and others not to turn a ‘blind eye’ to success, but to look for success, to investigate success, to learn how and why that success is achieved, to promote what they learned so others can learn from success. I would encourage Ms. McDonald and others to also look for successful students, asking them how and why they succeeded, asking them what barriers to overcome, and share what they have done along with how/why so others can learn and replicate those successes. Ms. McDonald and others may want to turn to organizations outside of education who focus on sustaining their successes, to learn how they look for success, how they investigate success, how they promote and leverage success. Investigating success isn’t difficult, identify what successful results should look like, find those who are succeeding, ask them about the how and why, about the barriers, the opportunities, about practices/protocols/roles/responsibilities, etc., you capture the findings, verify those findings, communicate the findings, and start the process over. Ms. McDonald seems well intended, she wants better, but she seems to only see failure, talk about failure, and wants to spend on failure. At best Ms. McDonald’s approach will address small failures by creating more control by elite in Lansing who will be unaccountable for the educational results. The reality to change results you need to change what you are doing, for Ms. McDonald and others the change they need is to look for success and overwhelm failure with those successes.
Mon, 02/10/2014 - 12:38pm
Duane, How do you "overwhelm failure with those successes" if you haven't identified the failures? When you dont have internal quality checks to identify failures, you end up distributing a poor product. Once you allow a poor product to get out the door, you spend even more resources to contain, recall, fix, and redistribute. And right now, our educational system is a poor product being served to parents at the expense of our children. Lets start with the first step and contain this mess of a system - including the issue of poaching.
Duane
Mon, 02/10/2014 - 8:48pm
Anthony, You offer more an more examples of success, including the different ways those successes have been achieved, create re-inforcement for success, you hold up those who succeed providing them as model of success. You display failures with successes and the visibile results of from successes. If the ones that et the most visibility and the most support for failure then you are re-infrocing failure. That is how success overhelms successes. If you want more specific then you need to start by investigating succeses.
Howard Wetters
Sat, 02/15/2014 - 3:43pm
As I travel I see and hear all to many appeals designed to poach students from other schools. We do not see that activity at anywhere near the levels or intensity you describe in Detroit, but we see it at a lower intensity everywhere in Michigan. We certainly can do a lot to improve K12 education in Michigan. I find it hard to believe that spending precious education resources on billboard, and radio, and written campaigns does anything to improve the quality of K12 education. I expect it has the opposite effect. Those who worship at the alter of competition and suggest to the rest of the community that competition, which picks winners and punishes losers is a good prescription for fixing K12 education are simply wrong. Several years ago I attended a press conference in the Capitol called by the MI Manufactures Assn. and the MI Chamber to focus on the problems with K12 education and their solutions to fix those problems most of which focused on competition and charter schools. After listening I asked the following two questions. "As manufacturers, what kind of cars or other products would be able to build if 25 to 30% of the parts entering the factory had some small or large defect? They responded that it was "impossible" to build quality products in that environment. I then asked how it was that they expected schools and teachers to produce a consistent quality product when 25 to 30 % of the students that enter their classrooms have some great or small defect, hunger, uncaring parents who do not value education, threatened by violence, not attaining educational standards expected in the previous grade, and many others. I suggested that K12 education would perform well if we chose to impose the same defect standards they imposed on their suppliers. That ended the press conference. I wish it was as easy to quash the advertising and underlying behaviors that waste valuable tax dollars on this activity and does absolutely nothing to improve K12 education or student performance. Thank you for your comments and for shining the light of day on this wasteful and unnecessary practice.
Derek Atlas
Thu, 02/19/2015 - 8:12am
I find it terribly interesting that Ms. MacDonald never addressed the negative impact of the plethora of charter schools on the student population in Detroit Public Schools. Upon onset they weren't even measured by the state standardized test, didn't have mandated certified educators and were essentially warehousing students. It was quite typical to advertise a better alternative, bring students in, tell teacher to elevate grades to give parents the illusion of greater academic achievement and rarely suspend students for behavior infractions, again giving the illusion of better behavior. By the time the parent found out it was a hoax, the student was at least a year behind where the already were. What did they do then? Send them back to DPS. So the lady mentioned in the article getting 5 kids in a charter school was nothing compared to the number of student s coming back into DPS from charter schools. Only once did I receive a student that was at relatively the same level as my students. The rest were significantly behind. Nothing is discussed in the article to discuss Engler moving the Education Fund from Dept of Esucation to the Treasury so they can open the back door and steal money from it every year
Derek Atlas
Thu, 02/19/2015 - 8:39am
I find it terribly interesting that Ms. MacDonald never addressed the negative impact of the plethora of charter schools on the student population in Detroit Public Schools. Upon onset they weren't even measured by the state standardized test, didn't have mandated certified educators and were essentially warehousing students. It was quite typical to advertise a better alternative, bring students in, tell teacher to elevate grades to give parents the illusion of greater academic achievement and rarely suspend students for behavior infractions, again giving the illusion of better behavior. By the time the parent found out it was a hoax, the student was at least a year behind where the already were. What did they do then? Send them back to DPS. So the lady mentioned in the article getting 5 kids in January in a charter school. That's was nothing compared to the number of student s coming back into DPS from charter schools once parents found it wasn't what they thought. Only once did I receive a student that was at relatively the same level as my students. The rest were significantly behind. Nothing is discussed in the article to address Engler moving the Education Fund from Dept of Education to the Treasury so they can open the back door and steal money from it every year. She doesn't address the massive cheating on standardized test at charter school level in early years. She doesn't address the completely unethical practice by powers that be of NON randomly selecting classes of students to take national standardized tests that I know for a fact were low achieving classes. She doesn't address the fact that the charter schools didn't even take the MEAP so parents couldn't compare charter to public schools. It's typical America to me. You take over a district because you say it's failing; but there are many other smaller districts that were performing more poorly. You appoint an Emergency Financial Manager appointed by the governor, when his political party swore to break the teachers unions. He steals over $20,000 and sells a building to Wayne State where he was President, he leaves DPS in a greater financial deficit then before he was EFM. The next EFM selected was already indicted for his dealings in a previous district in Dallas. His bright idea, build new building for lower performing schools but make sure the successful schools (mostly middle school) stay in dilapidation. Again, he leaves district in greater financial deficit. The story repeats itself. All the while no one realizes each of these guys has been unsuccessful and they are puppets because each EFM is appointed by the governor, all republican during this time, and subsidized from a mythical Foundation. Uhhh hello conflict of interest? We allow $12000 per student in West Bloomfield versus $7200 in Detroit, then ask why is there such an achievement gap. Are you serious? At what point is it not ok? Maybe When it starts effecting people whose skin tone have a lack of melanin because this has all the looks of politically based educational genocide, looks like a modern day version of Brown vs Board of Education to me.