Excellent Schools Detroit last week released a list of the 31 elementary and middle schools it recommends. There are schools on the list from all governance models: Detroit Public Schools, independent, charters, and Education Achievement Authority. These are schools that offer families a welcoming environment, caring teachers and staff, strong academics, family involvement, community partnerships and a rich array of after-school and extracurricular activities. It is enrollment season in Detroit, which means that schools in the city are actively seeking out new students for the next school year.
Michigan’s education policies -- including ones that expand online schools, allow the unrestricted growth of charter schools, and incentivize traditional districts to accept students from outside their traditional boundaries -- have evolved to be such that parents have to play the role of shoppers. Gone is the assumption that a student will attend the local neighborhood school. Nowadays, the best school may be across town.
In short, families in our state are playing the role of school shoppers because state policy requires it. Given that state policy has created an educational marketplace, you would think that it would also give families a way to know how to navigate it. Surely we would want families to find the best schools for their children, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case in Michigan.
Despite having one of the more market-driven educational landscapes, one that begs for elucidation and clarity, the state offers little guidance in navigating school choice. It seems to me that the state owes parents a lot more.
At Excellent Schools Detroit we know parents are hungry for more information about schools. We know that more than 150,000 people searched for schools on GreatSchools.org last year. With the launch of GreatSchoolsDetroit.org, we hope to see even more access to detailed school information and reviews. We also know Education Detroit, a Detroit-specific magazine we publish with Metro Parent as a resource for families, is in great demand.
We see that in the way community comes together to collect school climate and culture data for the Excellent Schools Detroit Scorecards. People appreciate having multiple ways to access information, and they want it in different formats. Besides, if our marketplace of schools offers competing information, someone has to cut through the clutter and make sense of it all. We are trying to do just that through our annual Excellent Schools Detroit Scorecard.Families deserve the best possible information we can produce.
Some may argue that the current state rating system gives families everything they need to select a school. I’d argue that current state-produced ratings help policy makers (somewhat) and educators (a little). The information produced by the state was never designed to help families choose great schools for their children.
There is a predictable future for the families and students in our state if they are not given access to better information when they are trying to choose schools for their children. Can you imagine shopping for a car with almost no information about the makes and models that you are choosing between? On the other hand, if we resolve to provide better information to families, they will be more empowered to find the best schools for their children.
In Michigan, families should have better and more meaningful information about the schools they are asked to choose. Period. It should be publicly funded, easy to find, easy to use and meaningful for myriad Michigan families looking for different school experiences for their children.
Dan Varner is CEO of Excellent Schools Detroit, which works to improve academic achievement in the city