Teachers in Detroit may not be in class when school opens on the day after Labor Day — tomorrow. They are striking for higher wages and better use of classroom resources; the district is asking for $88 million in cuts to salary and benefits. Here is a summary of the issues from the Detroit Free Press.
Detroit’s troubles demonstrate, simply, that education reform is not easy.
There are test pressures:
“We don’t want to disrupt the education environment of our students,” said Lekan Oguntoyinbo, spokesman for the district. “We have MEAP exams coming up in a couple of months here. We’re striving to be more competitive. Every day is important.”
District officials plan to replace 9,500 teachers and other union members with 250 administrators, to manage the 129,000 students.
Parents want good teachers in the classroom:
Kizzy Davis, whose 5-year-old daughter is to start kindergarten, said putting non-teachers in classes concerns her. “I wouldn’t send my child to school” without teachers, Davis said. “I’d put her in another school district.”
Superintendent William F. Coleman III had promised to hold classes whether teachers showed up or not. And about 250 teacher-certified administrators attended orientation sessions so they’d be ready to hit the classrooms Tuesday. But Saturday, Coleman said the district might reconsider.
Delores Smith Jackson, whose grandchildren attend King Academic and Performing Arts Academy, said schools shouldn’t open if they don’t have enough administrators to fill the classes.
“It would just become a warehouse,” Jackson said.
But she said if school went on, “I’ll be right there, doing whatever I can to assist.”
Teachers and administrators go in completely opposite directions on the salary negotiations:
The sides have been negotiating for months. The district says it must cut $88 million from teachers’ salaries and benefits to help account for a $105-million deficit. The union has asked for 5% pay raises over the next three years.
District officials said they don’t have the money to meet teachers’ demands. But union officials said teachers haven’t had a raise in three years and insist the district has the money but that it’s mismanaged.
Teachers want more than money, too — they are asking for enough resources to make the classrooms places of learning:
“It’s not just the money we’re striking for,” said RaQuel Harris, an English teacher at Central High. “It’s really a matter of how they are spending the money. We don’t have supplies we need to educate the students. I only have one set of novels for my students to read, which means the students cannot check the books out and take them home.”
And the Detroit district is a model for voucher advocates -- it faces stiff competition from alternative methods touted as ways to improve foundering districts like Detroit, and foundering schools like many in Detroit. Charter schools and the ability to transfer students out only rob the district of money it needs to keep going, however, far from sharpening any competitive ability:
District officials had feared that if schools don’t open, even more parents would enroll their children in neighboring school districts or charter schools. Detroit has lost about 50,000 students over the last several years. In Michigan, public school funding is based on enrollment, and the exodus of students has fueled the district’s financial crisis.
Federally-mandated testing accompanied with no funding to fix classroom deficits or increase teacher salaries probably do more damage in this situation than help. Bumper sticker solutions — “give kids a choice;” “students don’t have a prayer;” “what kids need is a moment of science” — don’t even produce a smile in Detroit.
Solutions will take time. Every year sees another 10,000 students sent off without the education everyone says they need to have; this is not the first year of such crises.
What would it take to get you to sign up to teach in Detroit?
Update, September 7: Here’s an example of anti-teacher bias at two or three.net that clarifies my views: The teachers are probably right in demanding more money. A pay range of $36,000 for a college graduate, topping out at $70,000 for a Ph.D. with 30 years of experience, is an insult to humans, to education, and especially to any teacher with the guts to teach in Detroit. It’s a pay scale designed to scare away the best and the brightest. (Those who answer the call are saints.) I hope the school system can figure out a way to get the money to meet the teachers’ demands, and I fear that the anti-public education people are winning the fight to kill Detroit’s schools, and Detroit.
Update, September 14: The Education Wonks have a related post, “Dept. of Ed. retreats on teacher quality. Tip of the scrub brush to the 84th Carnival of Education at Current Events in Education.