After years of dismal classroom attendance numbers, the Detroit Public Schools system may be finally reaping the benefits of the city’s revitalization efforts. Last Friday, the Detroit Free Press reported an encouraging upturn in attendance on the second day of DPS classes. Though these early reports don’t guarantee that the attendance rate will hold fast, they indicate the success of Detroit’s renewed emphasis on the efficient marketing of public education to parents and students alike.
Last Tuesday, DPS reported an attendance rate of 70 percent on its first day of the academic year, a significant increase from 50 percent on the first days in both 2010 and 2011. On Wednesday, attendance increased to 85 percent, reflecting DPS’s successful efforts to scale back the size of its school system and to more aggressively showcase its revamped education program.
In the past, DPS was criticized for its overemphasis on “Count Day,” a statewide student tally that falls on the first Wednesday of October and the second Wednesday in February. Since the fall count determines 90 percent of the year’s state funding to each school, DPS has often taken the road of least resistance, drawing students in for one or two days with gift cards, prize drawings and — this year — “a free pair of Nikes, courtesy of a local shoe store.”
Since the schools lost about $7 million in state funds last year due to low attendance on crucial days, DPS’s effort to draw students in on Count Days is understandable. However, the way the state determines funding can create an incentive to keep students in class for one or two days a year without retaining them, since DPS will receive funding for a student’s presence on Count Day regardless of whether he or she stays in school year-round.
Fortunately, the early attendance numbers reported for this school year show DPS is committed to maintaining consistent student attendance before and after Count Day. Roy S. Roberts, Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager, confirmed this when he stressed the importance of “teaching and learning from day one” in a press release last Thursday. Roberts continued by asserting, “If kids aren’t in school from the beginning of the school year then their entire academic year is affected.”
DPS’s reformed approach to education owes its success to a scaled-back size, renovated facilities and, most importantly, an increased emphasis on faculty-parent interfacing — which includes a new automated calling system that notifies parents whose children aren’t in school. The district’s triumph in spite of its recent budget cuts should be rewarded with restored funding. Parents, teachers, principals and members of Detroit’s grassroots movements have worked hard to improve the educational system of their city, and their efforts should be met with support from the state government.