The future of education in Detroit was the focus of conversation Wednesday at the Ford School of Public Policy.
Part of the Education Policy Initiative speaker series, the panel consisted of active members of the Detroit community who spoke about education issues. It was co-sponsored by the Public Policy School and the School of Education. Across the board, each speaker stressed the dysfunction of the city’s school system.
One of the four speakers, Bridge Magazine reporter Chastity Pratt Dawsey, focused largely on the financial issues plaguing education in the city. Dawsey noted that schools in Detroit often close due to eliminated funding and children often have to switch from school to school.
Dawsey said when students lose their school, they lose the resources and connections they have built there. She explained that students gain important stability from the support systems they develop while in one school.
“There are people in these schools who care that the children are there,” said Dawsey.
Education Prof. Elizabeth Moje, associate dean for research and community engagement, agreed with Dawsey that the current school system lacks stability.
“There is a lack of stability and a bounty of confusion, which makes the work of building leaders and teachers incredibly difficult,” she said.
This is the second “The Future of Education in Detroit” event. According to Mahima Mahadevan, project manager in the Public Policy School, the first talk made it clear that more discussion about Detroit education was needed.
“We felt an ongoing discussion was the most appropriate format to bring in the many voices and perspectives on this topic, having started with three panelists for the first event,” Mahadevan said. “We started planning soon after for a following event.”
Mahadevan said she ensured each of the speakers had a strong tie to Detroit.
“Our focus is to invite speakers with a personal stake in the education system in Detroit in order to share their understanding of the issues with our audience,” Mahadevan said.
Detroit native Tawana Petty, another panelist, said she brought her own perspective to the topic of education in the city.
“I am representing as a mom, an organizer, author, poet — someone who has come through … Detroit Public Schools, and raised a son through Detroit Public Schools,” she said.
As a graduate of the DPS, Petty stressed the current struggle she finds between so many subcomponents of the district.
“The struggle between charters, between public schools, between board members, between coalitions, between foundations — pretty much any entity that feels that they have a vested interest in the education of young people in Detroit,” she said.
Petty is a member of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center board, an initiative that works to better Detroit communities, in part through advocating for changes in education. She said the board is pushing to take Detroit away from what she calls a binary system of education, meaning people are either educated or they are not. Petty said they do this by fostering educational opportunities outside of the traditional classroom setting, as well as by exploring alternative educational systems.
“When we look at alternatives, we look at re-spiriting young people’s inherent gifts and nurturing their imaginations,” she said. “We’re looking at providing them an opportunity to envision what their future can look like whether or not they go to college, whether or not they get a ‘good job. ’ ”
Moje said she finds panels exceptionally important for fostering educational reform, particularly in a city like Detroit, where the school system has systematic problems such as budget, debt and a lack of stability.
“We need to hear from people who live and work in Detroit about what they see as the education needs of their children and youth,” Moje said.
During his speech, Lamont Satchel, chief innovation officer for DPS, placed his focus on funding within the district. He said the financial issues Detroit faces are also faced by other districts.
Particularly in Detroit, panelists said funding issues and a growing number of charter schools caused massive cuts throughout the system. With students shuffled from school to school as they close, many children end up leaving the district to attend another school or drop out altogether. Satchel said, when children leave the district for schooling, DPS loses even more funding.
“You reach a point where you have to ask yourself: is this working?” Satchel said.
Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Education Prof. Elizabeth Moje