Thursday, February 4, 2010

News Talk Online February 4, 2010: 2 Detroit Schools That Defy The Odds

By GARY BAUMGARTEN
Paltalk News Network


The school dropout rate in the Detroit Public School system is 75 percent. But two Detroit schools I visited today buck that statistic.

The Detroit Cristo Rey High School, a private Catholic school on the city's southwest side, draws from students across the city. They have to meet certain academic requirements to attend.

They also all have to work. One day a week, instead of attending classes, the students work. This serves several purposes. The money raised helps pay for their education. It also gives them real life experiences in the workplace.

They all wear appropriate clothing. Boys must wear white shirts and ties. Girls hems cannot be too short. The dress code is strictly enforced.

The dropout rate is insignificant as compared with the overall dropout rate in the city.

The school will never enroll more than 500 students. The class sizes are small.

The school runs on a tight budget. Cristo Rey president Michael Khoury says he wishes he got the kind of funding the public schools have received but have squandered. "It's frustraing to me to see all the money they get and the results," he says.

The atmosphere at the University Prep Science and Math Academy in Detroit's Cultural Center is different. While the classes and student population is, like at Cristo Rey, small, and while there is also a dress code, the atmosphere is more relaxed. The emphasis, says Superintendent Margaret Trimer-Hartley, is on providing an atmosphere where the children enjoy learning.

Unlike Cristo Rey, there are no academic requirements for attending. A lottery is offered throughout Detroit. Those whose children are lucky enough to attend can go.

The school buildings - this one is attached to the Detroit Science Center and the children go there often as part of their studies - are leased for $1 a year. But there is a condition. At least 96 percent of the students must graduate and go to college or the schools will be evicted.

At the sister University Prep Academy, 80 percent of the children are below the poverty line. One-hundred percent graduated.

That's 100 percent in a school district where there's a 75 percent dropout rate.

I asked Trimer-Hartley why the public schools are unable to emulate what the charter schools are doing. She gave three examples of what they have going for them that the public schools don't:

1 - Apolitical and non-meddlesome school boards.

2 - Site based management. Principals are in chaarge of their budgets and hiring and firing (they are also held accountable for their school's success).

3 - Small schools and small class sizes.

Perhaps these are goals that our failing public schools should attempt to achieve - so their students can as well.

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