By Erin Einhorn, Koby Levin
A glossy new Detroit school guide will give city parents lots of information about nearly 200 city schools — just not about their test scores.
The new guide will be formally released to the public next week by a new citywide education commission. At nearly 300 pages, the guide will let parents quickly see which district and charter schools offer bus transportation, which ones are accessible by which city bus lines, which ones provide before- and after-school programs, and which ones have security guards on site.
What parents won’t learn — at least not in this first edition of the guide — is whether or not a school has a track record of academic success.
Unlike the school scorecard that had been published for years by a now-defunct nonprofit called Excellent Schools Detroit, the new guide from Mayor Mike Duggan’s Citywide Education Commission has none of the letter grades that Excellent Schools Detroit calculated primarily using state test score data. It doesn’t include information from the state of Michigan’s “parent dashboard,” which rates schools in different categories such as how well students improve academically from one year to the next, and assigns them an overall quality rating on a 100-point scale.
Still, the guide is a step forward in a city where parents have dozens of school options including district schools, charter schools and suburban schools that accept city kids, but few resources to figure out which school is the best fit for their child. The city’s fractured school system, without a centralized enrollment apparatus, makes it hard for parents to know which schools to consider, let alone who is running them or how to apply.
The new mayoral commission, which is composed of 11 members representing charter schools, non-profits, teachers unions, Michigan’s education department, and the Detroit Public Schools Community District, is pushing efforts to bring cooperation between historically combative district and charter school leaders.
Its first project is a joint bus line that will serve 10 charter and traditional schools in one neighborhood in northwest Detroit. It is Detroit’s first major effort to unite the transportation services that have traditionally only served students at one kind of school or the other. Information about that bus line is included in the guide.
When Duggan announced the new commission in his state of the city address this year, he said that one of its missions would be developing a rating system for schools. Monique Marks, who heads the commission, said that rating system will eventually be incorporated into future versions of the school guide.
The commission just held its first meeting last month and was focused on producing a resource that would be useful to parents for the coming school year.
“One of our first steps was to release this up-to-date guide in time for the school year,” she said. “While the guide does not currently have school ratings, we intend to add detailed information about schools’ academic success records in the coming year.”
The commission, she said, is “currently working through the process of determining what that looks like and what information is important to the guide’s use.”
The new guide will be interactive when it launches next week, allowing parents to search online by neighborhood or keyword. Print versions will be distributed around the city but Georgia Heyward, a research analyst at the Center for Reinventing Public Education, an education think tank at the University of Washington Bothell, said simply releasing a guide won’t be enough. The greatest challenge is making sure the information reaches parents.
“Most families aren’t getting their information from the guide, but rather from family members, peer groups, and neighbors,” she said.
Heyward helped run a survey of 4,000 parents in more than a dozen “high-choice” cities similar to (but not including) Detroit, which found that obtaining basic information is a bigger barrier for parents than the process of enrolling in school or applying to selective schools.
Community organizations have played a crucial role in distributing school guides in other cities, Heyward said. She recommended training sessions that teach social workers how to use the guide so they can pass the information along to families.
Indeed, the commission is planning several events next week to get the word out about the guide. Two training sessions on Tuesday will break down the information provided in the guide, and a citywide enrollment fair for parents and students is planned for later in the week.
The guide, which is free to download online, splits the city into 10 color-coded neighborhoods. Southwest Detroit, for instance, is shown in pink, so parents there would scroll to the pink section of the report for basic information about schools in their neighborhood. The guide is currently only available in English but a source familiar with the effort said a Spanish version is coming next month.