A different take on that staggering drop in DPS enrollment

Cross-posted on Right Michigan at www.RightMichigan.com.

(Former Detroit Public School students fleeing the district.)

Nearly seventeen-thousand kids left the Detroit Public Schools before the new semester started this month.  Seventeen-thousand.  That unbelievable number easily represents the largest single year dips in enrollment in the history of the school system and could probably go toe-to-toe with any other record of futility in any other public school district in any other city in any other state in the nation.  DPS thought they were preparing their parents, teachers and pocket-dwelling Detroit legislative caucus for the worst when they predicted six-thousand fewer kids would sit in homeroom but they were way off.  The Titanic just hit one whale of an iceberg.

And the lamentation begins.  From Detroit talk radio to the cities major newspapers to the blogosphere to the local barber shops and beauty salons and the assembly lines folks are trying to recover from the local news equivalent of a sucker-punch to the gut. `It’s too bad.  It’s sad.  It’s tragic.  They’re going to lose all sorts of per pupil funding.  Those poor kids.  What are we ever going to do?’

Call me a non-conformist but that hasn’t been my reaction.  You want to know what my initial reaction was when I read the news that DPS enrolment had dropped to levels not seen in one-hundred years? “Good.”  I sat here, read the devastating news and actually, audibly exclaimed “good!”  With an exclamation mark.  

Read on…

But not because I have some perverse DPS death-wish.  There’s nothing perverse about it.  Not because I hate public schools.  I’m a proud graduate of an urban public school system and if I’m ever blessed with children they’ll be urban public school students, too.   And not because I take an inappropriate amount of pleasure in the knowledge that the drop in enrollment will send over 50 million fewer per-pupil dollars from Lansing into a corrupt district.  

No.  I exclaimed “good!” because 17,000 more kids survived.

To say that the Detroit Public School system is broken would be like saying Matt Millen’s tenure as Lions President and General Manager was sub-par.  SuperBowl sized words are needed to describe each of those situations.  “Broken” and “sub-par” are strictly CFL.

There is literally nothing salvageable about DPS… except for her kids.  There isn’t a child enrolled in that school system that chooses to be there.  Heck, if statistics hold, there are tens of thousands of students every day who are supposed to be there and choose instead the streets. The district graduates fewer than fifty-percent of the kids it is meant to educate.  Teachers only two years ago went on strike during the school year, leaving everyone out in the cold.  A corrupt bureaucracy demands precious little accountability.  And who can forget the tragic lessons of leaving lessons to rot.  Except for the men and women at the wheel of the district who continue to nibble at the edges of oblivion while an entire generation of students leaves their halls woefully unprepared for the world that awaits them.

Seventeen-thousand kids just escaped.  Good!  Good!  Good!

Now the question absolutely must become “how do we save the other 88,000?”

The Detroit News believes the state needs to step in and take control through receivership or some other form of financial stewardship.  And that may not be just good, tough talk, it may be inevitable.  

The district already faces a $408 million shortfall, which amounts to about a third of its budget. Detroit is undergoing a financial evaluation by state education and other officials. The review could lead to a state takeover of its finances through receivership or conservatorship.

That’s the best thing that could happen. Detroit has failed to close schools to keep pace with its dropping enrollment. This year’s student loss means even more schools need to be closed.

But darn it all if the Ivory Tower doesn’t hit the nail more squarely on the head when Stephen Henderson argues that the entire system needs to be blown to bits… via parental choice.

The truth is that the system is imploding, and every family with the ability to roll with something other than DPS appears to be grabbing that choice. The student population plummeted by an estimated 17,000 over the past year, equal to the total number of people living in Auburn Hills.

That’s a record one-year drop for Detroit, but students have been leaving in droves for more than a decade. The only ones left are those who can’t get out, either because they lack the means or the support structure to pursue other options. It really is like rats off a sinking ship.

So how long will we let the system bob and founder, with a dwindling number of kids trapped inside, before moving aggressively to create what’s next? Isn’t there a moral obligation to end the charade of “reform” and “change” and “revival” in DPS, and give city kids as many alternatives as possible?

Yes, Stephen, there is.  And thank you for saying it if no one else at your fish-wrap is willing.  

Lift the cap on charter schools.  Kill all of the single-district protections the Detroit caucus continues to implement and defend in the legislature, to the benefit of their masters in the teachers’ unions and to the detriment of the children of their constituents.  

Empower parents.  

Seventeen-thousand kids just left.  That’s a good start.  A couple of life rafts made it off of the sinking ship.  But there’s a difference this time around… unlike the Titanic I referenced earlier, this ship is sinking within sight of shore and in front of millions of witnesses.  The only question now is whether or not we’re willing to toss life jackets to the rest of the passengers.