News Story

Detroit Education Scene: A March To School Choice

Parents of more Detroit kids now saying ‘yes’ to a charter school and ‘no’ to the school district

Dove Academy of Detroit

Detroit resident Christina Gray sends her two children to a public charter school in the city, something that would have made her an outlier just six years ago.

But during the last decade, the education landscape has changed dramatically in Detroit. Charter schools are now the most popular option among Detroit parents. The trend has been encouraged by numerous studies showing public charter schools in the city achieve superior academic performance compared to schools managed by the Detroit school district.

Consider Gray’s situation.

Her two children attend Dove Academy of Detroit. That charter school’s student body is almost entirely made up of poor, black students. In 2016-17, all but nine of the 448 students enrolled were black, and all but one came from a household deemed “economically disadvantaged,” meaning they qualified for a federal free or reduced-price lunch program.

The latest elementary/middle school report card produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy gave Dove Academy a B grade. The Mackinac Center adjusts its scores to reflect the socioeconomic status of the student body, which makes for a closer “apples to apples” comparison between different schools. This is in contrast with the practice of the Michigan Department of Education, whose rankings do not take socioeconomic factors into account.

Mason Academy — formerly Mason Elementary — is about one mile away from Dove Academy, making it the closest school managed by the Detroit school district. While Dove Aacdemy received a B on the Mackinac Center report card, Mason Academy received an F.

The nearest conventional high school offered by Detroit’s public school district is Pershing High School, which is less than a mile away from Dove Academy. Pershing also received an F on the latest Mackinac Center report card.

“I think we should have options,” Gray said. “This is our future. By whatever means it takes to make sure these kids get the best education possible is what matters.”

National School Choice Week 2018 began Sunday. There are 877 events, meetings and activities scheduled this week in Michigan. And perhaps nowhere in the state has school choice made more of a difference than in Detroit.

In 2010-11, there were far more students attending conventional public schools in Detroit than charters, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. There were 75,264 students enrolled in Detroit Public Schools that year and 45,073 students in charter schools located in the city.

By 2012-13, the figures had flipped in favor of charters. There were 51,083 Detroit children attending charter schools in 2012-13 and 49,172 in the public schools managed by the regular school district. The balance has shifted to charters even more since.

In 2016-17, there 50,460 Detroit students attending charter schools and 44,890 attending the city’s conventional public schools.

Research findings on academic performance the last few years show that charters are providing students with more learning gains than their peers at schools operated by the conventional Detroit school district.