Detroit Schools Implosion Stumps Parents – And City Makes It Worse

Media report blames choice for failing traditional schools

Over the past 15 years, enrollment in the Detroit school district has imploded, falling from more than 100,000 students to just under 47,000. Without enough children to fill their classrooms, scores of public school buildings have been closed. The challenge this poses for parents was the focus of a recent story in the New York-based website Vice News. It featured a Detroit mother whose child’s school was shut down in 2013.

The story was titled, “School choice gutted Detroit’s Public Schools.”

The story tracks the impact of closing the Oakman Elementary/Orthopedic School. It reports that then-Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts informed Oakman parents they could send their children to one of two other district schools, Noble Elementary and Henderson Elementary.

Before it was closed, Oakman Elementary was in the bottom 2 percent of all public elementary and middle schools in the state, according to a report card on academic performance issued by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Unlike state rankings, the report adjusts for the socio-economic status of the students in a given school, which makes for a more valid “apples to apples” comparison of which schools add more value.

But the Noble and Henderson schools – the two alternatives offered to Oakman parents, according to the story – performed even worse on the report card.

Left out of this story was any mention of the extraordinary efforts made by Detroit's top leaders to ensure those choices remained limited to non-charter public schools in the nation’s worst-performing urban school district.

Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan and the Detroit City Council adopted a citywide five-year ban on selling abandoned and vacant district schools to charter schools. The ban was enacted in 2014, and the city has taken ownership of 77 school district properties, including Oakman, as part of a deal Detroit Public Schools made to pay off a debt it owed the city.

Under the ban imposed by the city’s political leadership, none of these properties could be sold to a charter school if it was within one mile of an existing district school. Oakman fell under the ban if the distance is measured as the crow flies.

Detroit Premiere Academy, which was in the top 10 percent of all schools on the Mackinac Center report card, receiving an A grade. It was a 3.8 mile drive from Oakman Elementary.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.