News Story

Detroit Schools The Nation’s Worst, Super Want Its Teacher Pay The Nation’s Best

Worst urban district for 10 years per Nation’s Report Card, but Detroit gives its own teacher high marks

Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has called for his district’s teachers to become the highest paid in the nation.

Vitti said in an op-ed published in the Detroit Free Press that his legacy and that of the school board “will rest on making Detroit teachers the highest paid in the state and country. Detroit teachers deserve to be the highest paid because our children deserve the best teachers in each of the classrooms they enter and leave every day.”

Vitti’s essay deserves some scrutiny, however.

Should a school district with an academic track record as poor as Detroit’s — one that reaches back for at least 10 years — be rewarded with the additional tax dollars required to make its staff the nation’s highest paid?

Every two years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress evaluates the academic progress of students in America’s largest cities and publishes its findings under the banner of “The Nation’s Report Card.” The ratings are based on fourth- and eighth-grade student test results on math, reading, science and writing.

In 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, the Detroit public school district finished last in every one of those categories.

Another school quality indicator, created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, incorporates students’ socioeconomic background into its analysis. Schools with a higher proportion of students from low-income households are compared against schools serving similar populations. This provides an apples-to-apples indication of how those schools are doing. (Schools with a more affluent population tend to do better on standardized tests.)

Based on the adjusted results, the Mackinac Center report card gives each school a letter grade. Of the Detroit district’s 22 high schools, 18 received an F; 55 of its 69 elementary and middle schools also earned an F grade in the most recent report.

In his op-ed, Vitti said Detroit teachers should be the highest paid because Detroit’s children deserve the best teachers.

If the district’s evaluations of its own teachers are taken at face value, its academic problems lie not with the faculty of these failing schools. Detroit has given remarkably good ratings to its teachers, considering how poorly the district’s students have fared academically.

In the district’s most recent evaluations, 95% of the 2,856 teachers evaluated were rated either “highly-effective” (37%) or “effective” (58%) in 2017-18. Just 4% were rated minimally effective and only 1% were rated ineffective. That’s in line with the state average, where 40% of teachers were rated by their own district’s administrators as “highly effective” and another 58% as “effective.”

“According to the district, 95% of current teachers are effective, yet the average student test scores are abysmal,” said Michael Van Beek, director of research for the Mackinac Center. “It’s not clear at all how giving these same teachers large salary increases will improve the overall academic performance of the district. Detroit teachers may very well be deserving of a pay bump, but it sure doesn’t show up in the student achievement results.”