Detroit schools seek to catch up with US aid, and then some

Laela Bullock was a student who moved at her own pace for schoolwork for many years. 

Detroit schools seek to catch up with US aid, and then some


Although the switch to remote learning was a welcomed break from the fights that took place in the Detroit school hallways, Bullock's grades remained poor.

One-on-one tutoring, which was paid for by $1.3 billion that the Detroit Public Schools Community district is receiving in federal COVID-19 relief assistance, has made a significant change.

Laela has finally reached her grade level and is on track to graduate on schedule, according to her mother, Alicia Bullock.

Bullock stated, "I'm so proud."

Detroit schools will use a large portion of their relief money to fund tutoring and after-school programs, as well as other initiatives to improve student achievement. District leaders believe the money will help students catch up with what was lost during the coronavirus outbreak, but also repair some of the damage that has been done for many decades.

"This is the first... Superintendent Nikolai Vitti stated in an interview that he feels we have equitable funding. "Unfortunately, it was necessary to be given during a pandemic."

Since its independence from the state a few years back, the district has consistently been one of the lowest-scoring districts in the U.S. on standard tests. The last school year saw less than 6% score proficiently in math on a state-standardized test.

Pandemic relief for schools in the United States totals $190 billion. The most received per student was from High poverty areas , with Detroit receiving more than $25,000 per student. Philadelphia followed at $13,000, and Cleveland at over $12,000.

Millions of dollars were spent on academic aid to reduce class sizes and expand internet access. There are also tutoring programs such as the one Laela attended. The literacy program is offered by Beyond Basics, a Detroit-area nonprofit. It serves approximately 1,500 students.

Participating are Quandallis PerryFisher, a 15 year old schoolmate at Denby High. He stated that he wasn't a fan reading and had difficulty navigating virtual learning after schools were moved to remote locations in March 2020.

Quandallis stated, "I was doing very very badly." He said that Beyond Basics requires you to read to the instructors. "Now, the vocabulary words are... "Now, with the vocabulary words... I read it myself, without asking for assistance."

Arne Duncan, the then-U.S. Education secretary, called Detroit "ground zero", describing American school problems as a result of the crisis in 2009. As the city's population has declined, enrollments have plummeted from 164,000 to just over 51,000 in 2003. District officials claimed that test scores and graduation rates had been on the rise prior to the pandemic.

Detroit and other cities need to "get it right" when they spend federal money. This is according to Phyllis Jordan (associate director of FutureEd), an independent think tank at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy.

"I don’t think this opportunity will ever come around again. She said that this is an opportunity for schools, to fix long-standing problems that prevent children from succeeding.

Detroit faces a challenge in addressing other obstacles that may impede students' learning.

Alicia Bullock stated that security and programs that prevent students from fighting should be a priority at her daughter’s school. Her daughter complained that students are routinely questioned for weapons and that classmates smoke in school buildings. She said that the district's needs are so great, that pandemic funding might not be sufficient.

"The schools don’t have toiletries. She said that they don't have the resources. "If you don't have toilet tissue, it's horrible."

Vitti announced a proposal to spend $700 million in pandemic funds by 2027 on new schools, and renovate existing schools to reduce overcrowding. The Detroit Board of Education will make a final recommendation about how to spend the money by June.

District plans to spend $189million to reduce class size; $169million for after-school and summer programming, electronic devices, and internet access; $169million for raises for teacher ; $34 million for programs that provide support for students affected by the pandemic; and $169million for increases for employees .

Aliya Moore, a parent, believes that more money should be used to improve technology and support student mental health.

Moore, the 12-year-old's PTA president, stated that many students were affected by distance learning.

She said, "You don’t know how the home looked or what schools were like for these children."

Vitt blames some of the district’s poor performance on low expectations, and limited professional development during its state-controlled period (2009 to 2017). He stated that the district had made progress before the pandemic.

It will take time but the district is prepared to make up for several years of learning lost.

Vitti stated that 60% of 10th-12th-graders are not on track to graduate in four years. We are rebuilding our schedules to ensure course recovery is occurring. To offer more course recovery, we are paying teachers more. Although it's troubling and overwhelming, we will help students get back on track."


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