The Business of Education

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For years now, elected school officials, appointed managers, and everyday employees allowed an air of entitlement and a lack of dedication to greatly outweigh their chosen mission of educating and promoting children in the Detroit public-school system.

The lack of accountability has cost businesses and foundations millions of dollars in training, as many graduates struggle to read, write, or perform simple math. As a result, the state, as a whole, is less productive, with untold consequences related to crime and safety.

The mission of the school district is quite simple: provide superior service and deliver fiscal responsibility. Yes, there are bad apples in every bunch, but there should be more checks and balances to keep unscrupulous or uncaring workers out.

Given the poor results of Detroit Public Schools — low test scores, limited resources, theft, graft — the system, as it’s structured, is inadequate. What’s needed? A strong code of ethics, stringent accountability, greater resources, and a strong judicial system to act as a third stool leg with the executive and legislative branches.

That’s it.

Perhaps the untold story is that the vast majority of educators are well-intentioned, but largely overwhelmed. The kids are innocent and eager to learn, but they’ve been shortchanged for too long. And the job is tougher than most people think, given that charter schools have acceptance standards, so the students who don’t pass muster are often relegated to public schools.

There’s also the negative public image the media likes to disseminate about dropout numbers. Every year, the media points out, thousands of children drop out of the Detroit Public Schools. What these outlets don’t mention is that many of those “dropouts” have enrolled in charter schools, or that their families have moved away. There’s also Detroit’s declining birth rate — around 12,600 children were born in the city in 2007, as compared with 17,100 in 1997.

The good news is that help is coming. But despite what you may feel about the Obama administration, government doesn’t have all the answers. After years of decline in the district, Gov. Jennifer Granholm earlier this year appointed emergency financial manager Robert Bobb to run Detroit Public Schools. Now things are picking up.

Former FBI agents have been hired to expose corruption. And billionaire Eli Broad, a graduate of Detroit’s Central High School, has committed several hundred thousand dollars through his foundation to help develop a balanced budget, review the system’s finances, and set a five-year strategic fiscal plan.

Bobb also plans to tap some $150 million in federal stimulus funds to bolster teacher training, reduce class sizes, and improve academics. In turn, Bobb hired four private-education firms to boost student achievement at 17 high schools that are underperforming and largely shortchanging 20,000 students.

The end result is that the students will be offered a brighter future.

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