Ask anyone who has had a longer-than-five minute conversation with me: I love being from Michigan. We’ve got lakes for days, we’ve got the prettiest falls in the world, the best state university a gal could ask for. I spent about four years away from Michigan, and was itching to get back the entire time. And despite the reputation that Detroit has earned—full of crime and corruption, cold basically all year, the frustration that comes with being a Lions fan—I really and truly love that it’s home. Which is why I’m so pissed off at Governor Snyder for what he’s doing to the children of Michigan—specifically those living in Detroit and Flint. A recent report from the Center for American Progress
analyzes recent Trial Urban District Assessment data to show that 120 black students in fourth grade in Detroit score proficient or above in math. 120 students. Total. Digging further into that same data, you’ll find that Detroit doesn’t get higher than
7 percent of students scoring proficient or above in math or reading, in either fourth or eighth grade.
How is Detroit supposed to be the “comeback city” when no more than 7 percent of the city’s kids are proficient in math or reading? And that doesn’t even get into the facilities that they’re allegedly “learning” in, buildings filled with
mold, crumbling walls, rats and God knows what else. These conditions have caused teachers in the area to execute “sick-outs,” which have resulted in several days where dozens of schools in Detroit Public Schools (DPS) are closed. And though I’m not a
huge fan of the strategy (I generally operate by the principle that kids are better in school than out), I can’t blame these teachers. What other option do they have left? For a long time, no one listened to their complaints. No one paid attention to the fact that they were supposed to be held accountable for teaching in a place where it’s impossible for students to learn. How is someone supposed to educate when their students aren’t safe, warm or dry? About an hour up I-75 in Flint, children are being poisoned by lead in their drinking water. Which, despite messing up their day-to-day lives and therefore their education, has very real long-term implications for learning. Ultimately, I (and others) hold Governor Snyder responsible for pretty much all of this. His role in Flint’s situation is much-debated in the public sphere right now, with his heavily-redacted emails being searched for evidence of when he learned about the lead. But with regards to Detroit, the fingers are being pointed every which way. At the end of the day, Governor Snyder is the one who appointed emergency managers to DPS. He’s the one who separated out the lowest-performing schools and put them in the Education Achievement Authority. He’s the one who took advantage of the “state-control” provisions in Michigan’s education law. And though I’ve worked on bills and in states that advocate for policies like state and mayoral control, these results make me question that work. If the right people aren’t in place, people who are dedicated to putting student interests above politics, their own reputation, and special interests, state and local control can’t work. If there isn’t a system of checks and balances—transparent data, flexibility to change course, a system to hold people accountable—state and local control can’t work. Snyder is where the buck stops. And Michigan students deserve better.
Valentina Payne joined Bellwether Education Partners in 2021 as chief of staff to Andy Rotherham on the External Relations team. Prior to Bellwether, she spent seven years at brightbeam, where she most recently served as its chief growth officer, overseeing operations, finance, fundraising, and strategic growth of the organization.