by ALISTAIR BOMPHRAY
In this era of budget cuts—and, therefore, era of “creative funding”—we must look to alternative ways to fund the kind of education our kids deserve. Michigan Future Schools, a non-profit out of Detroit, has a plan to finance new schools in one of the grimmest economies in the nation.
Lou Glazer, the founder of Michigan Future Inc., an economic development think tank, believes one of the keys to rebuilding the economy in Detroit is to connect inner city kids to that economy, via an education that not only prepares them to get into college, but to stay in college.
I’m no economist, but my gut tells me (and you know how Stephen Colbert feels about the truth-gleaning power of the gut) that Glazer’s hypothesis represents an important divergence from current urban revitalization practices, so many of which seem to have an obsession with luring people of means to the city, often at the expense of the people who are already there. Glazer’s vision, by contrast, calls for an investment in urban youth, thereby increasing the likelihood that they will one day participate in—and perhaps take a leading role in—their city’s transformation. As an educator, it makes me happy to have an economist on my side.
Also, he has a plan. Currently he has raised $10 million in donations from local foundations such as Kellogg, Kresge, and McGregor. With this money, Michigan Future Schools will fund the inception of ten new high schools in Detroit ($1 million per school). Grants are for four years, one planning year, and three years of operation. Glazer’s larger ambition is to raise enough money to fund thirty-five new high schools over the next eight years.
Some of these schools will be public, others charter. They will all be high schools, and they will all be new. Beyond that, the only prerequisite is that the founder have a specific and compelling vision for their proposed school. May the best vision win.
So far, one charter school, Detroit Edison Public School Academy High School (yeah, a mouthful) has been awarded the grant. DEPSA is currently concluding their planning year and will open their doors for their first ninth grade class next fall.
Personally, if I still lived in Michigan, I’d want in on this.
After four years of watching my own district make bad decision after bad decision, I must say I am one hundred percent intrigued by the idea of a school that functions more or less autonomously, where teachers and administration work together to build a school culture from the ground up, and do not live in fear of the big, bad “executive decision.”
While Michigan Future Schools will provide mentoring and support for new schools, they aren’t going to tell anyone how to run their school. These schools will be self-managed. Glazer mentions advisory periods, project-based learning, and partnerships with local community colleges as models that have found success in Detroit schools, but added that none of these models will be forced on new schools.
Perhaps the most unusual and even revolutionary piece of the Michigan Future Schools’ philosophy is the main criteria by which schools will be assessed—graduation rate. Not graduation rate from high school, but graduation rate from college.
Every high school in America claims they prepare their students for a college education, but the reality is that an alarmingly small percentage of graduates from urban schools go on to finish a degree from a four-year university. Every year I have college-accepted seniors who don’t even make it through the summer. Once school ends, they don’t have teachers or counselors to answer questions, alleviate fears, or simply offer encouragement. With no one at home to provide this kind of support, they buckle. And that’s just getting them to show up for the first day of class, let alone succeeding in those classes.
To address this need, each Michigan Future School will have a guidance counselor on staff whose full-time job is to support their college-going graduates. Glazer cites the success that University Preparatory Academy in Detroit has found with this strategy of extended intervention.
As a teacher, the work that Michigan Future Schools is doing in Detroit is exciting because it illuminates new possibilities. It also suggests that a bankrupt state need not be the end of good public education. For us California teachers, that’s good news. If this works in Detroit, surely it could work in the Bay, right? At the very least, it’s worth keeping an eye on. Raising $10 million ain’t a bad start.
Michigan Future Schools is currently accepting applications for School Launch Director and Instructional Services Coordinator. Click here to learn more.
Alistair teaches English and Journalism in Hayward, CA.