Monday, August 27, 2007

Detroit Public Schools - Time to put the focus back on academics

Is it just me, or does it seem as if when it comes to Detroit Public Schools, we seem to hear about everything else but academics these days? After all, I thought the primary purpose of a public school system was to educate students to prepare them for higher education or for the world of work, not to manage (or mismanage) millions of dollars and employ thousands of people.

Recently, there have been a number of stories in the press addressing alleged financial improprieties within the Detroit Public Schools district. The most recent instance involves several so-called "contract schools" that were established by mostly by pastors and community organizations specifically to recruit the thousands of school-age Detroiters who have dropped out of DPS and are not enrolled in any school. The State of Michigan Department of Education recently ordered DPS to repay $6 million, citing legal issues in the way that the contract schools hired instructors.

And then, there's the on-going and well-publicized investigation into the millions of dollars of questionable wire transfers made from the district's Risk Management office to Long Insurance, a long-time DPS vendor.

Yet, when is the last time you heard anything about academic progress, programs to improve student achievement, or recent notable accomplishments by DPS students?

I'm sure that in a district as large as Detroit, with approximately 110,000 students, great things must be happening on a daily basis. Unfortunately, DPS needs a much better marketing and public relations effort to showcase the academic achievements of its students.

One could argue that the local mainstream press is the problem. Rather than seeking out positive stories about DPS, some say that the media chooses to only focus on controversial topics, such as the above-mentioned stories.

However, I checked out the district's own web site, and I was disappointed to see how little DPS toots its own horn. There are a few accomplishments noted, most notably the strong showing of a combined team from Murray-Wright and Western High School students who competed in an international robotics competition. However, the list of student accomplishments is scant compared to the list of non-academic awards and accomplishments achieved by the district, including, ironcially, the 2006 Award of Financial Reporting Achievement.

Makes you wonder what matters most at DPS these days.

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