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Two days after 55 percent of enrolled students showed up for the first day of classes at Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told a Motor City audience Thursday that he “couldn’t be more hopeful” about the future of the city’s public schools.

In a stop along his Midwestern bus tour at the Charles H. Wright Academy in the Motor City, Duncan had kind words for Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and Roy Roberts, the emergency manager that Snyder appointed to run a new statewide reform district.

“You all have the building blocks to do something remarkable here,” Duncan told Michigan Radio. “Has Detroit struggled? Absolutely, no question about it. But my challenge, and the opportunity here is: Can Detroit become the fastest-improving urban district in the country?”

Since Duncan first visited Detroit in 2009, the city’s official graduate rate has risen 4 percent to 62 percent overall. But an investigative Dan Rather Reports segment about Detroit’s schools that aired in May called “A National Disgrace” said the district’s true graduation rate hovered near 25 percent. Snyder said Thursday that only 17 percent of Detroit’s high-school graduates are “college ready.”

On Tuesday, 43,660 of the district’s students attended the first day of classes out of 79,617 enrolled. Duncan said that if Detroit’s schools have not improved by the time he leaves office, he’ll consider his tenure “a failure.”

From Detroit, Duncan’s caravan headed west to Ann Arbor, where he participated in a panel discussion at the University of Michigan. He has stops planned in Indiana and then another in Chicago, where he’ll find a different atmosphere:

First-day attendance in Chicago Public Schools, according to the Chicago Tribune, rose nearly two percentage points to 94.7 percent.

Pete Bigelow · Are You Afraid of Detroit?

September 7th, 2011

Efforts to revitalize downtown Detroit have been ramped up in recent months.

In July, the city and five of its major employers announced an initiative in which employees would receive cash incentives for relocating to certain city neighborhoods and sprucing up their homes. The plans for “Live Downtown” were modeled after an earlier pilot program that urged others to relocate to the city’s Midtown area.

Downtown Detroit. Photo by David Tansey.

Also in July, The New York Times reported on an influx of “socially aware hipsters” within the city’s borders and a 59 percent increase in college-educated residents under age 35. The migration so great, one resident told The Times, “Believe it or not, there is not enough housing in the greater downtown area for all the young people moving to Detroit.”

Emily Bingham can probably relate.

She’s a writer who moved to Detroit and found excitement in the vibrant city. “The house was gorgeous, the price was right, the neighborhood was charming and yet not gentrified, and the city was anything but boring,” she writes on her Found Michigan blog. “What an interesting place to start the next chapter of my Michigan life.”

And then came The Fear.

After she moved into her place, second-hand stories arrived from friends and strangers alike that recounted crimes committed against residents and stoked her unease. Her own fears, embedded in childhood anxieties that her parents’ generation associated with Detroit, rose to the surface. “I’ve known lots of people like you; people who have, you know … the fear,” a friend said.

Bingham’s experience is not unique. Fear and apprehension has given prospective residents pause and steered away prospective visitors for decades. Have you experienced similar feelings about either living in or visiting Detroit? Do you think those feelings are merely rooted in the city’s reputation or founded in current reality? We’d like to hear from you.

What Bingham’s experience may demonstrate is that, despite renewed reinvention efforts and the best of intentions from new residents like herself, the fear is still something the city’s leaders must still confront and combat.

Consider President Obama’s Labor Day speech in Detroit a preview of coming attractions.

Speaking before an audience of union supporters Monday, he hinted at some of the major initiatives he is expected to outline during a speech Thursday before a joint session of Congress. He suggested his plans will include road and bridge construction that utilizes private companies, but did not expand upon the scope of the project.

“Because I want you all to tune in on Thursday,” he said, “I’ll give you just a little bit.”

Monday’s visit marked Obama’s third trip to the region in recent months. He toured a Chrysler assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio in early June, and then an advanced processing plant in Holland, Mich., in early August. Here’s a roundup of coverage from his latest visit:

As part of a rebranding effort for the Detroit Public Schools, the district has adopted the optimistic slogan of “We’re in,” this year. Cheerleaders and a marching band were on hand at some schools for the opening of classes.

The school district, National Public Radio reports, wants parents to know “this is not the same old struggling school system.”

It’s not the first time leaders of the image-conscious district have tried shaking up its dilapidated image, although previous attempts have not rescued the district from its ailments. Dan Rather Reports documented the spiral and crumbling conditions in May in its “A National Disgrace” report on Detroit Public Schools. It followed up with another segment Tuesday night that examined the district through the eyes of its students.

Meanwhile, NPR profiled the leader of the latest reinvention effort Tuesday, former General Motors executive Roy Roberts, who came out of retirement to accept a position as Detroit’s emergency manager of schools. His first major initiative was the state-led effort to move low-achieving schools into part of a separate district for the weakest schools.

“We’re going to put all kinds of energy behind them,” Roberts told NPR. “We’re going to put more money. There can be different schools. They can be run differently. The principles can take different approaches to education. We’re going to put more money into the classrooms. We’re going to properly train teachers.”

Students? They’re hopeful. They’re also skeptical. They’ve heard promising sound-bytes before. They also know what Rather first reported: the district’s graduation rate hovers around 25 percent.

Deanna Williams, a graduate of the Detroit Public Schools who was followed by Rather and his crew over multiple years, says she’s watching closely. “Change needed to happen; it still does need to happen,” she said in the program’s follow-up report.

She now attends Eastern Michigan University, where she is pursuing a writing career. But Williams still stays in touch with friends in Detroit’s schools.

“One of my friends said there were 40 kids in one of her classes,” sher said. “I was like, ‘Oh, so it hasn’t changed that much then, huh.’”

John Covington, the first chancellor of Michigan’s new statewide school district for poor-performing schools could receive more than $1.5 million in salary and bonuses over four years. The contract has upset some union officials in Michigan.

A spokesman for Roy Roberts, emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools, tells the Detroit Free Press the contract was necessary “to attract top talent to what may be the toughest job in the country.”

Last week, the Michigan Department of Education released a list of 98 schools that were classified as “persistently low achieving,” which means they must submit a plan for improving results and are subject to being placed in the new reform district to be led by Covington.

Meanwhile, Dan Rather Reports airs a follow-up program tonight on HDnet of its earlier documentary, “A National Disgrace,” an investigative look at Detroit Public Schools. The original report, which aired in May, suggested the city school district’s graduation rate hovers near 25 percent, far lower than what the school district officially reports. Rather and his crew uncovered evidence of corruption throughout their reporting.

“We went to Detroit and we said here may be one of the worst cases in the country, if not the worst,” Rather said at the time.

Tonight’s special two-hour report that follows “A National Disgrace” examines Detroit’s “school system in crisis” through the eyes of the students. The report airs at 8 p.m., ET, on HDnet.

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Agriculture potential expands in Michigan. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow met in Western Michigan on Monday to discuss ways to grow Michigan’s agriculture industry. Vilsack anticipated this will be the best year for farm income in U.S. history, and Stabenow said Michigan can grow its second-largest industry into biotechnology, reports our partner station Michigan Radio. As a farmer told them at their meeting, “agriculture is doing things,” in Michigan, he said. “Industry is not.”

2. President plans Detroit visit. In what will be his eighth visit to Michigan since becoming president, Barack Obama will join union members during Labor Day festivities in Detroit next week. Organizers do not believe the President will walk in the city’s annual parade, but expect he will make a speech at a to-be-determined site afterward, according to the Detroit Free Press. Obama may use the visit as an opportunity to highlight the government’s intervention in the auto industry in 2009.

3. Rock Hall shows some Respect. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum will honor Aretha Franklin this November, during the venue’s 16th annual American Music Masters this November. Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Hall in 1987, and wrote in a statement that she is “thrilled and delighted to be honored.” The exhibit, “Lady Soul: The Life and Music of Aretha Franklin” will be a week-long celebration and work in conjunction with the museum’s ongoing “Women Who Rock” series.

Joshua Goldberg and some of the Backstage Pass MI cohort

Detroit’s shrinking population is well-documented, as are the many incentives offered to people to move back into the city center. These efforts are a mix of hyping what Detroit can become and offering economic incentives for those willing to give it a try. A group of Jewish organizations in Metro Detroit has been using the same formula to keep young Jewish people from leaving the area.

The Jewish population in Michigan is less than 1 percent, according to the U.S Census. The overwhelming majority of those 87,000 people live in Metro Detroit, in an area east of M5 and north of Interstate 696, according to Joshua Goldberg of the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit. But the area’s Jewish population has been falling steadily for at least the last few decades. Mirroring a trend in the state overall, in the Jewish community the young people are leading the march out of state.

Arthur Siegal wants to reverse this. The 50-year-old attorney and Wayne State graduate conceived of the Back Stage Pass MI program. The four-year program started last year selects promising Jewish high school students before their junior year and culminates in a Detroit internship placement after the student’s sophomore year of college. Along the way, the program takes its cohort of around 20 students a year to cultural and social events designed to show Detroit at its best.

“These young people are really wanted in this community, they are going to be sought after here,” says Siegal. “There are amazing opportunities for people who stay. Land is cheap, labor is cheap, and the opportunities to do your own thing and make your own mark are unparalleled.”

Most of the students in the program, funded by a grant from the Stephen H. Schulman Millennium Fund of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit have limited exposure to Detroit prior to the program, say Goldberg and Siegal.

“Of our group, none of them grew up in Detroit, but many of their parents did, many of their grandparents did,” said Goldberg.

Even so, Siegal says combating negative messages students might be get from their parents is part of the challenge in keeping young people in the region.

“I don’t know that it’s any kind of hostility toward the city,” says Siegal.  “But I think that suburban parents are pointing their children away from Detroit. “

Goldberg fully expects that some of the students will leave the area for college, or just to see what other areas of the country have to offer.

But I also know,” says Goldberg, “when they think about what’s possible, we’re showing them what’s possible here and we’re showing them where they fit in.”

Three must-read stories about the Midwest economy to start your weekend.

Groupon Glow Fading? Doubts are rising about the success of an upcoming initial public offering by Groupon, the company that offers discounts at a wide range of businesses. Crain’s Chicago Business says analysts are wondering whether Groupon, which posted a second quarter loss, can get the price for its stock that it hoped when it announced the offer in June. The shares are supposed to go on sale next month.

“I’m sure they could price an IPO, (but) I don’t know if they could get the valuation they’re talking about,” Darren Fabric, managing director of Chicago-based Ipox Capital Management, told Crain’s. “The lower the volatility and the more speculative the market, the more Groupon will be helped. And those conditions aren’t there right now.”

Another Chicago company, Trustwave Holdings, put off its I.P.O. earlier this week, Crain’s says.


Cameras Cover Detroit: Smile the next time you’re in downtown Detroit. Law enforcement officials now can view images from 350 cameras around the central business district as part of a coordinated effort to protect people who live, play and work downtown, the Detroit News reports.

Photo submitted by Joshua Mango

For the past six months, Detroit Police officials have been able to access the images from 18 downtown businesses such as General Motors Co., Ilitch Entertainment, the city’s three casinos  and Compuware.

Underemployment in Focus: National unemployment numbers focus on people who are looking for jobs, but can’t find them. But John Russo, head of the Youngstown State University Center for Working-Class studies, says the 9.2 percent unemployment rate doesn’t tell the whole story.

He says the complete unemployment figure  is about 26 percent. Russo counts people working part-time but who want to be working more, people who stopped looking for a job, people on disability or who filed early for Social Security and people living on government assistance. Hear the story from our partner station ideastream.




The new Education Achievement Authority tasked with raising the standards of under performing schools in Detroit and Michigan’s met for the first time today, just a week after its board members were named to their jobs.

Roy Roberts, DPS

Meetings of the EAA’s board, and its executive committee, are being live streamed here.

The EAA is headed by Roy C. Roberts, a former General Motors executive who was appointed as Emergency Manager of the Detroit Public Schools this spring.

Today, Roberts tweeted a photo of the new board and said,

“This group represents some of the best minds this state has to offer coming together to envision a different path for schools that need support and greater autonomy. I earnestly look forward to this Board addressing the key policy questions as we begin to work to build a new system of schools for children and families.”

The EAA is part of  Gov. Rick Snyder’s push for school reform in Michigan, and the reform effort is gaining national attention.

The new board members include a cross section of educational experts and community leaders from across Detroit, Southeastern Michigan and the state.Two board members were selected by Eastern Michigan University, one of the nation’s leading schools for training teachers.

The EAA will have the authority to oversee 45 schools in Detroit next year, if their standards cannot be improved. Eventually, it could oversee 100 of the worst performing schools in the state.







Detroit lost nearly a quarter of its population during the 2010 census, and entire neighborhoods sit empty. But a determined group of people are not giving up on the city.

Photo submitted by Nathan Barnes

One of them is Charlie Cavell, a Wayne State University student, who has taken on education as his primary cause. Cavell, 20, was profiled on NPR’s All Things Considered Tuesday evening, for his efforts to help launch a new charter school and his non-profit, the Pay It Forward Initiative.

Pay It Forward helps provide jobs for inner city kids, while Cavell, who grew up in Manchester, Michigan, is now a board member at the new charter school that will take the place of Loving Elementary on Detroit’s east side.

Says Cavell: “Rough times for some people, but I’m hoping to do what I can to fix that.”