Get Adobe Flash player

In Detroit, a Battle Over the Right To Literacy

By Eliza Mills and Lizzie O'Leary, Marketplace, August 10,2017

"I feel like I've been cheated." 

It's one of the first things Jamarria Hall said about his education at Osborn Evergreen Academy of Design and Alternative Energy, a Detroit public school. Hall is 17 years old, tall and gangly. He spent grades nine through 12 at Osborn, one of the five lowest performing schools in Detroit named in a federal suit against the state of Michigan. The class action lawsuit alleges that the public school system failed to provide students access to literacy. Detroit's complicated public school system has, since 1999, been in some form of state control. It's a hard network to navigate, a constantly changing mix of public schools and charter schools that has been managed by a dozen authorizers from all over the state of Michigan who determine where and when to open public and charter schools.

This fall, the city's independent school board will take over running the schools for the first time in over 15 years. The city has some of the worst test scores for reading and math in the country — only 7 percent of 8th grade students are proficient in reading. There were 263 teacher vacancies as of this spring.

And then there's the state of the school buildings themselves. "There are teachers who walk out of the classes, saying they can't deal with it because it's hot in the classes," Hall said. "Boiler pipes are broken so there might be steam coming out of the heat. Then when it's cold outside, it's super cold in the building so people might have coats on ... then there might be rodents."

Hall is not the only one to complain about the condition of the schools in Detroit. Those indictments have echoed in testimony and reports from students and teachers all over the city. Public Counsel, the pro bono firm representing the plaintiffs along with local firm Sidley Austin (working pro bono on this case), said that these problems — the teacher vacancies, the poor conditions, lack of textbooks and materials — contribute to the issue of illiteracy in Detroit schools and violate the constitutional rights of the students who attend public school in the city.

Read more at...