In a spirited community meeting at a high-performing public school in Detroit, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reminded the audience that the city’s economic renaissance is inextricably linked to the reform of its schools.
“I couldn’t be more hopeful about Detroit,” Duncan told more than 200 parents, community leaders, and Mayor Dave Bing and other political leaders. “There’s an alignment of leadership and an alignment of commitment and courage here.”
“My challenge to Detroit is to become the fastest improving district in the country. I can’t see any reason why that can’t happen.”
The forum at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Sciences was the first stop on the second day of the “Education and the Economy: Investing in our Future” bus tour.
Duncan appeared on the panel with Governor Rick Snyder; state Superintendent Mick Flanagan; Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts; Keith Johnson, the president of the Detroit Teachers Union; Sharlonda Buckman, executive director of the Detroit Parent Network; and Dan Varner, the executive director of Excellent Schools Detroit.
“One of the things that’s happening in Detroit is that a coalition of community organizations, philanthropies, and businesses have come together and said we’re no longer going to accept mediocrity for our children,” said Varner.
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Varner added that there’s a commitment in the city to begin anew with an intense focus on improving the results for students.
“We have to think as if we were starting from scratch and ask: What do we want to create to ensure we get great educational outcomes for our children,” he said.
But the commitment goes beyond fixing the K-12 schools. It extends to ensuring students have the opportunity to go to college. Through the Detroit Promise, the public-private partnership guarantees that high school graduates from the city will receive free tuition for at least two years of college.
“The Detroit Promise is such an important piece of the puzzle,” Duncan said. “It might be about the best economic development tool the city can have.
In addition, the state is committed to turning around the city’s lowest performing schools and engaging its parents in the education of their children.
With all of these commitments in place, Duncan challenged Detroit to be a national leader for reform in urban areas.
“Detroit has the opportunity to leap-frog other urban districts,” Duncan said. “I want to do everything I can to be helpful.”