State education officials have been unable or unwilling to say whether they have ever used their power to close a Michigan public school that has persistently failed academically. (Some low-performance school districts have been closed by the state because they became fiscally unviable.)
Whether that will change is uncertain. A few weeks ago, an official with a state School Reform Office told an education news website that with a few exceptions, schools that rank in the state’s bottom 5 percent on academic performance will be closed after the current year.
But apparently that was news to officials in the state Department of Education, who said no closings were planned.
Which brings us to the release this week of the latest update to the worst-performing schools report, essentially the lowest 5 percent of school on what the state calls its “Top to Bottom” list. The bottom 5 percent includes 116 schools, of which 58 are in Detroit.
This list of so-called “priority schools”comes from the same School Reform Office from which the earlier “bad schools will be closed” report originated. The press release accompanying the updated rankings says nothing about closing schools, with instead just a vague reference to “a next level of accountability.”
However, an aide to Gov. Rick Snyder told the Detroit Free Press that no Detroit schools on the worst schools list – precisely half of the total – will be closed for at least three years, based on some legal interpretations of a Detroit school bailout bill Snyder championed and recently signed.
One school reformer is skeptical. Gary Nayaert of the Great Lakes Education Project told the Detroit News, “Legal opinions are not hard to come by, not hard to purchase…I would encourage the governor to seek a second legal opinion.”
The National Assessment of Educational Progress has named Detroit’s as the nation’s worst performing urban school district in each of the four biannual rankings released since 2009.
Snyder has been under stress since the Flint water contamination debacle hit the news almost a year ago. At the end of 2016 the term-limited Republican will have two years left before a new governor takes office on Jan. 1, 2019.