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A disturbing trend for Detroit's schools

While doing some research for the blog, I came across the following troubling information: Detroit leads the nation for high-school dropouts. Detroit also was one of 12 cities identified by America's Promise Alliance in 2008 as having the highest dropout rates.

Another notable data point -- there is a reported 58 percent graduation rate among Detroit high-school students.

The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, D.C.-based policy, research, and advocacy organization that works to make every child a graduate, prepared for post-secondary education and success in life. Locally, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan is working with the Alliance to come up with solutions to this outrageous situation.

According to the Alliance, "with each class of dropouts our nation loses more than three hundred billion dollars in taxes and revenue."

Locally, the impact is significant, the Alliance found. If the Detroit metro area were to reduce by 50 percent the number of students who fail to graduate with their class, it could enjoy more than $130 million in additional wages and 8,000 new homeowners. And the percentage of new high school graduates who continue their education after high school would be an outstanding 45 percent.

Both Time and the blog plan on tackling this issue, finding stories of people learning to read and those who have benefited from programs like the Boys & Girls Clubs. I am eager to hear their stories.

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  • 1

    "If the Detroit metro area were to reduce by 50 percent the number of students who fail to graduate with their class, it could enjoy more than $130 million in additional wages and 8,000 new homeowners. And the percentage of new high school graduates who continue their education after high school would be an outstanding 45 percent."

    I'm sorry, but this is speculative at best. Currently people with college and even advanced degrees cannot find employment in Michigan.

    The elephant in the room no one wants to discuss is the national decline in manufacturing and research and development funding. The Urban Institute found that the US graduates three times as many scientists and engineers as there are job positions for them, yet politicians keep spreading the fallacy that graduates in these fields are lacking. It's job demand that is lacking because so much fundamental work has been cut back or off-shored. The effect of this has shown itself the most in the Detroit area - once the touchstone of US engineering research and development as well as manufacturing.

    I saw the blurb today about Silicon Valley negatively criticizing Detroit, but you know what? Silicon Valley doesn't *build* anything.

  • 2

    Darlin, the elephant in the room is WHY? Why are Motor City students dropping out of school?
    Check out the teen pregnancy rates among Detroit students.
    What is the ratio of male versus female graduates?
    What motivators have been established for Detroit students? Is there sufficient college prep offered? Are college counselors/recruiters coming onto campus to talk about financial aid and planning for the future? Or is it just Army recruiters?
    Do these children feel they have a future?
    Are they being given the same quality of education as children in the suburbs?
    Is enough funding being pumped into the school system to attract top-notch teachers, school staff, learning materials, after-school programs?
    I don't believe in the stigma that Detroit youth drop out to "live on the dole," join gangs or simply move away.
    There's a deeper underlying problem here.

  • 3

    Honestly, I think you're BOTH right. College graduates are finding it difficult to find employment in well as everyone else. The problem of Detroit Public Schools isn't news to anyone who has been paying attention to this topic for the past 10 years. They don't have the money for toilet paper let alone text books. Unfortunately, it's two seperate issues. Even when manufacturing was an all time high in Detroit, the drop out rate was still amazingly high. What happened to "No child left behind"? The school system needs funding...and maybe a glimmer of hope that when students graduate they might actually find a job. There is a deeper underlying problem here, and the division of class between the suburbs and the city certainly doesn't help. Go 20 miles up the road in pretty much any direction and you'll find a very different story. The city council needs to get it together and pull the city out of the hole it's in before it becomes an quagmire.

  • 4

    I agree - all three of you are right. As someone who teaches adult literacy in Detroit and sees the problem on a daily basis, I think that the actual dropout rate is much higher than the official figure. Also, having a diploma from DPS is not at all a guarantee of literacy.

    I think we need a comprehensive literacy policy in Detroit, much broader than a K-12 educational system. We need to start with early, early childhood programs - from babyhood through high-quality pre-school programs, all of which are focused on brain and language development. Class size in the schools needs to be cut in half. Adult education programs must focus on providing excellent reading and math instruction, not just test preparation, so the adults will get what they missed the first time they were in school. Then they will be able to help and support their kids. None of this will be easy or cheap to implement, nor will it be quick. We need well-trained professionals to teach at every one of these levels, from birth through adult ed. Are we willing to make this kind of investment in our kids and adults? Nothing I have seen convinces me of that.

  • 5

    Etodes, it is not about funding. Look in youtube for the tv program 20/20 titled "Stupid in America", and you'll see why it is not about funding (The U.S. already allocates more money for education than any other country, but ranks last among industrialized countries).

  • 6

    [...] 3.) Can better graduation rates boost Detroit’s economy? [...]

  • 7

    I teach in Arizona where some teachers have 38 kids per class at the elementary level. Trust me, it can get worse than Detroit!

  • 8

    My family moved here in 1976, my brothers & sister all went to DPS and graduated. When I married and had children, by the time my oldest reached 5th grade, we had run out of educational options and ended up having to leave the city to find better school and neighborhood options. It was the best decision we ever made. Detroit lost a homeowner/taxpayer and 3 school children, but they don't care. It only gets worse. As the scandals go on and ineffective respresentation at ALL levels of government it would be best if they scrapped it all and started over.

  • 9

    Did you see this amazing documentary on PBS 9/22? Obviously someone in the school district is doing the right thing: It would be nice to see the Catherine Ferguson Academy get some coverage during this special year of attention on Detroit.

  • 10

    Detroit, Pontiac and Flint all share the same problem. They spend so much more per student than school systems in the outlying areas, and get so little. How does that happen? Where is the disconnect between having so much money available for these students, and yet it produces such little results. And no one, especially the school boards, seem to accept responsibility for the problem (if they even recognize it exists) and really, really try to fix it. It is such a beaurocratic mess. It really will take a major shift in thinking before any real progress is made. Definitely a topic that needs to be examined at length by the Time staff while they are in Detroit. And I don't mean some dog and pony show put on by the school board. Look at the tax numbers.

  • 11

    Sadly, the reported 58 percent graduation rate may be greatly inflated. An independent calculation in the annual report "Diplomas Count" by Education Week reports that Detroit's graduation rate is actually only 27%. That's right 27%. That ranks Detroit last among the nation's 50 largest districts (

    See the full report here:

  • 12

    How all of this happens is easily summed up by an attitude that pervades the residents of Detroit. That attitude says, "Now it's time for me to get mine." Be it school district officials/employees, city government staffers, city employees, city council members, mayor and/or staff, the list goes on and on of people who've stolen from their friends, neighbors, and students. The stories are legendary, and neverending. There is some sort of social pathology about the residents of Detroit that makes it OK in their minds to be thieves. Of course this doesn't apply to every resident, it's only a fraction. That fraction, though, steals on an exponential scale that hurts everyone. When a school doesn't have toilet paper, but the school district offices are getting new furniture, it hurts the kids, their families, their futures, the city's never ends. But, thankfully, those folks are enjoying their new furniture.

    Grand, isn't it?

  • 13

    It is extremely important to teach sex education to our kids on time. They should understand the mess they can get into if they get pregnant while they are still a teenager. Although most people in UK/US will agree that sex education should be made mandatory, but there are people on both sides. There are many cultures like Asian and Islam in which think a majority of people think that it is immoral. I recently saw an article here ( - Is it appropriate to introduce sexual desires to teenagers through Sex Education?) in which an Asian girl was pointing the disadvantages related to sex education. But when you come to western countries, one needs to adapt the way our societies work and learn to blend in it. There are many people who were born and brought up in UK/US itself who would oppose this too, but if they leave the emotional aspect behind, they will also agree that there is a lot of sense in this topic.

  • 14

    [...] Actually, it’s 58%.  But, hey, 25%, 58%–what’s the difference, right Steven?  Making videos gives us [...]

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