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Urban Battle: Can Robert Bobb Save Detroit's Schools?

In this week's edition of TIME, we profile Detroit Public Schools' emergency financial officer, Robert Bobb. Here's an excerpt:

On a recent morning, a crowd filled a downtown Detroit courtroom for the sentencing of a 19-year-old ninth-grade dropout caught breaking into a public school, apparently to steal computers. The hearing's main attraction was not the guilty man or the judge but Robert Bobb, the state-appointed emergency financial manager of Detroit's public schools. In the last six months of 2009, Bobb told the court, nearly 500 computers were stolen from schools, costing his system some $600,000. "The Detroit public-school system isn't an electronics store," he said.

This isn't the kind of problem most school chiefs in the U.S. have to worry about. A year ago, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm gave Bobb, the former president of Washington, D.C.'s Board of Education, the task of ending the financial crisis that has devastated the Detroit public-school system. In the past decade, the number of Detroit public-school students has plummeted from more than 167,000 to 84,600, mainly because of the emergence of charter schools and the middle class's exodus to the suburbs. It could fall further, to 65,000 in the next four years. Those trends, if they persist, will further erode revenues of a school system saddled with a $219 million budget deficit. So Bobb is trying to squeeze out the waste in the meantime, and he has built an investigative apparatus that has uncovered widespread corruption, including nearly 3,800 unauthorized dependents on employee health-insurance rolls. In the case of the ninth-grade dropout, the judge essentially followed Bobb's suggestion: the 19-year-old was ordered to spend up to 23 months in a boot camp and finish high school.

Beyond saving money, Bobb sees his mission in broader terms: to improve the system's miserable academic performance. Again, the situation is dire. Last month brought news that more than three-quarters of the 900 eighth-graders who took a national math exam scored at "below basic" levels. In October 2008, some 57% of Detroit third- through eighth-graders essentially failed a state writing test. Detroit's graduation rate is 58%. "The system is academically bankrupt. This is almost academic homicide," Bobb says.

Here's the full story.

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  • 1

    What troubles me about King Bobb and his savior, messiah, divine status bestowed on him by so many is the very fact that some many people have such contempt and disregard for the people and students of the city that they would genuflect and render Bobb a god in the affairs of DPS. The very introduction of a personality type like Bobb is to castigate others in the educational paradigms in the city.

    Clearly at end of the day Bobb is an accountant no more no less, he does not have any academic or educational credentials or expertise in this area of education.

    The other aspects of creating a deity like Bobb is that his role usurps the elected will of the people and he develops an entourage of ballon blowers unwilling to question the emperor.

    Bobb's power also prevents the internal developent and creation of local assets and talents to design a school district , he handcuffs those in the trenches who know how to educate students.

    Bobb's emergence just advances another dependancy relationship based around the cult of outsiders knowing what is best for those in the city.

    Bobb needs to stay focused on counting things and leave the education of students to those with the skills and credentials...

    • 1.1

      --"is to castigate others in the educational paradigms in the city"

      Ha Ha Ha!!! Nice use of obfuscation. Do you even know what you mean? Then please say it!

      --"Clearly ...he does not have any academic or educational credentials or expertise in this area of education."

      Clearly that means nothing seeing as those who do have failed so miserably for so long.

      --"he handcuffs those in the trenches who know how to educate students."

      Those in the know and in the trenches certainly haven't made themselves known. I honestly don't believe they exist.

      --"leave the education of students to those with the skills and credentials..."

      True - they have the credentials...

    • 1.2

      I have to agree with Tim there on the obfuscation...I have two degrees and even I had to look up castigate to be sure I had it right before responding.

      1. to criticize or reprimand severely.
      2. to punish in order to correct.

      Yeah, that sound like exactly what has to happen. Bobb has been sent here by the state because the finances of the school district are in such dire straits that there aren't really any other options. I mean, our current form of school governance has basically failed. If DPS were a country, Bobb would be the dictator enforcing martial law. Is it a long term solution? No. Will it help get things stabilized? We can only hope so.

      Also, "His role usurps the elected will of the people" - THANK GOD! I still have some faith in the voters in Detroit, but I feel like either we are too uninformed on the school board members or nobody cares. We re-elected Reverend David Murray for heaven's sakes. Reverend is his legal first name, he's not ordained as far as I can tell, but my guess is that's why he keeps getting elected. In a WDET interview before the 2009 election, he said the following wrt losing custody of his adoptive children:

      “If ahh children, particularly children you did not birth, if they become inadequate in terms of their own behavior and ability to have structure or accept structure then the best thing to do is to let them go.”

      He said a lot of things that I would not expect to hear from an educator with credentials. Here are some other highlights:

      We re-elected this guy after he said that. (Well, I didn't. I wrote Bobb in, even though he's not even eligible.) But still, clearly the will of the people is not currently serving the best interest of the people. I mean, if you could see someone repeatedly shooting himself in the foot, would you stop him? Even if you knew it was what he wanted?

      Let Bobb gut the DPS finances, expose all of the fraud, corruption, and everything else that's put the district this far in the hole and helped put Detroit's children so far behind. When he's done, he'll leave, and we can democratically elect some real educators to start teaching our kids.

  • 2


    Given your shallow empty post to my comments I gather I was right on the money about Bobb..Thanks for the confirmation....

    • 2.1


      Oh, you're a funny one!

      That wasn't empty; I clearly just claimed that the teachers and principles of Detroit are less qualified to make decisions regarding how to "design a district" than Mr. Bobb.

      Clearly that was not a shallow or empty post. If you think that confirms your ideas about Bobb and, indeed, if you think you even made a persuasive point in your initial address or subsequent response then I would recommend a course in rhetoric. But not from DPS (do they even teach it there?)

  • 3


    So in other words your post was about what?? Again apparently I was on point about your post your reply again confirms it....

  • 4


    What does Bob have to do with Rev.Murray?? If you have an issue with his parenting then confront him about it...

    Bobb is not an educator nor does he have any counselor or educational credentials his oversight in truth can cause more academic injury and damages to the students of DPS..

    It is unfortunate that people like you have lost so much faith in others that any person in a shinning suit that comes long you worship and give up all of your rights, responsibilities etc...

    Sorry but some of us cannot accept anything and anybody as a means to and end...Nor will many of us accept the notion that all is lost and educational success is not possible in DPS...

    We have much to offer as well as standards..

  • 5

    Hard to enter this topic and contribute after the above exchange.

    But since I have a daughter in the DPS and care very much about the current plight, perhaps I can contribute something.

    There was no choice, the DPS were as corrupt and poorly managed as possible. It was not only the Mayor rife with corruption. The fault was largely in the School administration, the School Center Building. It was as muddled as much as any 3rd world country. Place a call and the response would be "I'm sorry that I cannot take your call but if you leave your name and phone number, I'll return your call AT MY CONVENIENCE and if your call is urgent, please call xxx number. So when you placed that call, you would get the message, "we're sorry but the mailbox is full". No one ever responded.

    The corrupt Mayor wanted to take charge of the school system and thank God that he didn't get it, or what we would have seen would have been nothing short of totally boggling. Costing us $10,000,000 would have to be considered as trifling. The fact that Dave Bing says that he now wants it, is also cause for concern. He is an older man who knows what would happen if he became disabled? Would it then fall to a man who is deeply in financial troubles? Good luck on that one.

    I once went right on down the line of phone numbers at the School Board and the same responses happened every time except for the Law Department.

    I also worked on the last Bond issue and was privy to the corruption and mismanagement in that effort. Politicians placed a Contractor in charge that had no planning and demographic expertise at all. Unbelievable as it is. Politicians have forsaken Architects and Planners and you are aware of the results. Greased contracts, poor performance, no established standards for windows that have never been thoroughly cleaned, and buildings restored that never should have been because there was not enough population to warrant the work. And to make matters worse as one of my architect friends points out new aluminum framed insulated windows spell the kiss of death to many a school building. There are instances that are utterly heartbreaking.

    Now I could continue on with other horror stories but we have to face it the Governor had no other choice but to bring someone in to take charge. And I think that the choice is a great one. Robert Bobb has the intelligence and the stature to make many of the necessary changes. He already has.
    Did some good people get lost in the shuffle, yup but there have been efforts to correct that.

    Now can he change the disaster of the math education in the grade schools? Someone has to. And it really goes back into the Ed Schools in the colleges. They invented and promulgated the "New Math" that has come close to destroying 2 if not three generations.

    Clearly Robert Bobb should be placed in a position of altering that course that has been so destructive. The Governor and Robert Bobb must assume the larger challenge of correcting what is taught in the Ed Schools. There needs to be a math task force to rethink what has happened. Kumon may have to be implemented throughout the system. What is currently in place obviously hasn't worked.

    And yes, I am aware that the Governor, personally paid for Kumon Coursework for a young lady, but unfortunately the mother could not fulfill her part of the bargain of correcting the work every day. While the Governor's conscientious effort failed, it revealed that you do need to team the methodology and it appears that there would a need for a Kumon Corps of students who are further along in the training to help those coming up behind them. Perhaps the Boy and Girl Scouts could take this on as a REAL and vitally important task. There has to be a team effort to alter the course because the icebergs are amongst us now.

    Efforts are underway to bring in people to help in reading but there also has to be similar committed, intelligent effort in Math.

    To recently hear the Principal talk to the parents of some freshmen and to learn that many of their children knew neither their addition tables nor their multiplication tables is heartbreaking.

    The grade schools are failing and my suspicion is that it really is the "New Math" and the notion that everything must be crammed down into high school. It almost appears that the frantic attempt to wild drive the New Math has wrought nothing but frustration, and destruction. No learning on the bottom and too much coming down from the top.

    The stress that the Principal is under is unbelievable. It's virtually an impossible task and Bobb knows that she is good. He said so and I've seen it firsthand.
    What lies before us is actually a cultural shift and it really is a life or death issue. Someone has to go to the Ed schools and find out why they are producing teachers who are failing their students, failing in the sense that THEY, the teachers, have not performed. Clearly many hold misconceptions that are of obvious disastrous consequences. I'm sick of reading general complaints of engineering professors who offer no specific solutions.

    The Governor and Robert Bobb must find out what has happened and let us know what corrective measures are being taken at the College level. The State must insist on getting that cleaned out and corrected as fast as possible… It's not just the Detroit Public Schools, it's much larger. This is a canary in the mine.

    Another issue is the textbooks . And I'm not talking about the graft involved in “selling“ the books to the schools, I'm talking about the texts themselves. Have you ever looked at them? They are outrageous! They are laden with so many graphic devices and pictures of the authors as to beg for immediate dismissal. And their costs are utterly outrageous with all the color work.

    Ike warned us about the Military-Industrial complex, he needn't have worried about that, he should have warned us about the Textbook-Educational complex.

    So, there are so many levels of failure here in this larger environment that one does have to give Mr. Bobb a rather jaundiced look and wonder if he isn't absolutely crazy to take all this on.

    But look at him; he's an experienced man, dignified, articulate, centered, poised, and educated in one of the great professions, a politician when he needed to be, Former President of a School Board, skilled on many levels and some that you may not even understand.

    Place him in charge of the curriculum? Why not? Clearly he could do no worse than what has already happened, and I suspect that he could bring some very real intelligence to the table.

    I think that he is doing an unbelievable job and the cross is so unbelievably heavy. I asked him about surveillance of the abandoned buildings and he tells me that it's handled. Actually a whole program needs to be put in place to determine the best course of action of each abandoned school. Some of the structures are very much worth saving.

    He's cleaned out the School Center mess, he's reworked the academic structure by removing a whole level of hierarchy, he's trying to clean up the curriculum, and he says that he's going to build four new high schools, presumably as fancy as Cass Tech, DSA, and Renaissance in three years starting last year. That is a tall order. It's a much taller than many lesser men could even comprehend.

    As an architect who scheduled the fastest large University level school project in America, and as a CM who built Kessler's Tinker Toy building at CCS, I am concerned.

    The one thing that most bothers me is that in the last bond issue the project was given to a General Contractor who had no planning experience at all and so the approach was to simply go around, assess all the schools and outline what needed to be done and give out the projects to a slew of architects of varying abilities. And guess what? Many of those buildings have been abandoned, torn down, or viciously vandalized by now.

    It was politicians who had no idea what they were doing who designed that process. And this was just a short while ago.

    So the recent announcement has me deeply worried. It is beginning to look like a repeat of the last process. It was just announced that a CM or General Contractor was selected to handle the whole project, and beside the fact that they are no more or even less skilled than the last General Contractor calling themselves Program Managers, this one is headed by a man that was identified by ML Elrich of the Free Press as one of the “Gang of Four” who were heavily involved in the dirty and deceitful and corrupt politics of Kwame. That firm may no special skill set other than skillfully using the tactic of holding the client to the wall and making absurd demands under the gloomy and foreboding cloud of dire urgency.

    And programming, designing, demolishing, and constructing 4 major school buildings in the Architecture-Engineering- Construction Process in 3 years really can be a setup for dire circumstances, to say the least, when handled by an old line contractor.

    Who is the coordinating Architect in this process?


  • 6


    It appears from your long winded rant that all you want is some grease for your contract /architect agenda

    The issue is about Bobb's skill set with regard to eduation not architecture or your personal wish list.

    Your prose sounds like the others who have a vested interested Sorry but many of us are not like you we are not seeking a perference or a special deal ..

    Bobb is not qualified to be an educator nor an academic leader .DPS has suffered for to long with the wrong people in the wrong slot.

    Please spare us your selfish agenda we have had enough of that type of mindset in DPS

  • 7

    Wow thrasher are you ever whacked!

    You are the one ranting and obviously without any experience or wisdom. Are you one of those teachers who has not fulfilled upon your obligations to society? Are you one of those nonsense screamers in the board meetings?

    Bobb is obviously far better educated than you.

    Bobb has also taken upon himself the burden of putting up 4 new High Schools for the children of Detroit in order to generate a clean and safe and happy atmosphere in which to learn.. you don't seem to be aware of that.

    You rant about his qualifications and certifications. Yet he has taken upon himself the exceedingly difficult task to clean up the damned mess which you very much imply you are a part of.

    You sound an awful lot like Monica Conyers. Are you?

    A CM screwed up along with the politicos last Bond Issue around. No one thought to check the demographics. Which an Architect-Planner would have. I once tried to talk with Ken about demographic issues and he gave me his consulting demographers. They were full of bafflegab and had not provided the requisite and crucial charts. Like you, they were concerned about their jobs, and like you taking the checks but not doing the work.

    Do you think that the Detroit Medical Center is a mess? Who do you think pulled it together? I'll bet that you can't even figure it out for all your negative yapping. The answer is Architect-Planners.

    I am concerned about my Profession. I know who is who and I am concerned that they have not stepped up. They too are frightened about their jobs. But the fact remains that Careful programming must commence immediately and I have been invited to contribute and there was never any discussion about money.

    You have wild imaginings thrash, and warped interpretations that you ought to reflect upon.

    It wasn't all too long ago that it only took 2 years to get a teaching certificate to teach in those one room schools. And believe you me, if the teachers had a modicum of integrity the kids learned their 3 R's far better that what is happening now with the absurd textbooks and educational nonsense and wild yappings like yours. (Your Rants)


  • 8

    @ Bill,

    So in other words given your emotional reply I was right on the $$$ about your intent and agenda..Your need to call me names and attack me personaly confirms I was right about you.

    You have no idea about my professional credentials in fact I am probably more educated than Bobb and since he has never went to law school nor taught in a DPS classroom ..

    But these facts and truths mean nothing to special interest ballon blowers like you who are only interested in what they can get from DPS You have little concern for students your selfish self centered focus on your professional agenda reveals this fact....

    Please hire a lobbyist or an agent to pursue your architect agenda. You are out of your element in here ,your posts are full of disconnected rants and issues from Monica Conyers( What does she have to do with this issue) to the Detroit Medical Center comment.( another irrevelant comment by you)

    Are you sure you are a planner/architect ? Given your disjointed long winded disconnected logic and writing I doubt if I want to be in any program you designed..You think and write like a zigzag pencil in a child's hand..

    Now run along you are out of your element here..

    • 8.1

      thrashabout says...

      " in other words" "confirms I WAS RIGHT!!!!!!"

      whoo hoo. What a genius. No matter how well reasoned the response it ALWAYS confirms the rightness of the thrasher! No coherence, no cogent argument, not even a single person in agreement; but somehow it all reinforces the brilliance of thrasher. one agrees with you.

  • 9

    Having a tough time getting it eh, threasher?

    You have emotionally attacked everyone who has posted here, and you seem to think that you are full of wisdom and are highly intelligent;

    Get it... you are not. Obviously not.
    Your facts and truths simply aren't facts and truths.

    And you have not read the paper.

    That you would be a very dangerous teacher there is no question. I would never want any child around you because of your warped notions and inability to understand. Let us pray that you are not. Or if you were laid off by Bobb, then your rant is simply sour grapes.

    You even think that you are better educated than BOBB. Hilarious and obviously not and never will be!

    You are simply a representative of the ignorant, inane screamers that we have seen lately.

    Good bye to you.

  • 10

    People like Tim have always amazed me always lurking around on the marginals never being important or significant enough to matter but always there to yell and icite from afar..Must be strange being an ordinary nobody a piece of the,lol,lol

    Tim I am not sorry I have presence and you have none..tee hee

    I could never be a nobody like you my dna does not allow for it...

  • 11


    Is that your best retort?? Again thanks for confirming my views about your selfish self centered posts..It feels go to know even in cyberspace I can call out frauds and self serving angry slugs like you...

    I will admit I do blush sometimes knowing I can folks to lose it forums like these..I got mad skills..I really do..

    BTW I hope your firm and you will make amends if Bobb 's investigation reveals how worthless your services are given how you write and think in here it is pretty apparent you are 3rd tier workers at best...

    Oh yeah....tee hee

  • 12

    TIME Magazine,

    "I will admit I do blush sometimes knowing I can folks to lose it forums like these..I got mad skills..I really do.."

    I take this as a direct threat to the Safety and welfare of my family.

    Please have this person investigated, they are dangerous.

  • 13


    I was thinking about reporting you to Home Land Security after your nasty personal insults directed at me..What's next? I am a dark skinned negro with a negro dialect????

    Your words "ignorant, inane, screamer,whacked,dangerous teacher, you have called me Monica Conyers,lol,lol

    But in the spirit of MLK I will not report you to Home Land Security..I will just continue to defeat your negative fixation on my posts with logic, reason and my iconic presence..

  • 14

    Not that I want to add to the above craziness but I feel I need to add a tidbit here as I do work within DPS.

    The article states, "...more than three-quarters of the 900 eighth graders who took a national math exam scored at 'below basic' levels." The article failed to mention how many eight graders are in DPS from which to compare this data. Also, there was no mention as to how many of these 900 students were Special Education, which many were. This would have a huge bearing on the ability levels of the students.

    The article is not the only one that would like to skew the data however. Robert Bobb told the Detroit media about the failures of the 4th and 8th graders on the NAEP exam in relation to Math (the Reading scores have not been released). Bobb ALSO failed to clarify how many students there were in the district in those grades in comparison to how many took the test and how many were Special Education students. He wanted the data skewed as well to help encourage Governor Granholm to give him extreme power over the academics within DPS.

    Interestingly enough he shows on paper that he is trying to help the district. He bought into ($37+ million) a supplemental reading series that teachers were told to start in October. However, he had a minimal amount of teachers trained and only a minimal amount of times, as all the other trainings were canceled. How can teachers be expected to teach something new without any training or a complete classroom of materials?

    But Bobb in all of his financial wisdom thought it important, in 2009, to bring in a Sports Director or some such title because sports would encourage students to attend DPS. He also failed to mention that this man was his friend and also the man that had been in charge of painting all the blue doors for Bobb's "I'm In" campaign. Sounds fishy to me. Seems like there would have been a better way to spend the money this salary is now pulling in.

    DPS has its hardships, it used to be mostly in upper management because there were too many people doing too little. Now that there are less people, they are still doing too little. More requirements are being placed at the school level without ample assistance.
    There are many schools that don't have trash bags for the classrooms which poses a safety/health risk. There are many schools that don't have and can't get lightbulbs so the hallways and classrooms are half lit which also poses a safety risk. There are Headstart classrooms that can't play on a playscape because the Office of Early Childhood won't send someone to inspect nor replace the woodchips. There are many classrooms that have too many students (over the DFT limits) thus threatening the education within those classrooms because there are also reduced support staff to deal with behavior/personal issues. When are these problems going to be addressed by Bobb?

    The whole picture of DPS needs to be under the microscope, not just the broad spectrum of issues.

  • 15

    I didn't want to hear some of that.

    After being in charge of 7 DPS Buildings in the construction end during the Last Bond Issue I decided to go back and check them out to see how they fared.

    The DPS had huge glass breakage tabs so we put in windows that had lexan on the outer sheet and glass on the inner sheet. They were not bonded together like typical insulated glass units.

    To my surprise, none of the windows had ever been cleaned and there were dead flies and mosquitos and dust and dirt between them. Some of them look horrible from the outside.

    I hear that nothing is going to be done about that and then a Head custodian got ahold of me and said that he could not get supplies and incompetent and incomplete work was done and signed off on and there evidently will be no relief. Will the parents be asked to bring in toilet paper?

    Now I heard part of the WDET interview with Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Wow her, voice is beautiful and she is so well spoken.

    She created an opening by asking the question, "What is it that we must do now?" And the interviewer did not follow that lead closely.

    She did point out that the First grade is the most important. That is absolutely true... the teacher must be very bright and encouraging and on top of the situation. You can hook them into learning in that grade. Later grades the kid will pass the opinion around that school ain't cool.

    But what I most wanted to hear was that she was re-instituting rote learning. That is the central single thing that separates US Education from all those highly successful foreigh countries. India does tech support because they have rote learning and know their english.

    The neat thing about that old and tried and true approach is that the classroom equipment is: One well lighted thermally controlled classroom, a chalkboard and some sticks of chalk plus pencils and paper.

    If the teachers do not resume that old method, all this is nonsense and the kids will be lost again.


  • 16

    Sadly, Detroit schools, nor any other schools in the US, are going to make any real progress in dealing with dropout rates until they can credibly focus their students onto their own futures. It makes a very big difference after decades of failed dropout prevention projects. It takes two steps for a project costing about $2 per 8th grade student. A credible focus on the future makes a priceless difference!

    First you must know real dropout numbers. An annually updated 10+ year enrollment by grade spreadsheet, with annual graduation numbers, will provide this. Such spreadsheets are easy to create from enrollment data and should be on every school and school district web site to track progress as dropout rate numbers go down from the second step below.

    Second: bolt a 500-pound vault to the floor in every secondary school lobby to function as a 10-year time-capsule focusing students onto their own plans for the future. The vault stores letters students write to themselves the last month in school. They then plan for a 10-year class reunion at which they retrieve those letters and plan to speak to the then current students about their recommendations for success. They prepare for questions such as: "What would you do differently if you were 13 again?"

    Since 2005 this simple $2/student project has helped to produce the largest graduation classes on record for two old, inner-city Dallas high schools!

    The 11th and 12th grade enrollments in the 32 high schools in Dallas ISD went up 5% from 2005/2006 to 2009/2010. This is in spite of total district enrollment going down 2.5% during the same years! However 55% of this gain is from only two of the 32 high schools in the district, the two who received the 700+ students who had placed a letter into a vault in 2006 and 2007. See the details for this $2 per student dropout prevention project at

  • 17

    Law of Attraction and Manifestation 0.00...

    After writing about the. 01% of what Bob Proctor teaches that I didn' t think was right for me , I did a little exploring on his site, and noticed that the classic You Were Born Rich is now available for free , and doesn' t even require an email addres...

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