Detroit schools’ chief: GOP lawmakers treat us like ‘3rd class citizens’

    Harms Elementary School
    Harms Elementary School in Detroit | Wikimedia Commons

    Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) general superintendent, says that the GOP plan to create a statewide school grading system has had no input from administrators and teachers.

    For Detroit educators, Vitti said, it’s an all-too familiar story.  

    Nikolai Vitti

    “All stakeholders, even in suburban and rural districts, now know what it is like to be a second-class citizen,” Vitti told the Advance this week. “And oh, by the way, now that they are second-class citizens I guess everyone in Detroit turns into a third-class citizen. That’s how they treat educators.”

    As the Advance reported, the Michigan House last week narrowly passed House Bill 5526, sponsored by Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Twp.).

    Under the plan, state government would give each public-school A-F letter grades for student performance in some areas. However, a cumulative grade would not be given, although it was part of the original legislation.

    Schools would be graded in five separate areas: English and math proficiency on a state test, growth in English and math scores, growth among English language learners, high school graduation rates and academic performance compared to similar schools.

    One big change made in order to pass the bill was dumping a provision establishing a new commission that would have seized some authority from the elected state Board of Education. Under Kelly’s original plan, a majority of commission members would have been appointed by term-limited GOP Gov. Rick Snyder. The state Board of Education would have had no oversight.

    The panel also would not have been accountable to Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer or to the state Department of Education she will oversee.

    Tim Kelly

    During the state financial rescue of three years ago, DPSCD had been required by lawmakers to create a similar grading system. Vitti, who has led the Detroit district since May 2017, said he is frustrated over the effort.

    “There was legislation for us to do this and we were acting on it,” Vitti told the Advance on Monday.  “And all of that was negated with the new statewide legislation.”

    The American Federation of Teachers and the Michigan Education Association also are opposed to the legislation. Vitti said that HB 5526 won’t accomplish real change in education.

    “It’s just another satellite that spins out of its orbit and ends up in some stratosphere that no one knows or sees, and it doesn’t create any change,” he said.

    Vitti said that DPSCD should have been part of the process in crafting the legislation.

    “You’re disrespected and you’re disregarded,” he said. “That’s just part of the K-12 Detroit experience.”

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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