News and analysis from The Center for Michigan •
©2016 Bridge Michigan. All Rights Reserved. • Join us online at

Original article URL:

Talent & education

School Quality: Detroit’s other big results due tomorrow

Editor’s note: The Excellent Schools Detroit scorecard is now viewable online.

Schools being schools, there’s no shortage of measurements to track their progress and quality. Actually finding useful information in that sea of data? That’s something else entirely.

Tomorrow, Excellent Schools Detroit will roll out the result of two years of work – a comprehensive, easy-to-understand guide for parents seeking the best possible information on their educational options for their children. The Excellent Schools Detroit Scorecard will be “actionable information,” said the group’s chief executive officer, Dan Varner, “the single best place for parents to go to get apples-to-apples data around education in Detroit,” including traditional public, charter, private and parochial schools, 204 in all. The list will also include some suburban schools that have targeted Detroit students for special programs in other districts.

Expect surprises, Varner said at a roundtable briefing before the report’s release on Aug. 7.

Some schools, run by established charter companies, will receive F grades, due to their refusal to participate in the Excellent Schools Detroit assessment process. Varner called these non-participants “reprehensible.”

“They’re taking public money,” he said. “They should be accountable.”

Schools won’t be ranked purely by state performance data. The rankings also used the “Detroit 5Essentials” survey, conducted by the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, which polled teachers and students on “five essential competencies” for improvement – effective leaders, collaborative teachers, involved families, supportive environment and ambitious instruction.

There were also community site reviews, conducted by 264 volunteers. Those individuals evaluated schools based on appearance, apparently physical soundness and other factors, including the surrounding neighborhood, for children walk to school.

“We had one building that really disturbed me,” said Bernita Bradley, who led one evaluation team. The school was in a good neighborhood, and is generally sought-after by parents, but “radiators were leaking in the classrooms. One teacher had two (insubordinate) boys in her class whose job was dumping water from the leaking radiator. And some schools were in terrible areas, but are treated as prized possessions. Everything is immaculate, and you can really feel the difference.”

Some parents won’t be bothered by things like leaky radiators, Bradley said. But they deserve to know about it.

Schools will be rated on a letter-grade basis, Varner said, and Excellent Schools Detroit will recommend parents seek out schools only at a C-plus or above. That will only be about one-quarter of the whole. The group intends the ratings to be tough but fair.

“An A school on this list will be an A school anywhere, not just Detroit. We want families to fill the seats in the highest-quality seats we have, and we want the lowest-quality schools to suffer financially,” Varner said.

There will be separate classifications for new and “fresh start” schools, like those in the Educational Achievement Authority, which are in the midst of a turnaround process. EAA schools, and those that opened since 2009, may qualify for a thumbs-up grade, meaning evaluators felt they were headed in the right direction, but still too new for a letter grade. Those ranked “promising” are also recommended by Excellent Schools Detroit.

While the first report may appear after the date when most parents have chosen a school for their children, Varner said the report, once posted, would be regularly updated. A separate scorecard for early learning programs is coming later this year.

Excellent Schools Detroit is funded mainly by foundations and has a 90/90/90 mission – to see 90 percent of students graduate from high school, go on to post-secondary education and succeed without remediation.

The scorecard will be available at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 7 at the Excellent Schools Detroit website.

3 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Charles Richards

    I would have appreciated far more information about how the grades are derived. Ms. Derringer says, “Schools won’t be ranked purely by state performance data. The rankings also used the “Detroit 5Essentials” survey, conducted by the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, which polled teachers and students on “five essential competencies” for improvement – effective leaders, collaborative teachers, involved families, supportive environment and ambitious instruction. – See more at:” How important is the state performance data? All of the elements of the Detroit 5 Essentials are inputs, and are subjectively judged. How much of the grade depends on output? Do the grades take into account socioeconomic factors?

    1. Nancy Derringer

      Mr. Richards,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. You can learn more about Excellent Schools Detroit and their ranking methodology via their website.

  2. Larry Krieg

    I’m not sure if the expression, “consumer-oriented rankings” was Bridge’s or Excellent Schools Detroit’s, but either way it is symptomatic of much that is wrong with education today that it is viewed in the “consumer-supplier” frame of reference. We do our communities a disservice treating education as a commodity to be “consumed”.

    Education is a fundamental way for one generation of a community to provide both opportunity for the next generation to advance, and continuity of societal values, ethical principles, and collective wisdom. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” We distort our perspective and diminish the importance of education when we view it only through the lens of business principles.

Leave your comment...

Your email address will not be published.

Currently on Bridge

More than pipes and penny-pinching: Flint crisis reflects racism

Missing in action: Michigan's primary voters

Amid guns and violence and police shootings, a program that works

Dental therapists are the wrong answer to improving oral health in Michigan

There’s a better place for that building than in the dump

State education proposal would add $1.4 billion to school budget

The 3 biggest head-scratchers in Michigan education cost study

When elites ignore the people, the center cannot hold

Battle in Lansing over community colleges expanding 4-year degrees

Michigan’s low investment in child care costs state and poor children alike

Allowing ‘dental therapists’ in Michigan will expand access to oral care

In Flint, questions about Legionnaires’ death toll

Should Waukesha be able to stick a straw into Lake Michigan? Yes.

Booming again: West Michigan’s economy is on a roll

More time in classroom equals more learning, but the details matter

Put down your No. 2 pencils: Too much testing in public schools

Dow Chemical being courted by other states

House plan for Detroit schools excludes Education Commission, key to success

Not waiting for government, philanthropy steps up to help Flint

People need jobs. Factories need workers. Busing, a love story.

Are tampons as essential as toilet paper? Menstruation goes mainstream

It’s right for Malia Obama, but is a gap year right for you?

Failing infrastructure threatens Michigan’s public health, safety and economy

Higher ed is key to a state’s success, and should be supported

Invest in non-partisan journalism.

Donate to The Center for Michigan. Find out why.