A 2006 newspaper report and a 2005 Princeton study spell costly problems for the students and residents of Detroit Schools. In 2006 USA Today reported on a study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It said that several of the nation’s largest school districts had less than a 50% graduation rate. Detroit Schools, the 11th largest district in the country, was dead last with an appalling 21.7%.
Of course, the study spurred heated debates regarding its accuracy and impartiality. In 2005 the state and city placed the Detroit Schools’ graduation rate at about 44-48%, depending on the source. Some of the discrepancy is accounted for by looking at “timely graduation rates” versus those who graduate in more than the four-year time period. Either way you look at it, no one in Detroit Schools is happy with it.
High School drop-outs cost Detroit Schools, and the city’s residents, money. Lots of money. A 2005 Princeton University study found that a high school drop-out, on average, costs the county $260,000. It estimated that Michigan drop-outs stand to lose over $11 billion in total lifetime income by foregoing the diploma. The reasons are clear.
Whether you look at the Detroit Schools, or any other district, the patterns are the same. High School graduates make more money, live longer lives, have healthier and better educated children, are less likely to become teen parents, are less likely to commit crimes, and are less like to rely on government social and medical services. The Detroit Schools feel the impact of these costs on its high welfare rolls and unemployment rates. The unemployment rate in Michigan is the worst in the country, and the high percentage of drop-outs is directly linked.
Over 50% of the inmates in Michigan jails are high school drop-outs. And it costs the state over $29,000 a year just to house them. 40% of parents on public assistance in the state are also drop-outs of Detroit Schools (or other schools).
The problem gets worse when race is included as a factor. In fact, the Princeton study estimated the increase in personal income that could be attained by raising the “educational attainment” of minority groups to that of white students by 2020. It found that students in Michigan and Detroit Schools would gain over $3 billion in additional total personal income. The question is how to make it happen.
The racial gap has existed for years and it poses a huge problem for the Detroit Schools. Funding for adult education was slashed by over $50 million two years ago. Now the Detroit Schools are struggling to meet mandates for class size and proficiency put in place by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.
And in another racially heated move, the US Supreme Court recalled the Brown case that had allowed the use of race as a factor to determine school attendance, and to attempt to integrate schools. This is a touchy subject for Detroit Schools, since the 1974 Milliken v. Bradley decision that said desegregation cannot be enforced across district lines. Many residents of Detroit Schools still view that decision as a factor in the resulting “white flight” that has left Detroit Schools a divided and failing district.
Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U. S. public and private K-12 schools. For more information please visit Detroit Schools