Black Families Abandoning Detroit Schools
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick. White flight is the term coined probably back in the ‘60s -whites moving out of cities to escape to crime and public schools that were pretty crummy. Now, as NPR's Celeste Headlee reports, Detroit may be witnessing black flight.
CELESTE HEADLEE: The Detroit public school system is in crisis. That may be one of the reasons why at least 65,000 blacks have left Detroit since 2001. Sharon Shaw(ph) is one of them. She says it was a painful decision for her.
Ms. SHARON SHAW: I just moved to Brownstown, Michigan. Yes, I did. And I grew up in Detroit. I grew up in Detroit, but this year, I couldn't take it anymore.
HEADLEE: Shaw says in the end she had to put the needs of her children above her feelings for the city. She has four kids who currently attend charter schools.
Ms. SHAW: I will take charter school over DPS any day - any day. And that's because my children have been in DPS before. I feel the classroom sizes are just bulging at the seams in DPS.
HEADLEE: Large classroom sizes and scanty resources were two of the driving forces behind a two-week teacher's strike in August. Teachers started the strike in hopes of changing the district's spending priorities. They won wage concessions, but lost on the larger issues. Shaw says the teachers were right.
Ms. SHAW: I don't blame the teachers one bit for their strike. I don't blame them at all. These teachers are frustrated. These teachers train our children. They educate our children. Why not give them what they want? They're educating our future here. Why not give these teachers what they deserve? These teachers work hard, and I just feel they kicked them in their butts.
HEADLEE: Janna Garrison is the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. She says it's time for DPS to stop focusing on district-wide programs like summer school and pour all of its resources into the local schools. Garrison visited a school recently where children weren't using the bathroom because there are no doors on the stalls.
Ms. JANNA GARRISON (President, Detroit Federation of Teachers): I said, now, this is ridiculous. Now what's more important? Doors on the bathroom stalls or 10 administrators?
HEADLEE: Kurt Metzger says it's no surprise the district is struggling. Metzger is the director of research for the United Way Southeastern Michigan. He says the students in Detroit's district are among the neediest in the state. Seventy to 75 percent of kids are eligible for free and reduced price lunch. Seventy percent are born out of wedlock. Seventy to 75 percent live in single parent households.
Mr. KURT METZGER (Director of Research, United Way Southeastern Michigan): So the school systems not only have to deliver an education product, but they have to be mother, father, everything else to a lot of these kids. We're hearing from principals who are saying what we really need in our schools are washers and dryers, because kids aren't coming to school because they don't have clean clothes.
HEADLEE: Metzger says public education in Detroit is a regional problem and should be addressed by the state legislature in Lansing. But like so many things in Detroit, he says it comes down to race.
Mr. METZGER: We know we have the racial divide. We know that it's less likely that Lansing is going to care about Detroit because of that. It's less likely that the suburbs are going to care.
HEADLEE: Still, the flight of blacks from Detroit is having repercussions throughout the region. As more blacks move into the surrounding suburbs, whites move further north and west. Kenson Siver is the deputy superintendent of Southfield Public Schools, a community just northwest of Detroit. He says as the blacks flee Detroit and the whites flee the blacks, the state ends of building hundreds of square miles of new infrastructure. But the population isn't growing, and the tax base isn't growing. And eventually, he says, something has to give.
Dr. KENSON SIVER (Deputy Superintendent of Southfield Public Schools): We can't keep building all this sprawl and infrastructure that the population can't support. We have way too many roads that need fixing and bridges and school buildings and other public facilities, and a - sort of a stagnant population. We can't continue to do this.
HEADLEE: The official count of students in the Detroit public schools this year has not yet been released. The district estimates it may have lost 25,000 kids as a result of the teacher strike.
Celeste Headlee, NPR News, in Detroit.
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