Analyzing the Failure of the Detroit Public Schools Community District

PRE-PROPOSAL 1. Media Artifact

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

Media Artifact found here

  2. Persona and POV statement Persona: Persona name: Sierra Jackson Age: 13 School/occupation: 8th Grader, Middle School Location: Detroit, MI   Quote: “Homework is boring.  We never learn about anything interesting."     About:
  • Likes going to school to see her friends but finds homework challenging and is easily distracted in class
  • Lives below the poverty line with her single mother and 4 younger siblings in a three-bedroom home
  • Loves music and singing but does not have much spare time.  Wakes up before her siblings to get them ready for school and watches them each day after school.


  • Help her mom with her younger siblings
  • Learn how to play an instrument and make her own music
  • Be the first person in her family to attend college.  Serve as an example for her younger siblings as a testament to hard work.


POV Statement:
  • User: Sierra, a middle school student balancing her studies and her siblings . . .
  • Need: . . . needs direction in her educational opportunities and homework support
  • Insight: . . . because she feels that school is often very challenging, yet she strives to succeed to be an example for her younger siblings and make her mom proud.


3. Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

SOLUTION 1: One potential solution could be to continue making changes to the school curriculum and improve support for the families of the students. While there have been some changes to the curriculum and more promised changes to come, the DPS system could invest more heavily in early education which would hopefully transition to a better base of students going forward. There may also be more ways to support students and families, in regard to homework, than the DPS system is currently pursuing. 

SOLUTION 2: The DPS system could do in depth research in an attempt to model other public-school systems in large cities that became successful after struggling. This would hopefully give them a good starting point for the changes that need to be made. Although these examples would help, the DPS system should still keep in mind factors that are unique to their situation and use these examples as broad guidelines. 

SOLUTION 3: Another potential solution is to tackle the issue of achievement rates by working to raise the percentage of students achieving grade-level proficiency in areas like math and reading.  By investing in achievement levels from an early age across the district, students would be better prepared for future higher education and ultimately employment.



Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

Senate Bills 710 and 711 were passed in January of 2016 to work to address some of the widespread problems facing Detroit Public Schools.  The main focus of bill 710 was to break the district up into its current form which contains 2 separate entities: Detroit Public Schools, which solely exists to pay of the debt of the district, and the newly formed DPSCD which takes over all functions of the district and started its operations debt free.  Bill 711 creates a financial review commission which holds on oversight role to ensure proper financial management of the district in the years to come.

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

Working to increase 3rd grade reading achievement levels within DPSCD serves as an important step to improving the lives of a significant subgroup of students within the state of Michigan.  By focusing on early childhood reading achievement, we are hopeful that are proposal could help serve as a piece of intervention to help ensure achievement rates continue to grow in later years.

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

Both living in Metro Detroit, we have been aware of the problems that have plagued DPSCD throughout the district's history.  However, after taking a more detailed look we were extremely concerned to see that achievement rates were near dead last of all states regardless of grade level.

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

Both of our service work involves working within the broader Metro Detroit community and has helped us to gain a better understanding on some of the broader issues facing the community including widespread poverty, lack of adequate funding, and unreliable transportation services.

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

Our Media Artifact can be found here



Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1: Jack Glover -- Sophomore, Wayne State University and tutor at the Downtown Boxing Gym

We spoke with a friend of ours, Jack Glover, who is currently a student at Wayne State University and serves as a volunteer for the Downtown Boxing Gym's afterschool tutoring program twice a week.  Jack has been involved with the program throughout the past two years and works exclusively with DPSCD students on a regular basis.  Jack helped to give us a sense of the difficulty many students have with very basic aspects of the curriculum, noting that he was shocked when he first started working with the program at the difficulty many older students were having with material meant for grade levels years before their own.  Jack notes that the process of tutoring has been extremely rewarding and thinks programs like Downtown Boxing Gym can help to bridge the gap that many students face from a very early age.

CONSULTATION 2: Jayme Danzig -- Senior Project Manager - Education and Employment, Quicken Loans Community Fund

We had great conversation with Jayme Danzig, a Senior Project Manager of Education and Employment with the Quicken Loans Community Foundation.  Jayme was instrumental in giving us a better understand of the legislative bills that were recently passed which impact DPSCD.  She explained that the $617 Million awarded through SB 710 solely works to pay off the cumulative debt of the district in recent years with very little of that funding actually passed down to schools or students.  Much of this debt, she noted, can be traced to the last decade — specifically, nearly 75% of the debt accrued occurred during Detroit’s bankruptcy and emergency management when the State of Michigan controlled the district’s finances.

Jayme emphasized that for 3rd-grade reading achievement to be improved, it’s inherently necessary to increase funding and ensure funding equity in districts across the state.  Working to find a long-term source of revenue such as a series of grants, a new funding model, or tax monies from increased gas prices.  With this funding, the district would be better positioned to alleviate some of the larger structural issues which face schools in the district.  Specifically, increased funding could help to raise teacher wages and retention or be used for building repairs and water infrastructure, which to this point has largely fallen to philanthropic organizations making short-term fixes to ensure student safety.  With these upgrades in the learning environment, teachers and administrators could finally devote the proper time and resources to alleviate achievement issues within the district.

Overall, Jayme views 3rd-grade reading achievement as a clear problem, but not one that can truly be resolved without proper resources.  Funding, teacher recruitment and retention, and curriculum challenges must be addressed holistically to ensure that more specific goals like reading achievement can be met and maintained.

CONSULTATION 3: Laura Grannemann -- Vice President of Strategic Investments, Quicken Loans

Our next consultation was with Laura Grannemann, Vice President of Strategic Investments at Quicken Loans.  Laura is instrumental in nearly all policy work carried out under the Quicken family of companies and was extremely knowledgeable about some of the current issues facing DPSCD.  One of the most important points Laura made throughout the consultation related to funding and district revenues, as Laura helped explained that all Detroit property taxes must go to paying off debt by law, and thus the district does not have a steady source of revenue to fund much needed projects like building renovations and teacher raises.  Given that Detroit already boasts one of the highest tax rates in the country, there exists an inherent need to find a sustainable revenue source for the district in the years to come.

Laura also spoke to how some of the larger structural problems facing Detroit play a role in the struggles of DPSCD.  One important point, relating back to funding, is that Detroit’s current tax base is minuscule compared to it’s true potential.  With only 650,000 residents in a city built for 2 Million, it’s unlikely that schools could ever be adequately funded through tax revenue without massive population increases in the city.  Another structural problem facing students within the district is widespread poverty and housing insecurity.  According to Jayme, students in Detroit, on average, move three times before they reach five years old.  Given this lack of stability, students often end up switching schools regularly with this lack of structure resulting in low graduation and overall achievement rates.  Much of this issue stems from widespread eviction and tax foreclosures within the city, as residents simply cannot afford to continue living in their homes.

Laura felt our proposal to increase 3rd-grade reading achievement levels was attainable if some of the larger problems facing the district and Detroit as a whole can be resolved.  With proper funding and resources, tackling some of these achievement related problems would be much more realistic and attainable from both a legislative and district-wide level.

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

Nick and I met with Michael Fahy for advice on refining our project and crafting a specific legislative solution to some of the issues we have identified while researching Detroit Public Schools.  Michael was able to help us understand how broad the solutions we had originally proposed were, and then took the time to talk through the issues we were concerned about to find a more tangible, realistic solution to work from.  From our discussion with Michael and subsequent discussions with our consultants, we were able to identify 3rd-grade reading achievement levels as our main area of focus within our proposal.  Michael sent us a few resources to explore further including 'The Campaign for Grade Level Reading' and the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association to better understand 3rd-grade reading achievement with a Detroit specific lens.


Research process:

Reaching our final proposal has been a long but rewarding process as we were forced to fully engage with and understand issues facing both DPSCD as well as the city of Detroit as a whole.  In the early stages of the project, we struggled to find a substantive issue that could be alleviated legislatively given the widespread problems the district faces in a multitude of areas.  We considered possible ideas such as curriculum improvement, overall funding support, and absenteeism, but after meeting with Michael Fahy we were challenged to narrow our proposal to a specific issue. 

Throughout our research, we were often confronted by the larger challenge of funding within the district as it relates to this and other core academic issues.  Unfortunately, creating a new funding model or introducing significant tax legislation is beyond our capabilities, yet we recognize the need for funding reform within the district as a core component of 3rd-grade reading achievement and other academic performance issues within DPSCD.   

After extensive deliberations, we chose to focus our efforts on 3rd-grade reading achievement levels as our primary topic area.  We reached this conclusion through extensive research on DPSCD achievement levels versus the national average as well as the average for large metropolitan areas.  Additionally, we felt this proposal could have a significant impact on students across the district as developing grade-level reading skills is instrumental in further education and eventual employment.  By tackling this issue from a young age, we hope that subsequent generations of students within the district see their achievement scores rise year by year. 

Author contributions:

We made it a point from the beginning of the semester to tackle this project with equal effort.  To accomplish this, we have used weekly, in-person meetings in which we research different sections of our proposal and work together to develop our ultimate proposal language.  By doing so, we have helped to ensure consistency in our ideas and ultimate proposal and are hopeful that the approach produced the highest quality product proposal.

Ryan was the main creator of the Persona and POV statement while Nick tackled much of the background research relating to the recent laws that have been passed which impact the district.  Creating the initial solutions happened as a team, as did our consultation interviews and overall background research.  Nick played the largest role in drafting our perambulatory and operative clauses while Ryan focused on developing counter-arguments and understanding the costs and funding relating to the proposal.

After posting our initial draft, we have both made contributions to help update and create our final proposal.  By investing equal time and effort into the research process, we were able to debate the most effective way to draft our proposal that we are hopeful can be implemented to help students within DPSCD.


The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS.... 5% of Detroit fourth-grade students scored at or above proficient reading levels compared with 35% nationwide for public schools and 28% nationwide for large city public schools.

WHEREAS.... 5% of Detroit fourth-grade students scored at or above proficient reading levels compared with 78% for Grosse Pointe in 2016-2017.

WHEREAS.... Large cities have seen an improvement of 9 points on the NAEP exam from 2003-2017, yet Detroit’s scores have seen no improvement or declined. 

WHEREAS.... Students in Detroit had the lowest or shared the lowest scores in the most recent NAEP exam when compared with large districts, urban districts, and individual states. 

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).


1. Set a goal for reading proficiency in the DPSCD of 15% for fourth and eighth-graders by 2024.

2. Employ sixredmarbles (a well-established curriculum design company) to create a custom curriculum for third grade reading at two DPSCD schools.

3. Test this third-grade intervention for one year using the NEAP exam to analyze if it makes a statistically significant difference in reading scores.

4. If the changes to the reading curriculum have made a significant difference in NEAP reading scores, implement the changes in other DPSCD schools. 


What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. Having a heavy focus solely on students at the third-grade level may not significantly contribute to later development. Therefore, all grades should be addressed and not just the third-grade.

2. Past curriculum changes have often had less than their full intended impact, why would this proposal be different?

3. A change to the curriculum, no matter how drastic, will not have substantially improve student development because the DPSCD has larger fundamental problems, such as funding and infrastructure, that need to be addressed first.

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

Long term solutions to the problems the DPSCD faces will likely involve a new funding formula and possibly a new tax. Because our proposal only involves establishing a new curriculum in two schools for third-grade students, structural funding changes will not be necessary. The DPSCD is already very low on funding. Therefore, reaching out to philanthropic entities and individuals would be the best way to finance this proposal. This should be sufficient to cover the costs of the pilot program. Because funding will not be diverted away from existing needs, there will be less objection from competing interests.


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Total votes: 21