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: The DPS system could always use more funding but it does not appear that simply giving them more money helps. The way that funding is distributed needs to be addressed. The count day system being used is ineffective and often leads to under or over funding. If the DPS system were to be given more funds, they could address some of the barriers students encounter for even getting to school like lack of public transportation. 



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 seperate entitities: 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

Nick and I have shared a series of emails with Jayme who is one of the leaders witin the Quicken Loans Community Fund when it comes to their involvement within DPSCD.  Jayme helped to give us a better understanding of the programs and initiatives sponsored by philanthropic organizations that are aimed to combat some of the very same problems we adress through our proposal.  She specifically noted that focusing on early childhood development is one of the main focuses of their involement and thought that the idea of tackling the issue of 3rd grade reading levels was very sound. 

We have a called scheduled this week to further discuss some of these issues and get some more specific details on the Community Fund's involvement and guidance on our proposal as a whole.

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

Laura does a tremendous amount of work in her role as VP of Strategic Investments at Quicken Loans, working to ensure that investments within the city are reaching those communities and persons most in need of support.  Specfically within DPSCD, Laura pointed to their assistance in helping to foster partnerships between the local community, philanthropic leaders, and the district themselves to ensure the highest quality of education possible for all students.  Laura also discussed the work of the Quicken and other organizations which focuses on job-training programs for students within the district to ensure that the city's next generation is equipped with the skills to fully participate in Detroit's continued revitilization.

We have another call scheduled with Laura this week and will be filling her in on our specific proposal which will focus on 3rd grade reading achievement rates.

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.


Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.


Author contributions:

Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?


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.

WHEREAS.... 7% of Detroit eighth-grade students scored at or above proficient reading levels compared with 35% nationwide for public schools.

WHEREAS.... Districts with similar characteristics have seen improvement, 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 DPS system of 15% for fourth and eighth-graders by 2024.

2. Appeal to the district’s financial review commission to acquire funding for making changes to the DPS curriculum.

3. Implement strong positive changes to the reading curriculum for DPS students - starting with third-grade.


What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. Having a heavy focus solely on students at a young age may not significantly contribute to later development. Therefore, all grades should be addressed and not just young students.

2. Past curriculum changes have seen little impact, why would this proposal be different?

3. A change to the curriculum, no matter how drastic, will not have the intended impact because the public schools in Detroit have larger fundamental problems 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)?  

Given that the SB 710 and SB 711 bills coincided with over 720 Million dollars of direct investment within the city, we are optimistic that our proposal could be implemented without further financing from the State of Michigan.  Instead, our aim would be to reappropriate funds towards the issue of third grade reading levels and working to introduce pilot programs with current funding resources that could ultimately be implented on a district-wide scale.  

We plan to further discuss with consultants as to the feasiability of such reappropriations as well as stakeholders who may be opposed to the possible changes.  However, the State and district seem united in the ultimate need for funding within the district and thus we remain hopeful that such programs could be implemented without significantly burdening taxpayers or the community at large.



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