Two years ago, the entire city came together when the news was released that Detroit students scored a record low on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the NAEP. NAEP is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas.
For too long Detroit leaders and defenders had stated that things were somehow different in Detroit... It was believed that everything from adult illiteracy to substance abuse in the home, to single family households, to incidence of lead-based paint poisoning made any comparisons between Detroit students' academic achievement and those in surrounding communities meaningless. However, once measured against students in other communities that themselves face all of these challenges, it was indeed a wake-up call for Detroit.
At the time, Michael Casserly, the Executive Director of the Council of the Great City Schools, whose member districts encompass 65 of the nation's largest urban school districts, said it simply: "What (this test) is telling us, more than anything else, is that, frankly, this city has no viable future if this is allowed to stand."
Almost like America immediately post 9/11, everyone was on the same page, rooting for the same team, our city's youth. Within days the publisher of the Detroit Free Press reached out and shortly thereafter printed a front-page plea for community help.
A few weeks later, on a Saturday morning in January 2010, more than 3,000 potential volunteers from more than a hundred communities packed the rooms at Renaissance HS for the Reading Corps Rally. At this time more than 1,000 Reading Corps tutors show up in the schools on a weekly basis to provide one-on-one assistance to pre-kindergarten and kindergarteners.
One year later, in January 2011, the district launched Volunteer Business Corps, a new initiative to create partnerships between schools and area businesses to improve academic achievement in the district. Partners include banks, a hotel, major university and many more companies. Every school has established at minimum one new corporate "adoption" as companies including most of the big name Detroit corporations have signed on.
Mr. Casserly said today: "The people of Detroit should be encouraged by substantial improvement in the reading and math scores of its public school students on the latest edition of the nation's toughest test, NAEP. In the face of flat statewide performance and a difficult economy, the Detroit Public Schools have shown a positive step forward."
As signs of those positive steps forward:
• Of the urban districts participating on the NAEP in 2011, Detroit was one of only six districts nationally to show increases in student test scores.
• Detroit's scores trended up in all grade levels and both subjects tested.
• Detroit Public Schools exceeded the state of Michigan in gains in mathematics.
• Detroit had the highest gains in any city in any subject on mathematics.
• Detroit also exceeded the state in gains in reading.
Like the budget deficit, it will not be eliminated overnight, but there is real progress.
Despite the progress, there is much, much work to do. Detroit students' scores remain the lowest although the gap is closing. If you're a Reading Corps volunteer or a Business Corps partner, you should know now more than ever before that you are making a difference. We need more of you.