Bobb-ing for Change in Detroit

This Sunday’s Detroit Free Press includes a long and worth-reading profile of Robert Bobb, who as Emergency Financial Director for the Detroit Public Schools is taking on the challenge of trying to improve Detroit’s woefully dysfunctional public school system. As the article notes, Bobb was brought in to put DPS’s screwed up finances–Bobb’s team identified a $306 million deficit–in order, but he’s also working to improve the abysmal achievement of the district’s students.

And that’s very much needed. On the 2009 NAEP TUDA assessment, in which Detroit participated for the first time, the Motor City came in dead last among 18 participating large urban districts, with only 3% of the district’s 4th graders reading at the proficient level, and 69% reading at the lowest level–below basic.

I grew up about an hour outside of Detroit, and the city–and its schools–have been regarded as a basket case for longer than I can remember. To me, one of the greatest reflections of this was a philanthropist’s donation, a few years back, not to build buildings but to tear down vacant properties near schools. Detroit has a lot of problems that extend beyond its school system and will require economic development, better governance, and other changes in addition to education reform to fix. But it’s pretty much impossible to imagine the city ever recovering significantly without a much better functioning school system.

D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee get’s a lot of press, but it’s also noteworthy that the District of Columbia has produced education reformers who, after clashing with Rhee on some issues, have gone on to drive significant change elsewhere: Bobb, who previously served as D.C. City Administrator, Deputy Mayor, and Board of Education Chair, and Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deb Gist, who was previously D.C.’s State Superintendent of Education.

–guest blogger Sara Mead

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