NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Detroit Teachers Balk At Reforms

September 3, 1999

On Monday, the day before classes were scheduled to start, public school teachers in Detroit voted to strike. They are incensed by what others describe as moderate reforms initiated by the city's new school board.

The city's education system had failed so miserably that the Michigan legislature ousted the city's elected school board last March and empowered Mayor Dennis Archer to appoint a new board.

Here's how bad things had gotten:

  • The graduation rate from Detroit's public schools had sunk to 29.7 percent -- compared to a statewide average of 76 percent.
  • Detroit students averaged 923 on the SAT -- whereas the Michigan average is 1,122, and the national average is 1,016.
  • The Detroit Free Press found that one in every seven of the city's teachers calls in sick on any given school day -- forcing the system to spend an extra $40 million a year on substitute teachers.

Here are the proposed reforms that have the teachers so upset:

  • A longer school day and a longer school year.
  • Changes in rules governing sick days -- which formerly saw the average Detroit teacher taking 10 of the 15 sick days they are allowed in the academic year.
  • Merit pay which would give teachers up to $3,000 extra per year -- providing their attendance was good, they put in three years of merely satisfactory performance, they improved their own education and acquired national certification.

Observers say that the teachers also need a lesson in competition, by initiating a voucher system there.

Source: Editorial, "The Lesson From Detroit," Investor's Business Daily, September 3, 1999.


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