Building Equity through Strategic Decision-Making in Detroit Public Schools
From Detroit Public Schools (DPS), MI, Beth Gonzalez, assistant superintendent, talked about facing a difficult question: “How do you ensure equity when 70 percent of the students are chronically absent*?” Gonzalez took stock and realized that students didn’t have equitable access to a high-quality, highly aligned curriculum. She worked collaboratively with school leaders on aspirational goals for instruction. The district brought in David and Meredith Liben, cofounders of Achieve the Core, to perform an audit that “revealed what they already knew, which is that the materials were inadequate.” The district then selected high-quality curricula and purchased materials for every single student in the district.
Looking carefully at the master schedule, Gonzalez and her team asked, “Do the minutes match what students need, and are we providing the right resources to teacher?” They selected and adopted i‑Ready Diagnostic for Reading and Mathematics in Grades K–8. For Gonzalez, the i‑Ready Diagnostic “provides teachers with really helpful classroom-level data, helps principals understand groups of students in classroom or group level, and we can use the data at the district level to hold ourselves accountable.” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, formerly of Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida, brought a similar Data/Com approach from Miami to DPS and meets with every single school to review data with the school building leadership team.
There are signs of early progress, including a median percent progress toward Typical Growth in i‑Ready Mathematics of 107 and a median percent progress toward Typical Growth in i‑Ready Reading of 103. Results from a student survey administered to more than 30,000 students revealed statistically significant improvement on topics such as rigorous expectations, school engagement, teacher–student relationships, bullying, and more, and a 10 percent decrease in chronic absenteeism. Gonzalez acknowledged there is still a long way to go, but “when you walk through the classrooms, you can see the high-quality grade-level materials in students’ hands, teachers are engaged, and kids are motivated to learn.”
*Based on state data from the 2017–2018 school year