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Posted on Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 6:45 a.m.

Can philanthropy save Detroit Public Schools?

By Nathan Bomey

It's a wonder why philanthropists haven't stepped forward to do something about Detroit.

They've been largely absent. Until now.


Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts (second from right) speaks to a group of executives, including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, on the porch of the Grand Hotel at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference earlier this month.

Nathan Bomey |

The Detroit Free Press reported late Sunday night that philanthropist Eli Broad's $2 billion Broad Foundation would provide "significant amounts of money" to a new authority to force more changes in the remarkably dysfunctional Detroit Public Schools system.

It sounds a lot like Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to an initiative led by education reform advocates to improve Newark Public Schools. (Supported, of course, by Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Republican Gov. Chris Christie.)

Or perhaps the Broad Foundation initiative is similar to former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee's effort to pool philanthropic dollars to nudge teachers to give up tenure in exchange for higher salaries.

Regardless of the structure of the funding, it's clear that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a first-time politician and former Ann Arbor venture capitalist, views private dollars and outside enforcers as a way to force changes in Detroit.

If there's one thing that Snyder knows, it's the power of outside capital to spark innovation. That's clearly what he's hoping for here.

But Detroit's public school system needs more than just philanthropy. It needs a coordinated, multi-faceted campaign — supported by nonprofits, businesses, universities and, yes, the Ann Arbor community — to rebuild and rethink the entire school system. (Which is why it's nice to see the Free Press report on speculation that Eastern Michigan University is set to play a role in retraining Detroit teachers.)

Consider the words of schools reform advocate Geoffrey Canada, who famously appeared in the "Waiting for Superman" documentary on the U.S. education system and told the Mackinac Policy Conference earlier this month that Detroit should start small. He suggested that Detroit should start by trying an innovative new system on a small platform.

"I would say, get a district of schools, some feeder schools, a middle school and a high school and make that system work and then expand that to a larger area," Canada said.

Oh — and he also suggested giving public schools more power to fire ineffective teachers as part of tenure reform, which the Michigan Legislature is weighing.

But Canada was adamant that firing poor teachers was only part of the solution. He suggested that the business community — which, by its very nature, generates philanthropists — must decide to care about education reform.

"I have become increasingly adamant that our business community has allowed this to happen to our country," he said. "And if they — and you — don’t step up, we’re going to destroy America."

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 4:26 p.m.

I don't see why needs to kvetch about Detroit schools when A2 schools deserve some attention of their own. At the current rate it won't be long before A2 has similar issues for schools and city. The next time ANYONE claims top dollar has to be paid to attract good employees they need to be smacked. All top dollar draws are those who chase the money instead of those who really care.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 6:58 p.m.

"A2 schools are in danger of sinking into the abyss of incompetent administration. " And the evidence of that would be . . . what? The fact that it continues to offer one of the best K-12 educations in the state with a budget, adjusted for inflation, is 10% smaller than it was a decade ago? Yeah, that's a real incompetent administration. Good Night and Good Luck

Tex Treeder

Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 5:53 p.m.

I agree: A2 schools are in danger of sinking into the abyss of incompetent administration. It's time to fire incompetent teachers, trim unnecessary admin staff and pay good teachers more.

Tex Treeder

Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 3:01 p.m.

More money for Detroit and its schools? Not while they wallow in corruption, inefficiency and incompetence. Detroit schools need more money, no doubt. But first they need to get rid of all the criminals and incompetents who proliferate there.


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 1:52 p.m.

It's not money, it's culture. So no, the only thing that can save DPS is the kids and parents of DPS students.


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 1:34 p.m.

Even the thugs are leaving Detroit, there's no hope sorry. It's as corrupt today as ever, not one week goes by without someone being questioned, investigated, or sent to jail for criminal offenses,embezzling and racketeering charges within the city. I can just imagine those that have gotten away with it and others that are still ripping the city off. The City Fire, Police, DPS and just about every supporting agency is in complete disarray, the Mayor has his hands full just within his own reign and they want him to turn this city around, good luck.

Richard Lake

Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 1:24 p.m.

It should be up to the citizens of Detroit to save their schools instead of a state appointed Czar. Petitions are or will be circulating very soon to recall these members of the Michigan Legislature as well as others: John R. Moolenaar James &quot;Jase&quot; Bolger Joel Johnson Howard Walker Tom Casperson Kevin Cotter Randy Richardville Nancy Jenkins Bruce Caswell Mike Shirkey The Official Website for the Recall Efforts Is <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Recall petitions are also circulating to recall Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 5:49 p.m.

Mr Lake - And then what? What beyond a year of chaos will this solve? What are the plans for taking the Detroit Schools forward that this set of recalls with fix?


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 2:40 p.m.

Detroit hasn't been able to figure out how to save their schools for many years. Why continue to leave it up to them? That is a lousy answer based upon a biased opinion of a law signed by Snyder but introduced under Granholm. Come up with something better or try to work with the tools provided.


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 12:52 p.m.

Detroit is a Third World Country. Money is not the problem, stable leadership is. I think we should give Detroit back to Canada!


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 4:22 p.m.

I, personally, would love to belong to Canada. Then I could have health while working for an employer that's more of my choice instead of being economically chained to one I dislike. I suspect freeing up employees in that fashion is part of why conservatives don't want universal health care.


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

This is an easy one , the answer is no ! ERMG said it well, no need to expound further.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 12:54 p.m.

Ahh, yes, Stun. But then treating the &quot;disease&quot; becomes much more difficult and expensive. And politicians hate tackling expensive and difficult problems. Much easier to flog familiar and unpopular &quot;problems&quot;. Good Night and Good Luck

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 11:36 a.m.

Willow Run. Flint. Detroit. What do they all have in common? Terrible Schools. But they also have in common: Collapsing local economies Collapsing tax bases Collapsing sense of community Well above average number of single-parent households (i.e., collapsing families). Severe crime problem. The schools are the symptom of the disease. Not only will treating the symptom not make the disease go away, it likely will little or no impact on the symptom itself. Good Night and Good Luck


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 11:26 a.m.

Dah? What was the offer from the Thompson's to build 4 new high schools - chopped liver? The reaction to the offer of the money probably put anyone with funds off from ever helping Detroit Public Schools. It will take work to rehabilitate the view of DPS based on that reaction. It is not surprising that people want to forget that even happened.