Detroit? U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Thursday he thinks Detroit can be the fastest improving urban school district in the United States, thanks to new leadership and the broad education reform under way across the city and state.
"Two years later, I couldn't be more hopeful and optimistic about Detroit and where it's going to go," Duncan said, referring to his visit in 2009, when he declared the city ground zero for education reform. "Be very ambitious."
Duncan, sitting with Gov. Rick Snyder, Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts, Mayor Dave Bing and other leaders, thanked all three men for "stepping up" to tackle the challenges in the education systems in Detroit and across the state.
In June, Snyder created a new statewide school district for failing schools. In May, Roberts, a former General Motors executive, left retirement to lead a turnaround at DPS, which is struggling with academics, enrollment and finances. Bing, who is attempting to turn around Detroit, has publicly supported the efforts of both men.
"You have a leadership team in place, the philanthropic community in place, the corporate community in place to do something remarkable here," Duncan said.
Duncan was part of a seven-member panel that talked about current reforms in Michigan during a forum at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Sciences, a DPS school. The discussion included the Education Achievement Authority, created by Snyder in June to turn around persistently low-performing schools.
The system, which pours resources directly into classrooms and gives control given to principals, parents and teachers, will launch in Detroit under Roberts with up to three dozen DPS schools in fall 2012.
Snyder said only 17 percent of Michigan students are "college-ready" ? a figure he called unacceptable.
"The only number we should accept is 100 percent being college-ready. The EAA is a new way to deal with our most challenged schools," Snyder said. "We need to have the federal government involved to make this achievement happen."