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Dearborn Schools Rise to the Top

posted on: Mar 20, 2018

Photo provided by Dearborn Public Schools



While most Michigan school districts are losing students and struggling with academic achievement, Dearborn Public Schools is bucking the trend. Serving 20,000 students, the state’s third-largest district is operating more than its share of top-flight schools.

On the Mackinac Center’s latest Elementary and Middle School Context and Performance Report Card, which rated the performance of 2,261 Michigan public schools, Dearborn towered above all other conventional districts and many charter schools. In fact, five of the top 10 “CAP” scores for all schools, and seven of the top eight scores for conventional district schools, are from Dearborn Public Schools. Fully half of the 30 Dearborn district schools rated in the top 4 percent of all schools statewide.

“The CAP Report Card shows that our strategic plan is working and exemplifies the hard work by our staff, parents, Board of Education and our students,” Superintendent Glenn Maleyko said.

STAY ENGAGEDAlong with the three-year look at M-STEP results, the latest edition of the CAP Report Card rates schools for long-term performance over eight years of measured data and highlights improvements made over that time.

The report card factors multiple years of M-STEP test scores for third through eighth graders and adjusts the results based on the share of student test-takers who qualify for free lunches. There is a strong statistical connectionbetween student poverty and low academic achievement, because of the disadvantages and challenges typically faced by low-income students.

About 70 percent of Dearborn Public Schools students are eligible for free lunch benefits. The rates are even higher in schools like Iris Becker Elementary (pictured), number two overall and highest in long-term performance, and Maples Elementary, number three overall and one of the 10 most improved schools in Michigan. Students in these schools outperform their more affluent peers statewide even without adjusting scores based on poverty rates.

Interestingly, the share of Dearborn students who come from homes where English is not the first language is 48 percent, nearly eight times greater than the state average. A predominantly Arab-American population contributes to more than 60 different spoken dialects identified in the community.

The student language characteristic does not factor into the CAP Report Card model, but it does represent a different challenge students must overcome as they get up to speed in tested subjects. Helping these students expand their English language vocabulary and reading proficiency is a key focus for the district.

Dearborn leaders attribute some of their success to the regular practice of “Specific School Classroom Visits”, both announced and unannounced. These visits incorporate clear, quick and thorough feedback to teachers based on a model of consistent expectations and strategies throughout the district. The process highlights a purposeful attempt to move the culture from compliance to continuous improvement.

The unusual organization of the district also appears to facilitate the sharing of best practices and resources in a more efficient manner. Rather than divide administrative oversight between elementary and secondary schools, the district is organized vertically by an area’s feeder system, which includes all the assigned neighborhood schools in a given area that feed into one comprehensive public high school. Dearborn leaders say this approach has fostered greater cooperation that leads to a more coherent focus.

“We are very fortunate in Dearborn to have a community that values and places a high importance on education. They are very supportive of our efforts,” said Maleyko. “However, the real difference maker is the dedicated and hard-working staff that partners with parents and the community to ensure our students grow and achieve at high levels..

Overall, Dearborn receives and spends a little more per student than the average Michigan local district. Funding dipped during the tightest years of the recession, but has since moved up to a little more than $12,000 per student. By comparison nearby Detroit Public Schools Community District operates at about $15,000 per pupil, but with significantly worse results.

Indicators show that Dearborn’s success doesn’t end at eighth grade. In addition to the latest distinguished performance, two of the district’s four high schools finished among the top 20 in the state on a similar report card for high schools. The publicly reported four-year graduation rate climbed from 76 percent in 2011 to 95 percent in 2017.

By numerous key measures, most Dearborn schools are clearly outperforming the pack in Michigan. But room for improvement remains, as the state overall has lost ground to every other state on the best measures of math and reading achievement.

If Michigan is going to turn around its lackluster academic results, the examples of higher-performing public school systems like Dearborn’s could help lead the way.