By Charles Sercombe
For the second year in a row, Hamtramck’s public school district is doing better than the Michigan Department of Education says.
According to the MDE, the school district is lingering under the 10 percentile compared to other districts.
But the MDE just looks at test results.
That’s not the case with the folks at The Center for Michigan, a non-partisan think tank. This group factors in the city’s poverty rate and the number of students who receive free or subsidized lunches.
Some 84 percent of the district’s students get free or partially subsidized lunches. There are 2,897 students in the district.
Using that calculation, and other factors, Hamtramck’s public schools rank 244th out of 540 districts statewide.
District Superintendent Tom Niczay said it’s long been recognized that “socioeconomics should be factored into any achievement ranking.”
“If not the playing field is not level,” he said. “The American Psychological Association says that poverty has a particularly adverse effect on the academic outcomes of children, especially during early childhood. Chronic stress associated with poverty has been shown to adversely affect concentration and memory which may impact the ability to learn.”
To deal with students from low-income families, Niczay said his staff has received special training “about the effects of poverty and does provide caring learning environments.”
“If students believe that staff cares about them they are more likely to care about themselves and put out maximum effort.”
Newly-appointed School Boardmember Evan Major questions the notion of ranking school districts. He said the results too often come down to “winners and losers, and punishing the losers.”
The state indeed is threatening to take over low-achieving schools and districts. In cases where it has, the districts have been turned into charter schools, said district attorney George Butler.
“That’s the real thing we’re trying to avoid,” Butler said at a recent School Board meeting. “You’re heading toward dictatorship.”