Jan Resseger reports on a startling development in Michigan. She quotes the new superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools, who just completed his first year on the job. His words are inspiring. He is actually fighting for the kids and the public schools. Dr. Nikolai Vitti was chosen by Detroit’s elected school board in 2017, after years of disastrous state control, led by people who enabled erosion of the public schools and the advance of privatization.

She writes:

Dr. Nikolai Vitti was their choice, and last week at the end of his first year on the job, at a conference sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, he confronted the dogma of Michigan’s power establishment—Rick Snyder, the DeVos family and all the rest.

The Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss reprinted part of Dr. Vitti’s remarks: “People often ask me, ‘What were you most surprised about when you took the job and started to work in the system?’ And I often say I was shocked, horrified at the lack of systems and processes for traditional public education. Traditional public education has always been, and hopefully will always be, the vehicle for social change, for social justice, for equal opportunity in this country. And walking into the system and seeing a lack of systems and processes is a testament to the lack of belief in what children can do.”

Vitti continued: “And there is a racist element to what has happened. Children in Detroit have been treated like second-class citizens. When a system is allowed to be run over a decade by individuals, and it’s not about one individual, but individuals that had no track record of education reform, no local governance structure to address immediate concerns and issues by the community through an elected board… and year after year of low performance, a lack of growth, drop in enrollment, facilities that are not kept up, that would never ever happen in any white suburban district in this country. And that is a testament of race. Because this country would not allow that. We see signs of that in Flint and we saw signs of that in New Orleans after the flood and we have multiple examples of this.”

Resseger quotes a column written by Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press, who served as moderator for the panel discussion at Mackinac Island. Her column was titled “Miracle on Mackinac Island: Business Community Gets Woke to Race.”

She said that the meeting may have been “a watershed moment in Michigan history.” For once, the power structure got a lesson about racism and the treatment of children in Detroit as second-class citizens.

Speaking to the state’s white power structure, Vitti pulled no punches:

His words drew loud and sustained applause. But Vitti also said something that drew tears. When I, as moderator of the forum, asked him to speak to the assembled crowd as an 8-year-old third-grader and tell them what he wants, he looked out and said:

“I want the same thing that your child wants,” he said to loud applause. “I may not have your privilege. I may not have the color of your skin. I may live in a different ZIP code. But I want the exact same thing you want for your son, your daughter, your grandchild, your niece, your nephew. That’s what I want.”

The Michigan legislature keeps piling on mandates, but with no support to reach them, she wrote.

The Michigan Legislature has scared some parents and teachers to distraction with a new law banning schools from promoting third-graders who do not read at grade level. Nine of 10 third-graders in the city schools do not read at grade level. And some parents and teachers feel the law will exacerbate an existing third-grade-to-unemployment pipeline similar to the fourth-grade-to-prison pipeline that already exists.

The shame is this is yet another example of the state attempting to polish its reputation at the expense of our children. Rather than help districts find ways to improve, then raise standards, the Legislature keeps raising standards without any support to make meeting them possible. One would think that legislators are trying to make public schools fail to make it easier to increase the number of charters across Michigan, but nah, that couldn’t be it, right?

Detroit’s Mayor Mike Duggan said that all of Michigan was in trouble, not only Detroit, because of bad leadership at the state level:

“We know the history. We had 10 years of state-appointed emergency managers,” Duggan said. “During that time, we lost half of the enrollment. … They eliminated career technical education, eliminated art, eliminated music … and all that happened was children continued to leave. … But this isn’t just Detroit.”

He cited National Assessment of Educational Progress scores that tell a larger story.

“For white students in the state of Michigan, fourth-grade math and reading level, in 2013 we were 14th in the country,” he said. “Last year — 46th in the country. Now, if you sat down in 2013 and said how can I sabotage Michigan’s future? … I’m not sure you could have accomplished it.”

Duggan said the state chose tax cuts over children, which was a mistake.

Michigan’s leaders (think Betsy DeVos, who has played a major role in state education policy, pushing charters) thought that they could fix the schools by adopting school choice while cutting taxes.

It didn’t work.

Now, let’s see how the power structure responds. Are they able to change course or will they double down on failure?