Detroit to close half of its public schools, bring high school class size to 60

Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools, just announced that he plans to shut down 70 of the city’s 142 remaining public schools in oder to close the much-talked-about $327 million budget gap. This move, he acknowledges, will bring high school class sizes to approximately 60. I’d like to write a wonderful, thoughtful post on what this means for Detroit and the rest of the country, but it’s late. So, I’ll just leave you with this question… Who in the fuck would teach a class of 60 high school students, in Detroit, or anywhere else for that matter? And, here’s an even better question. At what point do the people of Detroit take to the streets and demand that their children be given the same opportunities that the students of Ann Arbor are given? Putting 60 kids in a classroom is a joke. It’s an insult. I’m sure some right wing consultant will point to Harvard lecture halls where one professor lectures to a classroom of 200, but let’s be realistic. The inner city high school isn’t Harvard. Even in the best of circumstances, if none of the kids have discipline issues, and if they all have perfectly healthy family lives, with supportive parents, the math just doesn’t work. Teachers cannot effectively teach in an environment where they have less than a single minute to spend with each student per day. This is warehousing. This isn’t education. And the only thing it’s going to accomplish is better revenues for our for-profit prison industry. One way or the other, we’re going to spend money on these kids. I cannot believe that we’d rather pay to house them as criminals than teach them as children, but it looks like that’s the choice we’ve made. If anything, in my opinion, areas where the kids are most at risk should have the smallest class sizes, not the largest. There should be a law… I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m incredibly pissed off right now.

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  1. dragon
    Posted February 23, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Take that China, 60 kids per class.

    Break out the foam fingers.

    USA! USA! USA!

  2. Caring Parent
    Posted February 23, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    The problem is clearly with teacher compensation. If teachers weren’t so greedy then we could hire more of them and have smaller class size. Imagine how many teachers we could hire if they were simply willing to work for the average per capita income of Detroit which is $14,717. We need to get our public sector salaries in line with what average Americans earn.

  3. Muchado
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    No offense Mark, but you worry too much. The compassionate Christian right will swoop in any moment now and fully fund these kid’s education.

  4. Josh
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 3:01 am | Permalink

    @Caring Parent, don’t you think that educating children is a job that very far exceeds average importance? It requires an education that’s above average, doesn’t it? It’s the only way to create more teachers, more workers, and more intelligent people, isn’t it? I think the problem isn’t greed on the part of the largely underpaid teachers, but the people who are currently trying to run the country.

  5. Mike Shecket
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    I know this is probably overly cynical, but when I was going around to all the different high schools in Columbus for my job, I remember being in classes where there were supposed to be like 20 or 25 students but only five or six ever actually showed up. So, it’s a shame, but I wonder if a class in Detroit with 60 students on the rolls would really have 60 students on a daily basis.

  6. Billy LaLonde
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    60 kids per class is just insane! At that point, you may as well record the lessons and play them on a giant television in front. It will be just about as effective and personal.

  7. John
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    I’m a HS teacher, and a parent. A couple of observations.

    As a teacher, I can tell you that once you get to 30+ students per class, the teaching style changes from individual attention to mass education. 30 – 50 – 100 it doesn’t matter. All you can do at that point is lecture, pass out worksheets and give tests. 50 minutes per class. 30 students. That’s just over a minute per student — not enough to do any real education. Most teachers I know say that 25 is the sweet spot for a HS class. It’s probably less for elementary.

    As a parent, I want well -aid teachers educating my kids. Teachers are a dedicated lot, and are willing to accept somewhat below market wages (for their college educations, which usually include Masters degrees), but if it goes too low, the talented ones will leave for other, better paying professions. At the $14k Caring Parent suggests — or even at $40k — most teachers will be able to get a MUCH better job doing something else — managing a McDonald’s perhaps. That will leave behind only three types: those who aren’t smart enough to get another job (not the ones I want teaching my kids); those who are riding out their careers (not the ones I want teaching my kids); those who only are teaching until something better comes along (not the ones I want teaching my kids).

    As a parent, I want my kids’ teachers to be dedicated, caring professionals. You won’t get that by paying low wages and stiffing them on their retirement and health care.

    As for my own part, I left a 100k+ job twenty years ago to teach at half the pay. I saw a chance to make a difference and the compensation was enough to pay the bills and send my own kids to college — all I ask for. But if significant wage and benefit cuts are in the works, I will be forced to leave the profession and use my Masters Degrees in Economics, Political Science and Education to get a better paying job. I won’t be alone, and I think our society will be the worse for it.

  8. Knox
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    The problem is, the people of Detroit have no agency. They have no power. If they get fucked, no one gives a damn. Our other inner cities will get to this point eventually. I predict, as Billy suggested, a lot of video screens blaring out content to kids kept in line by security guards making minimum wage. A private company will provide the service. Their shareholders will get rich.

  9. Ypsi Lover
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I have seen kids who left well paying waitstaff jobs to teach at a lower pay and then return to wait tables because they couldn’t pay their bills.

  10. Paw
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Can’t we program RoboCop to teach the children?

  11. dirtgrain
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    “We need to get our public sector salaries in line with what average Americans earn.”

    Walmart cashiers?

  12. John Galt
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Indentured servitude. That’s what kids need. They don’t need schools. They need to learn trades. They need skills. Why does a kid who is going to be a farmer need to know how the government works? Why does a seamstress need to know algebra? It just confuses them. They should be given at young ages to people and companies working in high growth fields, like corrections. By the time a kid is 13, if he’s trained well, there’s no reason to think that he could be ready to man a guard tower with a sniper rifle. By 15, he could be an apprentice executioner. The corporation would pay to house him and keep him fed during his years of training, and, in return, he’d pay them back over the life of his career. By the time he turns 70, he’ll have earned his freedom, and he’ll be able to live out his golden years in a shipping container condo somewhere.

  13. Andy C
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    John Galt that is an option that many children choose when they join gangs. So I guess we should all start buying illegal drugs. It will fund these gangs to give these children a purpose and job. Heck a select few of the smarter ones might even be sent to law school to defend the gang bangers.

  14. Brainless
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    @Josh – I’m going with sarcasm on that post.

    @Everybody else – I work in online media. I went to public school.

    100 years ago:

    Media – Stories written by hand then typed up on a manual typewriter. Pieces of paper were moved around while workers hunched over their desks, hand-creating the day’s paper.

    School – Assignments written by hand then typed up on a manual typewriter. Pieces of paper were moved around while students hunched over their desks, hand-creating the day’s lessons.


    Media – Independent writers use computers to put together words, images and video into a meaningful message. email, IM, text messaging and all forms of social media are used to spread that message and involve the audience in the story (kinda like, eh?).

    School – Assignments written by hand then typed up on a manual typewriter. Pieces of paper were moved around while students hunched over their desks, hand-creating the day’s lessons.

    Innovate or die, people. And don’t give me a bunch of bullshit about how computers will never replace good teachers. That’s a horseshit argument with zero basis in fact. Every time automation threatens some entrenched group, they’ll tell you all about how we can’t live without them.

    “A machine can’t build a car with a soul.”

    “I can hand-set type far better than a computer. Look how cool I look with my exacto knife in hand.”

    “It’s good for the kids to work in the mines. Builds character.”

    Detroit schools are fucked beyond belief, yet everyone’s first reaction is to throw a 100-year-old solution at the problem. This isn’t the time to look to the past for answers. The old Detroit is dead, dead, dead. No manufacturing. No fucking car money rolling around in wheelbarrows. The Detroit of 1911 has NOTHING to teach us. I dare any of you to imagine a Detroit of 2051. Does it have 60 kids per class and party along like it’s 1899? Or is it a world leader in educational innovation?

  15. Edward
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I know! If they arm all the students, there won’t be any disruptions in the classroom!

  16. TeacherPatti
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Caring Parent, I invite you to come up to my face and tell me that. Seriously. I want you to come to me in my classroom, in SW Detroit, and tell me what you just typed. I promise I won’t get violently upset with you. (My parapro, I can’t vouch for, but I can promise). And while we are chatting, you and I, I’d like to know why on earth it is wrong for me to want good health care and salary. I know I’m just a woman and should just be working for pin money–I get that–but why is it always so wrong for teachers to ask for good salaries? This has even come up on before…someone accused me of “just” wanting good pay and benefits. Well fuck yeah! Who doesn’t? Why is it so wrong for teachers, specifically?

    Rob Bobb has been talking about this for months and somehow it just got picked up nationally. If it happens, all that will be left in Detroit are the special ed kids (remember, charters won’t take ’em) and the neediest of the needy–the ones whose parents can’t or won’t drive them to the shiny charter school down the street.

    Already, teachers in Ann Arbor, Plymouth-Canton, and most of Washtenaw and Oakland Counties make waaaaay more than we do under arguably better conditions. I do not mean to say that they have cushy jobs, squishing their toes in their upper middle class fiefdoms but I mean to say that the chances of richer districts having kids who haven’t been fed, who were born addicted to crack, who ate lead paint, who have 40 y/o grandma growing them (growing the kids, not raising them, as raising implies some sort of shit being given), who have relatives in and out of the house at all hours and all times…well, I know it does happen in the ‘burbs but not nearly as often.

    So yeah, putting 60 kids in a class will do what he set out to do all along-crush the unions and dismantle the public school system. It will have the unintended (or maybe intended) side effect of ruining the neighborhoods that are left because once the neighborhood school goes, so goes the rest of the hood. The hood where I teach isn’t half bad (a few burned out houses here and there, graffiti tagging but nothing outrageous) and if that school closes, it’s lights out.

  17. Glen S.
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I read the comments from “Caring Parent,” to be pure snark — along the lines of “John Galt.”

  18. Suzie
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    @Brainless – I totally hear ya when you say teaching methods might need to change after 100 years. Like you, I am familiar with computers and the internet and automated programs.

    But if you think that what is happening in Detroit is — or will result in — “educational innovation”, then boy do I have a bridge to sell you. Cutting teachers is not “looking to the past” *or* “looking to the future.” It’s just slash & burn.

  19. 'Ff'lo
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink


  20. Kim
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    A digital teacher is not the same as a real teacher who knows who you are and what motivates you. It sounds good in theory, but it doesn’t work. Sure, there may be some things that translate to the medium, where you’re just conveying facts, but it’s not the same. There’s no substitute for a teacher that cares.

  21. Caring Parent
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Glen S. is correct. I thought the proposition that we should pay teachers $14,000 (and tie compensation to the average income in teachers’ districts) was so absurd that my sarcasm would be evident. It’s probably a sad commentary on the state of things (as equally absurd ideas are being put into legislation) that it could be read as genuine. My apologies.

  22. TeacherPatti
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Oh Jesus Christ, Caring Parent, please accept my apology…I get so much shit from all sides that I guess I was too sensitive. I’m sorry!! And I’m glad to know you are kidding!
    Seriously though guys…charter schools don’t pay quite that low but not too much higher so it’s not as absurd as it sounds.
    Again, CP, please forgive me.

  23. Caring Parent
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Please don’t feel bad Patti, I rather enjoyed reading your response and am kinda glad my comment gave you opportunity to say it.

  24. Leon Spinks
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Patti, I am glad to see you have not given up working on that reading comprehension skill.

  25. Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Robocop does teach kids many things, Paw, but not like my friend, Robocock. Now there is a dedicated educator!
    Don’t try to google my friend Robocock if you are at work. That is why there is no link.
    And don’t worry, I already have a statue in his honor down here. You see, I knew you Ypsilantians were thinking that.

  26. TeacherPatti
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Leon, glad to see you have to resort to ad hominem attacks. It’d be so much easier if we girls just stayed in the kitchen and stayed off the internet, right?

  27. Leon Spinks
    Posted February 26, 2011 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    Hello, Patti.
    “Ad hominem”?
    You might want to try typing slowly for me again. That sounds a lot like one of them foreign languages.

    “I know we all thought we’d grow up to have a 10,000 square foot mansion in Georgetown, driving a BMW, hobnobbing with the VIPs on Capital Hill in our super law job (okay, that’s what I thought anyway) but it didn’t happen and it’s not going to. Get over it, enjoy your life and pick the right people to fight against–in this case, the uber rich and their bought and paid for politicians.”

    OK, so you failed at your first career, you call your colleague “your” parapro, and you love to remind us of how you were once a lawyer (yee-haw).
    You remember the scene where the fake samurai Kikuchiyo screams how farmers are all wolves?
    That “get over it” that you wrote is meant for you.
    You hate the rich, because you still share their class warfare world view. And it smarts.

    “It’d be so much easier if we girls just stayed in the kitchen and stayed off the internet, right”
    Yes, that would make a perfect cigarette commercial, wouldn’t it? A girl so skinny her teeth stick out smoking a skinny little cigarette and reading She hasn’t eaten in a week. You’ve come a long way, baby.
    No. I like women. Rich ones, too, I guess.

    And have you ever really read a Horatio Alger novel?

  28. Leon Spinks
    Posted February 27, 2011 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    I am sorry, Patti. I will be nice now.
    And yes, 60 kids in one classroom is ridiculous.

  29. jb007
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 4:59 am | Permalink

    As a parent, I want well paid teachers educating my kids. Teachers are a dedicated lot, and are willing to accept somewhat below market wages (for their college educations, which usually include Masters degrees), but if it goes too low, the talented ones will leave for other, better paying professions.

  30. DC monocle
    Posted June 23, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    There should be seats for 60, but only enough oxygen for 40.

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Maynard, Josh Wilkins. Josh Wilkins said: Detroit to close half of its public schools, bring high school class size to 60 […]

  2. […] I should add that I don’t think the Governor is a bad guy. I don’t, like the Governors of Ohio and Wisconsin, that he’s out to break the unions, for instance. I just think he’s doing what he thinks is best to entice businesses to come to Michigan and create jobs here. That’s his single focus. And, for what it’s worth, I agree with him. That absolutely needs to happen. I just don’t think that his vision for how to get us there is going to give us the kind of state that people want to move to. What companies, for instance, would put down roots in in a community where it was the norm to have 60 kids in a class? […]

  3. […] experienced teachers are being forced into early retirement, and classrooms are swelling to hold as many as 60. People may not want to accept this fact, but our tax dollars in Michigan are going toward the […]

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