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K-12 Education

Education Ecosystem Reset – Our Approach

We know what your thinking… “What is an education ecosystem?”

So let’s start there. When setting out to answer the question, “What makes a school successful?” you come to appreciate the complex fabric that makes up a school as well as its interdependence with the broader community. Every element has an influence on the others, from the physical building, classrooms and educational tools; to the curriculum; to the teachers, school leaders and students; to the parents, associations, businesses, private persons and state and federal leaders who have involvement and a stake in the schools. A school is influenced by many different participants, and the context of its broader community weighs in heavily.

This broad education ecosystem is the view the Foundation takes when studying what makes some schools successful, and how to apply these learnings to struggling schools. In a nutshell: context matters. With many meaningful factors at play, you must understand and address the complete picture. How can something so complex be tackled? In phases, with focus on areas of greatest influence, in unison with partners. These phases are triage, transition and transformation.

3 Phases of Change in an Education Ecosystem Reset:
Triage - Transition - Transformation-

Triage: In the years leading up to 2018, the Skillman Foundation and many of our community partners were focused on triage, stabilizing the Detroit school ecosystem through finance, governance and structure. A key example of effort and impact toward this end is evident in the work of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren. The Coalition — diverse cross-section of leaders representing Detroit’s education, civic, business, philanthropic, religious and community sectors — rose above politics and personal interest to successfully champion:

  • Return of local control to an elected school board
  • Resolution of Detroit Public Schools’ Debt
  • Return of Education Achievement Authority schools to the District
  • Creation of an advisory council to recommend citywide school siting and transportation systems

While the first three of these accomplishments are specific to Detroit’s traditional public school district, the Coalition — and the Skillman Foundation — are focused on stabilizing and improving ALL Detroit public schools including the public charter sector.

Transition: We believe that Detroit schools are now in a stage of transition. The Detroit Public Schools Community District is poised for a successful rebuild under the leadership of an empowered school board, a proven superintendent, and strengthened central office staff. Likewise, promising charter networks are investing in their talent and working to rapidly improve academic results. There is a collective push in schools, households and the civic sector to improve the city’s schools, backed by more optimism than has been seen in decades.

In this stage of transition, the Foundation is focused on strengthening the education ecosystem through:

Actionable data

Reliable, shared data about schools, teachers and students allow educators, parents and other concerned parties to make informed decisions. We know from studying other cities that data also provides a critical bridge to align efforts across schools and community partners. Currently we don’t have the information we need. For instance, we currently lack reliable citywide student-level data of the reasons that Detroit youth are chronically absent, making it difficult to devise strategies and track progress. Similarly, we don’t yet have the data needed to inform us of the best ways to boost third-grade literacy and prevent students from being held back from advancing on-time to fourth grade.

Talent Development

What does existing data tell us? That nothing is more important to accelerating academic outcomes than having a capable teacher at the helm of the classroom. That is why as part of our efforts toward an Education Ecosystem Reset, we’re concentrating on school talent – seeding and supporting a network of partners to help recruit, develop and retain high-quality teachers and school leaders. Our goal is to establish a system that supports and develops teachers and schools leaders for years to come.

Family & Community Engagement

Helping to lift parent and community voice is a long-held value and practice of the Foundation, and will continue to remain forefront in our work. In the area of education ecosystem reset, we work to ensure parents and concerned community members are informed and empowered to advocate on behalf of children. This engagement is imperative to the success of schools and students alike.

We believe that focusing on the three areas above will move us toward the final phase of transformation in Detroit’s education ecosystem, when academic gains will be realized and sustained.

An Education Ecosystem Reset is one of three approaches we’re taking to improve educational outcomes for Detroit students. Read about our other two approaches: Literacy & Numeracy and Present & Ready to Learn.

The Skillman Foundation

A voice for children since 1960, The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy that serves as a fierce champion of Detroit children. The Foundation works to ensure Detroit youth achieve their highest aspirations by strengthening K-12 public education, afterschool learning opportunities, and college and career pathways.

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