The founder of a system of high-performing charter schools in Detroit and a staunch critic of the Detroit Public Schools has been named the leader of the DPS charter school office, the school district announced today.
Doug Ross, founder of New Urban Learning, a nonprofit charter school management company, joins DPS as the district is expected to move forward with plans to charter as many as 45 schools in coming years.
I interviewed Ross back in 2006 – before the first senior class graduated from his University Prep charter school in Detroit. Now, the system has expanded to seven schools, which seem to be doing quite well.
Sadly, I can’t find the article online at the moment. But I was extremely impressed with Ross. He didn’t sound like a bureaucrat. Best of all, he didn’t speak in platitudes. He recognized problems, had concrete plans to address them, and, by most accounts, has done a pretty good job of doing that. His educational model explicitly recognized the unique challenges urban students face, and set out to address them: an “advisory” unit kept in place for all four years of high school to serve as a “family” of sorts; individualized learning plans to address slower (and faster) learners; placing the onus for student motivation on the teachers (since it might not always come from home); coordinating with local organizations to provide internships and training for students.
I asked Ross directly why a public school system couldn’t replicate his model, and I’ll never forget his response:
“Envision a game of checkers,” Ross said. “Everyone is behind you, and they all want you to win. But every time you go to move a piece, somebody says, ‘no, that’s my piece! Don’t move that one!’”
If that isn’t politics in a nutshell…
Stephen Henderson is equally enthused. Details inside, but the bottom line is that Ross has spent less and achieved more with a comparable group of students (in 2006, students were admitted by random lottery. I believe the system prioritizes siblings and the like now, but it’s still a comparable student body).
In a weird way, I’m glad Ross is still dealing with charter schools and not DPS as a whole. I wouldn’t want him to get Michelle Rhee'd in two years. Regardless, he seems like a rare guy who can not only accurately identify problems, but also has the desire to actually tackle them.