By all accounts, Detroit’s school system is in trouble. Yet despite the challenges, Palmer Park Preparatory Academy is implementing reform by restructuring not only teacher/administrator roles, but also how students are organized into classes.
Teachers at the 650-student K-8 school are gradually assuming administrative duties to become the city’s first teacher-led school. An extended day gives the staff time every afternoon to collaborate about teaching strategies and individual student needs. In addition, the school is implementing a differentiated instruction model for 7th and 8th graders. The schedule lets teachers regroup the students in different language arts and math classes frequently, based on the students’ performance and how quickly they are learning new material.
“I think the teacher-led concept was so new it gave us the opportunity to think out of the box,” said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the chief academic and accountability auditor for the Detroit district. “We worked all summer to have this school up an running, and if we had not spent that kind of energy, had not pushed and challenged ourselves, this new idea would not have generated itself.”
Concerns are being raised. Prior methods like “ability grouping” and “tracking” intended to gear instruction to different student needs, but research was unclear at best whether such practices benefited all students. Teachers in Detroit note that the placements are fluid, and students aren’t stuck at a particular level of instruction.
Teachers and administrators admit there have been some challenges, and improvement has been difficult to measure in this first year of the project. To monitor progress, the district intends to examine data from a varitey of indicators except just standardized test scores. Attendance, discipline incidents, and parent involvement are also seen as evidence that the restructuring is working. Education Week