By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
Attempts to remove the sickening stench spreading around the Detroit Public Schools Community District that stem from an air of impropriety have failed.
Controversy over an $11.4 million contract awarded to Beyond Basics, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit working to eradicate illiteracy that Superintendent Dr. Nikolai P. Vitti’s wife, Rachel, resigned as Director, was intensified by the board’s unanimous approval to extend its contract.
“We’ve done a lot of research on what this board is doing under Dr. Vitti. We also know that after the last meeting when we brought up the problem with Beyond Basics, in which Dr. Vitti’s wife works for, that she decided to resign from the company. I see that it is back on the agenda 11.11 - approval of the contract extension with Beyond Basics,” Helen Moore, an attorney and education activist, said. “It has been used for two years by this school system, and most of us didn’t even know what they were doing just for a few children and for millions of dollars.”
Plans are underway to clean up the district’s alleged corrupt leadership to better improve literacy scores and to achieve greater transparency concerning spending.
“I took this problem not only to the state but also to our national group Journey for Justice. We are going to meet all over the United States in September. And, we will be meeting in Washington, D.C. with 10,000 to 20,000 people that are going through the same things that we are going through in the City of Detroit. And by the way, the City of Detroit is still at the bottom when it comes to learning with our children. There has been no improvement, and don’t blame it on the virus. Some of the white districts had the same problem, but their children are still moving forward,” Moore added.
“So, I’m just here to say that some of us are fools, but others are not. We do our homework in Keep the Vote No Takeover and the National Action Network. I will say that I find that the board is ignorant of the real facts that go on in our school system. People, please pay attention to the people that are supposed to be our leaders. It is not Dr. Vitti. It is the board that we elect. We elect you to look out for the betterment of our children and make sure that our education system moves forward. And when we watch you up there, it’s obvious to us that you don’t know as much as we do about what’s happening with the school system. You should have done your homework. You should not be a puppet for Dr. Vitti. This is the way it works – our children come first. The community is the head of you all. You are not doing a good job for our children,” Moore said.
Results from the M-STEP 2020/2021 third grade English language arts test revealed that out of 381 students tested only 25 students were proficient. Statewide, of the 10,205 students tested, 3,457 were proficient.
High school students in the 11th grade were tested in science and social studies. Of the 164 students tested in science, 155 were not proficient. Of the 161 students tested in social studies, only 38 students were proficient.
“I was able to be successful because I was able to read. I was raised by a father who was illiterate. He had a third-grade education. I learned to read on his behalf. As a school board, we are failing our children. Numerically, if you look at our performance on the latest M-STEP out of 4,000 students that was eligible to take the exam, less than 10 percent took the exam. So, I ask, is that a representative sample? Yes or No. If it’s not a representative sample, why not? Whose responsibility is it to provide a representative sample? Why did we only test 10 percent,” Mr. Beasley, a life-long Detroiter and former Detroit Public Schools graduate, asked. “Out of the students that took the exam, we had an 8 percent third grade proficiency. That means that 8 out of 100 passed. Because the sample size was so small, if you go to the state website it would show all our elementary schools at 0 percent in reading and 0 percent proficient at math. The republican candidate for governor is already talking about the 10 percent proficiency rating in Detroit. The same people who came over here and took the schools over before, will use those numbers as justification for taking it over again. If you’re going backward, you can’t be going forward. Academically, we’re moon walking.”
To move students forward academically, Beyond Basics was initially awarded an $1.5 million contract in 2020 that was increased to $11.4 million and extended to August 30, 2022, to boost literacy through its Read to Rise Program.
Tutors are paid $20 per hour after training to provide intervention courses to students in grades K-12, while the district pays the organization $58 per hour.
“100% of our per student cost goes to serving the students. This includes personnel expenses, program materials, equipment, and supplies, training curriculum workshop and on-going training to ensure tutors are well-versed in supporting individual students,” Pamela Good, Beyond Basics co-founder and CEO, said.
Both DPSCD and Beyond Basics officials say that students’ reading increased at least two levels in a short period of time.
“Schools select students to participate in our program; the number of students tutored fluctuates each year,” Good, said. “A certified tester administers the Woodcock Mastery diagnostic assessment to evaluate the reading level of each student before tutoring and then after the program is completed so that we accurately measure student growth. The hourlong, daily, highest dosage tutoring cultivates curiosity, encourages a love of learning, and delivers results. On average, high school students advance two grade-levels in reading.”
A report conducted by Wayne State University in 2016 stated, “A key program, Read to Rise, based on the Tetum Reading approach and offered by Beyond Basics, engages children from second through 12th grade and is designed to improve reading techniques and strategies. Although descriptive and anecdotal evidence exists, no randomized study of program effectiveness had been conducted to this point. The goal of the current evaluation is to determine program efficacy under appropriate experimental conditions.”
Wayne State used data provided by Beyond Basics to verify their figures.
“Beyond Basics program coordinator, Ms. Debi Zahor, provided Drs. Carl Freeman and Hilary Ratner with a list of students identified by ID number, school, gender, and grade (2-7). From this list students were randomized into the treatment and control conditions. Approximately half of the students within each grade were assigned to the treatment and control conditions. All students were enrolled in the Detroit Public Schools and came from Burton, Sampson, or Thirkell schools,” the report noted.
“Each student within the treatment condition participated in the Read to Rise program based on the Tattum Reading approach. Children received one-to-one tutoring over approximately a six-week period, meeting with the tutor three to five times a week. There is no difference in performance between the treatment and control conditions before receiving the Read to Rise program but there was a significant difference between the two groups at post-test after the treatment group completed the program,” the report stated.
Dr. John Telford, former pro-bono superintendent of Detroit Public Schools believes Beyond Basics is useful in high schools.
“We’ve got to fix the reading program. To continue the things that we’ve been doing at the elementary level is tantamount to insanity, because it hasn’t been working. We’ve got to get the Quick to Learn program at the elementary level using the auxiliary Let’s Read Program, an excellent volunteer program, that has evidence based backing and it’s field proven,” Telford said. “The Beyond Basics is a good program at the secondary level supplemented with a program that teaches teachers to use phonics-based reading in addition to their subject matter. Some of the students have given it some very good commentary.”
Because the data was provided by Beyond Basics to Wayne State, some people are skeptical of its results and if is still relevant today.
“You can rig data,” Katarina Brown, a math teacher at DPSCD said. “I don’t believe everything that I hear. The contract (with Beyond Basics) should have been rescinded. Teachers must get it approved to get a second job. Why don’t the same rules apply to the board and superintendent? Dr. Vitti runs the board and the union. He’s a one man show.”
Others agree and feel more questions should be asked.
“You all are his bosses, but you ask questions and tip toe as if he’s your boss,” Aliya Moore, an education activist and candidate for school board, said. “We don’t ask for perfection, just like I tell my children, but I expect you all, if you’re sitting in these seats to do your best. No body up here has children in this district anymore. If you’re over 48,000 students and you don’t have any vested, but you have them in other locations. You have every right to educate your child wherever you choose to, but how secure are you to run it for our babies, when it’s not good enough for yours.”
And, if not, some say it’s time to freshen the air with a new board to get rid of all stinky business.