GRAND RAPIDS, MI (Mlive) – Retired educators and parents addressed the Grand Rapids Board of Education Monday, Oct. 7, about their concerns the district has become a two-tiered educational system.
The group, Grand Rapids Education for Justice (GREJ), argue that students in test-in theme schools perform consistently higher on tests, while the test scores of students in predominately minority schools and from poorer families remain significantly lower.
Members describe Tier 1 schools as magnet, charter and choice schools that require applications with academic and behavioral standards, while Tier 2 schools are traditional schools that are required to accept and educate every student and struggle to meet state and district standards.
John Helmholdt, executive director of communications, said the district’s highest need, high poverty schools get the most money. He said there is a false perception that the theme schools get all this extra money.
“We have been very transparent about our data and have acknowledged our proficiency numbers on one-size-fits-all tests are not where they need to be, but they have improved from where they were seven years ago,’’ he said.
“They (GREJ) have taken data out of context, so what they’ve presented are sprinkles of facts coupled with a lot of false and misleading information that does not present a fair and accurate picture of the district.’’
The group focused primarily on City Middle High School, the district’s test-in International Baccalaureate program that is one of the top academic schools in the state. They compared City’s SAT and college readiness scores to other district high schools, highlighting the gap in performance.
GRPS has multiple theme schools and career academies. However, other than City only three other sixth-grade programs, all high-achieving, that require students to test in: Zoo School, Blandford School and Center for Economicology. All theme schools require applications.
Thirty-six percent of City’s students are economically disadvantaged and white students make up about 46 percent of the population, compared to minorities, according to 2018-19 state data.
Helmholdt said Ottawa Hills and Union High, which is 79 percent minority and 83 percent economically disadvantaged (48 percent Hispanic, 32 percent African American), offer college readiness courses and have college advisors to support students.
He also pointed out that Ottawa Hills is the site of the district’s only early/middle college program, which allows students to earn both their diploma and associate degree.
He said Union also has college career coordinators as part of the Challenge Scholars program, which provides scholarships to West Side students to attend college.