As Detroit schools’ reading scores are on the upswing, educators celebrate Black Reading Month ⋆

September is Black Reading Month, which comes at a time when Detroit schools have notched modest test score increases in student literacy. 

The Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) reported last week that it has “largely recovered from the pandemic in Grades 3-8 ELA, outpacing statewide performance gains.”

The district said proficiency levels improved in M-STEP English Language Arts (ELA)/PSAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) to 14.6% for the 2022-23 school year, compared to 12.6% percent in the 2021-22 school year and 14.4% in the 2018-19 school year.  

Conversely, the state declined 3.9 percentage points in the 2021-22 school year, which remains unchanged in the 2022-23 school year.

Nikolai Vitti, DPSCD, general superintendent | Ken Coleman

“These results are an unquestionable statement that we are back to our reform strategy and that it is improving the academic standing of our students. We are not surprised by this improvement. A strong foundation was implemented prior to the disruption of the pandemic with clear 2018-19 improvement results,” said Nikolai Vitti, DPSCD superintendent. 

“The significant investments made in our staffing, curriculum, professional development, and school student resources over the years are reflected in these results. We have more work to do, and I want our community to know that the formula we have at DPSCD is working. Results do not lie. We are committed to our strategy, and we are on our way to once again being the most improved large urban school district in the country, and in the years to come the highest performing large urban school district in the country.” 

Now educators are embracing Black Reading Month as a way to keep the positive momentum going.

Lakia Wilson-Lumpkins, Detroit Federation of Teachers president, said that lifting up Black literature is important for students. She recalled being inspired by Alex Haley’s “Autobiography of Malcolm X” and the works of Zora Neale Hurston, a noted African American author.

“It is difficult for many of our parents, and students even, to identify many Black authors. They may be less known or less available to them. It behooves us as educators to make sure that our children have literacy that reflects and represents them,” Wilson-Lumpkin told the Advance last week.

Wilson-Lumpkins also praised Detroit educators and parents for the increase in reading scores. Her union has secured hundreds of books in the past year that it has distributed to Detroit families. 

Darlene King-Turner, Michigan Diversity Council executive director, said Black Reading Month helps advance diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the public and private sectors. 

“Reading is the gateway to learning,” said King-Turner. She called for business and all levels of government to better support reading programs. 

Leaders like Marshall Bullock, a former state senator and current member of the state Board of Education, and state Rep. Stephanie Young (D-Detroit) also support Black Reading Month. 

Young belongs to a book club in her northwest Detroit community that has Black and white members and often features African American titles. 

“It’s most whites who come to the book club,” said Young. “They want to learn.”

Bullock, like Wilson-Lumpkins, was inspired as a child by the “Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

“That was the premier author in my head as a kid,” said Bullock about fellow African American Alex Haley. 

Detroit Federation of Teachers President Lakia Wilson-Lumpkins reads to children. | Lakia Wilson-Lumpkins photo

Detroit Parent Network (CEO), a nonprofit, has rallied caregivers of children to impact public school policy for more than 20 years. Earlier this year, the organization held a community gathering that promoted local Black authors. The effort was designed to encourage parents to better embrace the “parents power for change” and “literacy is liberation,” said Jametta Lilly, DPN CEO. 

“It informed me to be the activist that I already was,” said Lilly about her childhood experiences at Detroit schools Winship Elementary and Middle School and Cass Technical High School and her ventures as a reader of Black literature.  

National Black Reading Month also comes at a time when right-wing forces across the country are seeking to ban titles penned by people of color and LGBTQ+ people. 

Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) issued a letter urging Michigan’s public school district leaders “to affirm your commitment to public education, the First Amendment, and the welfare of all students in your community by resisting” efforts to ban books in schools.

“When school officials attempt to create a ‘sanitized’ learning space by eliminating controversial texts from school libraries, they undermine this critical function of public education,” wrote Loren Khogali, ACLU of Michigan executive director. “And when books can be removed based on parents’ complaints about the author’s message or point of view, it paves the way for an unending series of attempts by one group or another to cleanse a school of reading material based on what a vocal faction finds objectionable.”

The ACLU’s letter was sent to hundreds of superintendents and school board presidents throughout the state, state Superintendent Michael Rice and former Michigan Board of Education President Casandra Ulbrich.

Organized efforts to challenge certain books from school libraries, many of which are books that contain LGBTQ+ characters or themes, have grown since the last school year.

ACLU calls on school leaders to stand up against book bans

A recent report from PEN America — an organization that advocates for the protection of free speech — found that from July 2021 to June 2022 there were 2,532 instances of individual books being banned in 32 states.

Michigan, which ranked sixth in the nation for most books bans, had 41 book bans in four districts in the first nine months of the 2021-22 school year.

“In the end, schools become another arena for political warfare, rather than a space of learning for our youth. Neither students nor their communities are well-served by this practice,” the letter read.

Wilson-Lumpkins pushes back against right-wing book-banning efforts.

“It is an attempt to steer the education of children to a place where diversity is not allowed, not respected, and not tolerated. That is something that we can not allow,” Wilson-Lumpkins said.  

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authored by Ken Coleman
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F09%2F09%2Fas-detroit-schools-reading-scores-are-on-the-upswing-educators-celebrate-black-reading-month%2F

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