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Arne Duncan Visits Detroit; He Should Visit Domus

Posted by Larry Doyle on May 16, 2009 9:04 AM |

Our nation faces many huge problems but none greater than the issues in urban education.  President Obama has experience in this area during his time in Chicago. Not surprisingly, he went to his roots and brought Arne Duncan from Chicago to Washington to head the Department of Education. Let’s check in with Mr. Duncan. 

Duncan recently paid a visit to Detroit, home to the worst public schools in the country (based upon graduation rate). The Washington Post offers insights on his visit, Duncan Delves Behind Grim Statistics.  

While this article asserts the graduation rate for 9th graders in Detroit is 38%, it fails to address that there are plenty of students who drop out prior to 9th grade. The actual graduation rate in Detroit is an abysmal 25%!! The overall graduation rate in urban schools is a paltry 50%.

Duncan has been given a massive checkbook to address education issues in our country. Rest assured, money is part of the problem. However, in my opinion, money is not the critical issue. As the Washington Post’s article highlights, many students in urban settings are involved in gang activities. Regrettably, gangs have replaced traditional families. Why? Well, I am not a sociologist nor a psychologist but I have to believe when so many newborns enter this world into single parent families (70% of newborn African Americans enter this world into a single parent family, 50% for Hispanics, 30% for Caucasians), they have one strike if not two against them before the game has even begun. These kids will look for structure somewhere. Regrettably, the gang becomes the structure.

I addressed this sensitive, but critically important, topic last Fall. Please allow me to go to the archives and revisit, “Give a Man a Fish, Feed Him For a Day…”

My point in writing that article was to highlight the cold but sobering reality of graduation rates in urban settings and the correlation with incomes. I also wanted to address the hurdles presented by the bureaucracy embedded in teacher unions.

My article back then elicited much feedback from readers, business associates, friends, and family. Often, the question was raised as to what could be done to address the core problem – the lack of family structure in urban settings.

As fate would have it, I had the good fortune of meeting an individual this week who for the last 26 years has been doing miraculous work in this area. Mike Duggan, who graduated a year ahead of me at Holy Cross, started his career in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York.  In the early 1990s, Mike was recruited to Stamford, CT to overtake a program called Domus, which “helps over 600 children and their families experience academic and life success through educational, residential, and community programs.” At the time Mike joined Domus, it was $300k in debt and hanging on by a thread.

Domus is now a thriving organization with an $11 million annual operating budget. Duggan has worked magic in the face of extreme challenges. The Domus program is all encompassing. Ultimately, the foundation is based on “tough love” with the emphasis much more on the love than the tough. In my meeting with Mike, he offered that he does not allow his students to view themselves as victims. The mayor of Stamford has publicly praised Mike and Domus for the profound impact they are having on the Stamford community. 

I asked Mike if there are other programs similar to Domus in the country. He offered that there are two. As I recall, one is in Texas and one in California.

Plenty of naysayers may believe our urban education problem can’t be solved. Plenty of educational bureaucrats may say urban schools simply need more money. I say there is a third path. Our country needs to promote Mike Duggan and his work at Domus on a grand scale.

Mr. Duncan, please visit Stamford, CT and replicate the Domus model nationwide.


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