DETROIT – The 2011-2012 Detroit Public School year started on Sept. 6, with thousands of homes and streets all over the city adorned with signs that had the two-word slogan “I’m In” everywhere. Nearly two months into the school year, the one thing that is not in a lot of Detroit Schools right now are books.
“I know there is a shortage and there is an order and they are still sharing books,” said Andrew Hayes, whose son is a third-grader at Fisher Magnet Elementary on the city’s east side. “There are a lot of frustrated parents. They want the kids to have what they are supposed to have. At the beginning of the year, we were told that every student would have the textbooks. It’s seven weeks into school.”
Teachers at Cass Technical High School — the city’s largest high school — say that they are short nearly 2,400 textbooks in all grade levels. According to the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the deficiencies range across all subjects including English, chemistry, geometry, Spanish, and U.S. history.
Teachers at Cass say they are missing 950 chemistry books and 250 history books, while teachers at Priest Elementary-Middle School on Detroit’s southwest side say they are missing nearly 3,500 books. Priest has nearly 1,000 Kindergarten through eighth-grade students. The missing books are for K-6 English classes as well as science workbooks and workbooks with tear-out sheets.
Textbooks are typically ordered for the coming school year in the spring so they arrive before teachers return in August. The district has been plagued for years by issues of students using outdated books and materials or having no books at all, leaving teachers to improvise lessons or hand out photocopies of the main text.
“If we didn’t share books in some advanced classes such as Calculus or Trigonometry, we had outdated history books,” said Theo Nicolaidis, a 1994 graduate of Northwestern High School, back in August after MSNBC’s Making the Grade Detroit special. “I remember my history book had no mention of the Berlin Wall falling in 1989.”
At Cass Tech, considered one of the “Big Three” schools in Detroit along with Renaissance and Martin Luther King High Schools, this problem has persisted for decades. As recently as 2009, the district had credit holds placed on it due to unpaid bills with book vendors.
“I remember how the textbooks would always be outdated,” said LaKaisha Hollingsworth, a 1997 Renaissance graduate who also attended Dossin Elementary. “What made up for it was having a teacher that knew how to instruct without a textbook. A teacher that could bring the real world into the classroom based on current events and real life experiences.”
Cass Tech’s original building was vacated in 2005 in favor of the current multi-million dollar building, which sits some 30 feet away. It stood abandoned for six years with desks and old books left behind in the blighted building before finally being demolished in August.