A nonprofit founded in 1992

Program brings extra math, reading to Detroit

Associated Press and Education Week
By Corey Williams
December 31, 2010

DETROIT -- Students in 14 Detroit schools will go through additional math and reading classes as part of an after-school program administered by a Massachusetts-based company.

Detroit Public Schools has renewed its contract with BELL, which stands for "Building Educated Leaders for Life," for the second phase of a learning program that started over the summer.

About 2,800 students in kindergarten through eighth grade will spend an extra two-and-a-half hours in school three days each week through May. Nearly 4,100 Detroit students in 15 schools took part over the summer in the six-week first phase of the collaboration with BELL.

Under emergency financial manager Robert Bobb, the district has promised a more rigorous curriculum to improve academic achievement.

But the gap is wide.

Detroit's schools are considered among the lowest performing in urban districts in the country, routinely scoring poorly on standardized tests. Only 3 percent of Detroit fourth-graders were proficient on the 2009 Michigan Educational Assessment Program math test.

Detroit's graduation rate for 2008-2009 was 58 percent, compared with the national rate of 89 percent. The district's 27 percent dropout rate over 2008-2009 was more than three times the national rate of 8.7 percent.

Many of Detroit's 77,000 students are so far behind their peers in other districts, that catching up solely during the school day is difficult.

"This collaboration has been very successful in the past in helping Detroit scholars who need the additional academic support the most," said Sherry Ulery, chief of Teaching and Learning for Detroit Schools.

Students in the summer program received 195 hours of academic and social enrichment. Bell reported that tests taken following the summer program showed they gained five months of reading and math skills over the six weeks.

"We're constantly measuring the results, checking to see if they're learning," said Dean Bradley, BELL's vice president for regional operations. "Also, we have a lot of techniques for behavior modification. BELL provides them with a safe place. Everybody is there to be a scholar, and it's cool to be a scholar."

Federal Title I education funds are covering the bulk of the program's $4.6 million cost. Detroit provides the classroom space and transportation for students. The district also provided breakfast and lunch during the summer.

About 140 teachers and 154 tutors and other staff will be hired for the program's second phase which started earlier this month.

The 77,000-student Detroit district is the largest BELL has worked with in Michigan. It also provided summer school programs in 2009 at schools in Flint and Saginaw, and has worked with a charter school in Grand Rapids.

BELL also has programs in Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina and New York.