- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 14, 2009

DETROIT (AP) | Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday that Detroit’s troubled public schools are “ground zero” for education in the U.S. and promised federal help if leaders are willing to make necessary changes.

The Detroit Public Schools system has been rife with mismanagement and few budget controls for years, and Mr. Duncan said its chronically poor graduation and dropout rates are unacceptable.

“I think Detroit is ground zero” for education in the United States, he later told reporters. “Detroit is New Orleans two years ago without Hurricane Katrina, and I feel a tremendous sense of both urgency and outrage.”

Mr. Duncan, Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, newly elected Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Robert Bobb, the district’s emergency financial manager, spoke with students at Cody High School about improving education. The city was Mr. Duncan’s second stop on his national “Listening and Learning Tour.”

Mr. Duncan, who led Chicago’s public schools before President Obama tapped him to lead the Education Department, said Detroit should look to Chicago and other cities where education reforms have worked.

If that is done and Detroit applies for federal funds, Mrs. Granholm said she thinks Mr. Duncan will be “very supportive.”

“He’s got billions of dollars in Race to the Top Recovery Act money that they are willing to invest in the cities that are willing to make the changes necessary to get the results we want,” Mrs. Granholm said.

The district is facing a $300 million budget deficit. Mr. Bobb said Tuesday that 29 schools will be closed to help cut costs, and 40 other schools that he said were “miserably failing” face restructuring.

Mr. Duncan has been a proponent of turning control of Detroit’s school system over to the mayor, and said he is encouraged by Mr. Bing’s interest in Detroit’s schools.

“I look at this as not only a challenge, but a true opportunity,” Mr. Bing told reporters at Cody. “I’m in agreement with the secretary: There is no way that our city will come back and be what we want it to be without a strong public school system.”

An elected school board runs the system, and Detroit voters in 2004 overwhelmingly turned down a proposal to hand over that power to the mayor.

“It’s going to be a legislative effort,” Mr. Bing said of taking control. “But I think the mood of this city and its citizens have really changed since five years ago. Everybody is pretty much outraged with the outcomes at this point, and a change is necessary.”