A faith-based pioneer for urban school options

Detroit Free Press editor and columnist Stephen Henderson gives us a look today into a collection of schools that showcases how the Motor City’s school system was innovative long before it reached meltdown status and long before it was forced to compete with a proliferation of charter schools.

Cornerstone schools, Henderson writes, was the 1991 work product of a coalition of Catholic Church leaders and public officials who sought to create low-cost and high-quality educational options outside the Detroit school district. “This was well before most people were even open to the idea that urban education might best be structured through many alternatives and options,” Henderson writes.

Adam Maida, the archbishop of Detroit, and Michigan school board member Clark Durant spearheaded the effort, focusing their energies on Christian, but not explicitly Catholic, schools for the poor in Detroit, though Cornerstone would eventually establish charter schools as well. The Mackinac Center, a Michigan-based think tank, noted in a 1997 report that Cornerstone’s faith-based efforts got the support of the Big Three automakers and Blue Cross and Blue Sheild. Most notably, however, Cornerstone won an award from the Clinton Administration’s National Education Commission on Time and Learning. It’s faith-based schools alone enroll 1,400 students and can boast a 95-percent graduation rate and 91-percent college-bound rate.

So, in that sense, Henderson writes:

… Cornerstone and Durant, in particular, were the spark for a lot of the educational innovation we’re seeing in Detroit today. In the 20 years since, Durant’s relentless advocacy for educational options has helped inspire several large-scale initiatives that give city parents quality choices outside of DPS. The charter movement, the number of independent schools cropping up around the city — it all really started with Durant and Cornerstone.

It’s hard, even frightening, to imagine what education in the city would look like today if Cornerstone hadn’t set the pattern it did in 1991.

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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit