With Joel Osteen, Kanye drops a clue about his faith, and his kinship with Trump

With Joel Osteen, Kanye drops a clue about his faith, and his kinship with Trump

Video Courtesy of Joel Osteen

This past Sunday, Kanye West appeared in front of perhaps his biggest church audience yet: Lakewood Church of Houston, pastored by Joel Osteen. West wore a blazer and crew neck sweater — a more conservative outfit than his typical fashion-forward attire. Answering a series of questions that felt more suited for a midday Christian talk show, West revealed a tidbit that goes a long way toward explaining why Kanye is Kanye.

“We actually grew with a church,” West said. “It was a pastor named Johnnie Colemon.”

With those words, Kanye’s interest in political commentary and his current spiritual trajectory suddenly became clear. The Rev. Johnnie Colemon, an African American female pastor, grew Christ Universal Temple, a megachurch on the South Side of Chicago, with her famed “Abundance Campaign.”

While Colemon’s theology often gets lumped into the classic leagues of prosperity gospellers, it belongs more properly within New Thought. This is a theology, which grew out of the 19th century American metaphysical movement, that encourages material wealth as a sign of God’s blessings and a focus on positive thinking — the notion that one’s mental state can manifest into daily living. In 1974, Colemon founded the Universal Foundation for Better Living, branching away from the core of New Thought because of blatant racism.

If Kanye’s understanding of God and Jesus are understood through the lens of African American New Thought, I would argue that his egotism, ostentation and even the tangents into seeming megalomania — onstage with Osteen, Kanye declared himself “the greatest artist God ever created” — have a historical and theological context.

If Colemon’s brand of New Thought is truly the foundation of Kanye’s beliefs, it makes sense that he sees his fame and fortune as positive manifestations of God’s blessings in his life. It makes sense that he would associate himself with Osteen, a preacher of prosperity gospel. And it explains why he associates himself with President Donald Trump.

In Trump, Kanye may see a person who, with no previous political or military experience, spoke his presidency into existence, much the way West spoke his spiritual community — the Sunday Services — into being.

The danger with such a theology is that it ignores the malicious market forces that serve to encourage poverty, white supremacy, racism, Islamophobia and trenchant immigration policies at the Southern border. If this theology were true, we should tell the children who have been separated from families and placed in cages to simply think more positively about their situation in order to be reunited with their parents.

But no amount of positive thinking can save prosperity gospel’s uncritical devotion to Western capitalism, and therein lies the rub.

Up until now, most of the discussion around West, the Sunday Service choir and his most recent album, “Jesus Is King,” has been a flat discussion about generic Christian beliefs, told mostly through the gaze of white evangelicals. The way Kanye spouts his own theology and the way it gets reinterpreted in social media posts and through media reporting offer a Pollyanna Christianity.

Such a sanitized Christianity, to quote Cornel West, “is just like everything else in America: highly packaged, regulated, distributed, circulated and consumed.”

That Kanye is a black man from the South Side of Chicago, influenced by an African American woman who split from a predominantly white denomination to start her own, isn’t a trivial piece of information. Rather, it’s the fulcrum on which everything is balanced. Kanye should not be a racial prop for white evangelicals who ignore their own racial biases because he raps about Jesus. His complex story has an origin, and it isn’t the white evangelical church.

My hope is that the collective American conscience does not idolize Kanye’s self-professed conversion to the point of whitewashing his narrative. Although, at this point, such hope may already be an exercise in futility.

(The Rev. Joshua Lawrence Lazard is the C. Eric Lincoln Minister for Student Engagement at Duke Chapel at Duke University. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

Stop the BS (Bad Stats)

Stop the BS (Bad Stats)

Video Courtesy of Ivory Toldson

Evidence suggests white teachers are more negative with – and have lower expectations for – black students.

As a counseling professor who specializes in educating black children, these findings do not surprise me. I often hear education professionals and others use simplistic negative statistics to explain complex challenges facing black students.

In my book, “No BS (Bad Stats): Black People Need People Who Believe in Black People Enough Not to Believe Every Bad Thing They Hear about Black People,” I refer to these kinds of negative statistics as “BS.” “BS,” or “bad stats,” are data points that are incomplete, poorly contextualized, usually negative and sometimes wrong. My book uses data, research and anecdotes to confront nine lies about education and black students.

I give three examples of the falsehoods here.

Myth #1: More black men are in prison than college

In 2002, the Justice Policy Institute released a report called “Cellblocks or Classrooms.” The report was meant to spur policymakers to invest in college education for black males. One line resonated and echoed more than others: “Nearly a third more African American men are incarcerated than in higher education.”

Claims that there are more black men in prison than in college are no longer true.gstockstudio from www.shutterstock.com

Was it ever true? As I noted in an interview with the BBC in 2013, the Justice Policy Institute accurately reported the federal education data available at the time. The problem is that data was incomplete. For instance, several historically black colleges and universities, as well as my alma mater, Temple University, where I was enrolled as a doctoral candidate in 2001, reported no black male students in 2001 – which would have been impossible. Colleges have apparently gotten better at reporting race and gender data since.

When documentary filmmaker Janks Morton and I first published our 2011 response to the claim that there were more black men in prison than in college, we refuted it by showing that there were about 1.3 million black men in college and 840,000 black men in prison. By 2015, the total number of black men in college was 1,437,363 and the total incarcerated was 745,660. A chart that I produced in 2013 shows the trend in black male incarceration and college enrollment over the 10 years after the JPI report.

Not only is “more black men in prison than college” false, it may lead to bad policy and practice for black boys. In my view, educators who believe their black male students have a better chance of ending up in jail than college might focus more on preventing delinquency, rather than preparing helping them realize their college potential.

Myth #2: Black students lag in reading ability

During a panel discussion, I once heard a principal of a predominantly black high school state that “100 percent” of the students at her school were reading below grade level. Another panelist added the common myth that low reading scores in the third grade help prison builders calculate the need for future prison beds. But assessing reading ability involves much more than using standardized tests of reading proficiency.

For instance, scoring errors, lack of motivation, fatigue, resentment and attention deficits can reduce the accuracy of standardized reading test scores. These sources of error may be more prevalent in predominately black schools with substandard conditions.

Before writing off an entire school because of test scores, educators should become familiar with the specific assessments used, the circumstances by which the test was administered and the basic concepts of testing theory. Consider Orange County School Board member Rick Roach who – in a quest to understand reading tests better – took Florida’s state test for reading comprehension. Although he has two master’s degrees, he failed. Rick Roach’s experience backs up research that recommends educators look for beyond the tests to assess achievement.

Myth #3: Single mothers are to blame for problems among black students

In a training, a teacher told me that single mothers were the “number one” reason for black boys getting suspended. When I asked the teacher what research supports this conclusion, he insinuated that it was common knowledge.

Household composition and academic outcomes have a tenuous link.
iofoto from www.shutterstock.com

In my book, I detail the research that I have conducted and reviewed on the connection between parents and academic success. Although 69 percent of black children live in homes without both biological parents, there’s little conclusive evidence that household composition determines educational outcomes.

In my 2013 analysis of more than 12,000 parents who completed the National Household Education Surveys-Parent and Family Involvement Survey, I found that parents who were black and Hispanic, non-native English speakers, lived in unsafe neighborhoods and had less than a high school education were less likely to visit school for conferences with teachers and administrators or school activities. My study found that this lack of involvement with school was statistically associated with lower levels of academic achievement among their students.

The study also found that parents of black students received less frequent and more negative communication from their child’s school. Specifically, parents of black students were the most likely to receive phone calls from school because of a problem with their child’s behavior or academic performance. Parents of white children were the most likely to receive regular newsletters.

My book details three parenting factors that increase students’ academic functioning regardless of marital status.

The first is academic socialization – that is, lessons around the goals and purposes of education and strategies for success.

The second is positive parenting, which is when parents frequently tell their children they love them and are proud of them, and reinforce good behavior.

The third is having high expectations, such as expecting children to finish college.

Why we need to stop the BS

The first step to correcting a problem is to acknowledge that it exists.

In my opinion, BS is pervasive in educational settings for black children because educators want quick and easy ways to understand longstanding and complex issues. People should question negative statistics, like those I discuss in this article, and seek a better and more nuanced perspective of the issues, instead of just accepting BS as proof of failure.The Conversation

Ivory A. Toldson, Professor of Counseling Psychology, Howard University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Called to Train Young Tech Pros

Called to Train Young Tech Pros

Derrick Davis in front of his Home Technology Pros of Metro Detroit business truck.


When Derrick Davis launched his television career as a video engineer 35 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for him to be the only brother on the production truck crew. Things haven’t changed much as he travels to various venues all around the country at 57, still in the field covering network sports as a broadcast maintenance engineer for WXYZ-TV in Detroit, an ABC-TV affiliate. Davis wants to change that. He promised his late father he would.

“You know what, you’ve got to stop complaining and do something about it. God Blessed you with a gift. Now that you know what that gift is and your purpose, why don’t you start training young people to do what you do?'” Davis recalls his dad Maurice telling him.

Davis pondered the idea for decades, strategizing with this dad over the years on how to make that kernel of insight into a feasible concept. He had a lot of ups and downs, setbacks and heartbreaks before soaking his 401K and feverishly saving for five years. In 2019, he launched a technology school, The AV Technology Institute, and a companion franchise business, Home Technology Pros of Metro Detroit. The goal of the Detroit-based school is to help young people who aren’t college-bound and are struggling with what they want to do in life. Many of Davis’ potential students will soon be entering the workforce out of high school or possibly coming out of the prison system. The franchise, which helps people install home theater systems, home networking and more, will give those who finish his program the opportunity to gain hands-on experience as interns. Unfortunately, his dad died before he could see the vision become a reality.

“Literally three days before he passed, we were sitting at the kitchen table, and out of the blue he said, ‘Did you start that school yet?’ and I said, ‘no,'” Davis recalls.

His dad responded, “What are you waiting for?”

Davis answered him, “I don’t know.” That conversation, so close to his dad’s death, haunted Davis and spurred him into action. “From that point on, I made it my sole mission to make sure that I got this tech school off the ground to give back to the community. I have funded everything I’ve done thus far. It’s all or nothing, and I believe it’s for the glory of God to do what He promised me, that vision that He set in me.”

The idea of being an educator was a hard one to adjust to, even though his dad, a pastor, and former middle school band director, had told him previously that it was in his DNA. Davis’ mom, who also has passed away, was a second-grade teacher. Several people in his family are educators, principals, teachers, and counselors.

His hesitation possibly was because Davis himself struggled in school.

“I was labeled the black sheep in the family. I was the most likely not to succeed. But I used that as a sense of motivation. The TV station that I work for is literally a half-mile from the high school where I graduated from,” said Davis, who turned a negative comment from a school counselor into motivation for success after he completed a career assessment test that revealed he could not be the cameraman he aspired to be. The counselor advised him to be a food service worker or a dietician. “I gave her a few choice words, got kicked out of school, got home, and told my dad the counselor said I couldn’t do what I wanted to do because I’m not qualified.” His dad understood his frustration and didn’t get upset with him about the incident. Even his mom saw in him what a lot of people didn’t. “She knew that I wasn’t a book genius, but she also knew I wasn’t stupid either.”

It took Davis awhile to find his way after high school. He went on to attend Tennessee State Unversity for two years, followed by earning a certificate in Radio and Television Production from the Nashville School of Broadcasting. He decided to join the Navy and was able to obtain a Certificate in Electronic Technology while there through correspondence courses.

“As a radioman in the Navy, I dealt with the radiofrequency transmission. That’s where my interest in electronics started. I worked quite a bit alongside electronic techs on the ship, and they mentored me along,” said Davis, who said that after four years in the Navy he decided to take his chances in civilian life. He worked at Dow Chemical for ten years but stayed involved in community television as a volunteer. Davis’ first TV gig was as a master control operator, and he was able to climb the ladder into roles of increasing responsibility. Now married with kids, he went back to school part-time and after six years earned a bachelor of science degree in electronic engineering technology from the New England Institute of Technology.

Inside a classroom at the AV Technology Institute.

“It wasn’t easy…it was a struggle. I learned so much by having mentors, guys that were my supervisors or ahead of me and working hands-on in the field. You learn more when you are actually doing the job than when you are reading about a job. But my degree helped me advance my career. It helped me 20 years later get into the television station that I was told I never could get in to as a kid,” said Davis. He has four adult children and six grandchildren, and his 28-year-old son Deshon is following in his footsteps. “Today, he’s me. He does network sports, doing the same job I did when I got out of the Navy. He started from the bottom as a utility guy pulling cables and worked his way up.”

Davis’ school is in a building owned by the nonprofit Life Remodeled, which repurposed a former elementary school building into a hub of educational and vocational organizations for children, students, and adults in the community called the “Durfee Innovation Society.” In the building, Davis has two classrooms for lab work and instruction. However, his Home Technology Pros of Metro Detroit business is a virtual office and a truck.

“Right now, our country is leaning back to trade schools and trades. That was a missing demographic for years. Everybody pushed college, college, college. This is a basic low-voltage technology that builds the foundation. If you catch on and you are serious about it, you will run with it and take it to the next level,” said Davis, who, in honor of his parents, has an annual scholarship fund dinner to provide resources for aspiring young adults seeking a career in technology. “It’s been a lifelong struggle for me, but I’m blessed. I can’t complain. I thank God every day for His mercy and His grace for what I’ve been through and where I’m at now.”



How to Be a Woman in Church Leadership

How to Be a Woman in Church Leadership

Video Courtesy of LifelineChurchTV

Michelle McClain-Walters has traveled to over fifty nations and inspired thousands to follow God. For many years she was the director of the prayer ministry at Crusaders Church in Chicago, as well as a house prophet and a member of the apostolic team. Her book Chosen: Appointed for Favor, Destined for Greatness was released this September (2019) — her sixth book under Charisma House, a leading publisher of Charismatic-Christian books.

With all these accomplishments, Michelle knows a thing or two about operating in a male-dominated profession. Her experience in church culture and study of godly women in the Bible have granted her a deeper understanding of what it means to be a God-honoring woman in leadership.

You Don’t Have to Be Like a Man

For Michelle, this isn’t a challenge. She loves to wear makeup and high heels. She jokes that you can smell her perfume a block away, and the more glitter and rhinestones, the better. But she also recognizes that femininity goes deeper than accessories.

In her writing, Michelle draws true feminine qualities from the Bible, learning from women such as Deborah who boldly led others in the military.

“Femininity is power and authority under control. Deborah’s lifestyle is a lesson for all women who are looking to define themselves and fully use their potential. You can be gentle and assertive. You can inspire and not intimidate,” she says.

Michelle acknowledges how, in today’s culture, it has become less necessary for a woman in ministry to adopt more masculine mannerisms to be considered equal. She encourages women to embrace their femininity, with or without nail polish.

Re-vhealed photography (LaVincent Nelson)

Your Meekness Means You Submit to God—Not Men

In her book Chosen, Michelle describes a time she traveled to another country to minister alongside a group of other prophets. She was the only woman. They shared a stage where those with a prophetic word stepped forward. But Michelle kept getting pushed further to the back.

“I just moved myself to the back and tried to stay out of the way,” she says. “God was telling me just to stand there and be silent.”

She obeyed even as the room rose with energy. Then the leader called Michelle to the front. She stepped forward and said what she felt God had been speaking to her. Instantly her words resonated with the people. Healings, deliverance, and other miracles happened right there.

Michelle was thankful that God had softened her spirit to be submissive to Him.

“If I had not listened to God, I don’t know what witness I would have given another woman who was watching and learning how to operate in predominantly male spaces. If I had not listened to God and tried to grab a mic and prophesy without His permission, I would have been in the flesh, and there’s no telling the damage my ego and disobedience could have caused,” Michelle says.

Some may encourage meekness. Some may encourage boldness. For Michelle, either can be glorifying to God when it’s under His leading.

Your Team Includes Men

God created men and women to work together. When God observed Adam alone in the garden, He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18, MEV).

Michelle urges Christians to go back to the Bible to understand better what makes healthy man-woman relationships:

“Men and women alike were created in God’s image and likeness. Our society changes its expectations of us from generation to generation. This is why it must be His Word alone that we use to correct the distortions and devaluing of the differences between men and women. His Word for us does not change.”

By all means, acknowledge injustice, both on a larger, historical level and in the more personal sphere. However, Michelle distinguishes the difference between desiring justice and desiring vengeance. She encourages Christians to seek reconciliation in spite of past inequality and dysfunction.

As the effects from the past are being reversed, Michelle foresees more women working in ministry.

“We are being healed and delivered from tradition and religion that have held us captive for centuries. The Lord is releasing His favor and grace upon us to fulfill His purposes in the earth,” she says.

She poses this question to women: “Will we submit to the process of being trained and commissioned to fulfill these purposes?”

Michelle McClain-Walters is the author of Chosen: Appointed for Favor, Destined for Greatness (Charisma House, 2019). She is the author of The Prophetic Advantage and five books about biblical women of influence, including The Esther Anointing and The Deborah Anointing. Michelle has appeared on LeSEA Broadcasting Network’s The Harvest ShowLifeline Church TV, and many national radio broadcasts. She and her husband, Floyd Walters Jr., currently reside in Orlando, Florida.

Created with unconditional love

Created with unconditional love

Nurse Annet Kojo feeds a 4-day-old baby girl in the maternity ward of the St. Daniel Comboni Catholic Hospital in Wau, South Sudan, April 16, 2018. We are all born innocent, loving and loveable, so when and where do children learn to decide who is the enemy? (CNS / Paul Jeffrey)

This article was originally posted on the Global Sisters Report

I was born and raised in a Catholic family, and am still proud to be a Catholic. Among all the things I have learned, two words really stand out for me: “unconditional love.” Words easy to say, but very difficult to put into practice — especially during “stormy weather”! As a religious person, I must not only teach the words verbally but must teach them by my actions.

As I get older, I am just realizing that I experienced unconditional love from my birth: from God, from my parents and even from strangers.

In 2004, I was invited to visit the U.S. by an American lady who paid my roundtrip airfare from Canada. Arriving in Wisconsin, I learned that she had already made some appointments for health care tests. The doctor discovered that I was about to go blind, and arranged for me to have surgery. The doctors did everything free, but the hospital charged about $7,000. Later, an unknown person paid the hospital. Unconditional love!

Today, there is no peace in the world: Pope Francis said there is “war in bits and pieces.” As a religious person and Christian, my core mission is to work for peace, but where should this peace start?

If we could only remember that we are made in the likeness of God and saved by Jesus Christ — who saw God’s image even in the very human beings who had failed his Father. Then we would be able to see God’s image in our brothers and sisters regardless of color or state, and understand our obligation to love them without condition — like what happened to me in Wisconsin.

Years later, I was able to attend the 49th Eucharistic Congress in Canada — my airfare paid by youths I did not even know. How can I cease to proclaim God’s loving kindness toward me?

While reflecting on the words “unconditional love,” I remembered a sister in my community with whom I was finding it difficult to talk. She had hurt me and I found it hard to forgive her, unless she would come and ask for forgiveness.

But as I reflected on the many good things that have happened to me for no reason, I realized that it is wrong for me to say the Our Father and approach the holy Eucharist unless I am willing to forgive. Deciding then to forgive and talk to her, I have since felt internal joy and freedom.

There is “war in bits and pieces” because we do not look upon one another as brother or sister but look on them as “somebody or someone.” We see the other person as our brother or sister only if we are born of the same mother and father.

But if we could only remember who we are — made in the likeness of God! And we are called to represent God wherever we may be: in our family, in class and even in the streets.

When I was in Haiti, our gardener reported that a mentally challenged woman had given birth three days before, and the baby had not been washed or fed. I decided to take the child.

Being a sister and a missionary, I was worried about the child’s future. Luckily, a man from Dawson Creek, Canada, who had come to check their project in Haiti, saw the baby sleeping on the table. Hearing what happened, he decided to adopt the child. There was nothing more that could better prove God’s love to me.

If we could understand that we are made in the image of God, we would not have to make money by building weapons. We would not plot against other people’s lives. The good that we would like to be done to us, we would freely do for our brothers and sisters.

Yes, there is “war in bits and pieces”: no freedom to walk in some places, no freedom of speech in some areas. Why? We are not able to see the image of God in the person in front of us; our eyes do not have loving hearts, so we can’t see the goodness in the fellow in front. Greed for money, greed for power makes one blind.

We are all born innocent, loving and loveable, so when and where do children learn to decide who is the enemy? When they start being ill-treated or seeing adults fight. A terrible civil war: Who started it, and why? It grew in bits and pieces: Did anybody win?

When did I forget that I am an image of God, called to love and serve as God has loved me? It was the day that my world echoed with “me, myself and I.” And what does one benefit from that? Nothing — for without God, we are nothing.

Bad things happen when we do not remember that we are God’s image, and our wars in bits and pieces against God’s image are actually against ourselves.

When we lose track of the road we were born to walk, where does our way lead then? As long as we are alive, it is never late to ask forgiveness for having lost the road, and ask for help finding the way.

There are times we cannot avoid fighting. Once when something very unjust was done to the poor, I tried to stop it, and paid the price. Life was very difficult for me in the community for some years, and I kept praying to bear the pain and not hate. I will not hurt others if I love them as I love myself. With God’s grace that time is now over. Unconditional love!

If there are still people sleeping in the street, seeking food in the dust bins, it means the world does not know that Jesus came 2,000 years ago to save it. If there are people who can raise weapons against each other, it means the world does not understand that he came to bring peace to the world. It does not understand what we mean when we say that he came to bring life to mankind.

In 1994, when soldiers were fighting among themselves in our country, some were threatening each other on our property. We couldn’t move freely, we couldn’t sleep, we were hungry, and some of our buildings were damaged. The memory is fresh in my mind. My nephew, who was 3 years old at time, was affected mentally.

Later, in 1998, at a time of political unrest, South African soldiers attacked our army. I can’t control my tears when I think about the people who lost family members and property. I hate this.

There is nothing more Jesus could have done to prove his love toward us. And there is nothing to proclaim if we are not proclaiming his love for us, and thanking him at all times. Hurray! We don’t have time for fighting with each other!

[Monica Moeketsi is a member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec. She belongs to the Mosotho ethnic group, and lives in her home country of Lesotho, where she is currently working as secretary for the Lesotho Major Superiors.]

Rise & Shine: Could church vans inspire a solution to student absenteeism?

Rise & Shine: Could church vans inspire a solution to student absenteeism?

This story was originally published on Chalkbeat.

Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti was driving through the city early one Sunday morning when the sight of church vans picking up members to take them to services gave him an idea for combating absenteeism in the district.

The vans, he realized, were a way for church leaders to overcome barriers that prevent members from attending services.

“I thought we needed to do the same thing as a district,” Vitti said last week.

The district now plans to purchase six 10-passenger vans that will serve dual purposes: In addition to providing transportation for special education students who require door-to-door service, the vans will also be used — likely by attendance agents — to pick up chronically absent students and take them to school. The vans would be assigned to schools with particularly high rates of chronic absenteeism.

It’s an unusual tactic that could help the district address a staggering problem: Seventy percent of district students were labeled chronically absent during the last school year, meaning they missed 18 or more days of school. Improving attendance is key to turnaround efforts in the district.

“I’ve never heard of another district that’s tried this,” said Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, a national organization that helps schools improve attendance.

She cited some research released in 2017 that looked at whether the ways students get to school influenced whether they attend. The findings: Children who took the school bus had fewer absent days and were less likely to be chronically absent.

Video Courtesy of SXSW EDU

“This is why I think it could be helpful,” she said of the vans.

But Chang noted that it’s important to use the vans as part of a “larger, comprehensive approach” that includes a lot of outreach and the work of attendance teams who address absenteeism issues and pore over data.

The vans will be part of a pilot and will add to efforts already underway to address absenteeism. This year, the district made a significant investment in combating chronic absenteeism, spending $9 million to put an attendance agent in nearly every school. The district has also tried to address issues that might impact attendance — such as improving school culture, improving customer service, and ensuring every school has art or music classes.

Meanwhile, community groups such as United Way for Southeastern Michigan and Skillman Foundation (which is a Chalkbeat funder) have brought resources to the district through an Every School Day Counts initiative. As part of that effort, staff at 27 of the district’s most struggling schools meet regularly to share ideas and best practices for combating chronic absenteeism. 

It’s not the first time vans have been used in Detroit to address chronic absence. Chang cited an experiment launched by some church leaders that lasted for a little more than a semester back in 2012. One of those leaders, the Rev. Larry Simmons, who now heads up the Brightmoor Alliance, said that after that short experiment, the group decided the problem was larger and more complex than anyone realized and it needed a more systemic approach than their small effort could address. He said that systemic approach is now happening through the Every School Day Counts initiative.

There are signs the current work is having an impact. Vitti has cited lower chronic absenteeism rates across the district as well as improved daily attendance rates.

Vitti raised the idea of using the vans to address chronic absenteeism during school board committee meetings last month. His original plan had been to purchase nearly a dozen of the vans, but board members who heard the plan suggested starting smaller and expanding if it’s successful. The pilot will cost about $200,000.

The district will work with attendance agents so they can get a chauffeur’s license, which Vitti said is required to use the vans to transport students. In cases where the agent doesn’t receive a license, the district would hire someone specifically to drive the vans.

“This recommendation is related to our strategy to try to go deeper into the neighborhoods to try to reach out to parents,” Vitti said.

Board member Angelique Peterson-Mayberry asked during the April 29 meeting whether transportation is the reason students aren’t coming to school.

Vitti replied that attendance agents already are using their own cars to visit the homes of students who are chronically absent, and often bringing students to school.

“Sometimes parents are just overwhelmed and not sending their children to school,” Vitti said. “So, when the attendance agent visits the home and talks about attending school, often they’re taking that child to school in their own car.”

“We know that in Detroit, transportation is huge,” Chang said. It’s huge, she said, because students often have to deal with unsafe routes to school. She noted that one California school district found that the students with the most chronic absence were those who lived closest to the high school who were afraid to walk to school.

In Detroit, the district already provides school bus transportation to K-8 general education students who live more than three-quarters of a mile away from their neighborhood school, and for high school students who live more than a mile and a half from their neighborhood school. Transportation for students with special education needs is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Jennifer Erb-Downward, a senior research associate at Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, said transportation is also a problem for a particularly vulnerable group of students.

“Transportation is a huge issue for many families in Detroit, but particularly for families experiencing housing instability,” said Erb-Downward, who has done research on chronic absenteeism in Michigan. “That’s because they’re moving from place to place.”

She said her gut reaction is that the vans could benefit students struggling to get to school.

“You need a transportation system that’s flexible in some way,” she said.