Archives for category: Detroit

The Detroit Data and Democracy Project reports that the children of Detroit have seen deteriorating results since the state takeover of their public schools in 2009.


Dr. Thomas C. Pedroni of Wayne State University reported that the manipulation of statistics has been a defining characteristic of state control of the schools:


He writes:


One year ago this month I watched in disbelief as the Emergency Manager of the moment, Roy Roberts, declared on NBC’s nationally broadcast Education Nation Detroit Summit that Detroit Public Schools had surpassed the Michigan average in 14 of 18 MEAP categories.  At the time I suspected that Snyder’s appointee, a former auto executive with no education background, had simply misspoken or just didn’t quite have his facts straight.  What bothered me more was that none of his carefully selected co-panelists—including EAA Chancellor John Covington and Detroit Parent Network President/CEO Sharlonda Buckman—batted as much as an eye over Roberts’ jubilant mispronouncement.  A clearly impressed Chelsea Clinton declared that when the day came she would gladly enroll her own children in the public schools of Detroit.


As I dug through the MEAP results on the Michigan Department of Education’s website that day—confirming that DPS students had scored behind the state average in all 18 tested categories, typically by 20 percentage points or more—I made a discovery I had not anticipated:  in most categories, children in Detroit’s public elementary and middle schools had fallen even farther behind their state peers since 2009.  That year (2009) was the year that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared Detroit “ground zero” for education reform, and the State once again took away local democratic control of Detroit’s schools.

I was particularly troubled that, since 2009, the youngest children taking the test—3rd, 4th, and 5th graders—had declined the most.  Although already so far behind their statewide peers, Detroit’s youngest test-takers had somehow lost even more ground.


Read what happened when he tried to publish this story in the Detroit News. 


The latest release of test scores in Detroit in 2014 show that the children continue to lose ground compared to their peers in the rest of the state.


Sadly, grievously—the new MEAP data, released February 28, reveal the further deepening of a devastating pattern.  In both reading and math, Detroit’s children have fallen even further behind their state peers.  Somehow, in 10 of the 12 grade-level math and reading MEAP tests, Detroit’s children under state control in DPS and the EAA have lost even more ground.

Fourth graders in Detroit’s state-managed schools actually progressed marginally in reading relative to their Michigan peers, bringing the proficiency gap down by 0.8 points to 29.5 percentage points.  But in every other tested grade– third, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth– they fell even further behind in reading.  In math, Detroit’s sixth grade students in state-managed schools gained marginally on their Michigan peers (by 0.3 points) and are now only 27.7 percentage points behind.  But they lost even more ground to their statewide peers in all the other tested grades– third, fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth.


Pedroni says it is another lost year for the children of Detroit.



By now, you may have heard that a federal judge ruled that Detroit’s pensions may be cut during bankruptcy proceedings, even though the Michigan state constitution expressly protects them.

What you may not know is that the average pension is $19,000 a year.

David Sirota is outraged.

Michigan officials say there is no money to pay the $100 million pension gap yet the state can afford $6 billion each year for corporate subsidies.

Nor is anyone deterred from paying more than $400 million in public funds for a new hockey stadium for Detroit.

As Sirota wrote:

“Every now and again there’s a piece of crystal clear evidence left at the scene of a complex financial crime that shows, beyond any reasonable doubt, what went down.

“If future generations want to understand why the current era is sometimes referred to as a new Gilded Age, they need look no further than Detroit. The city’s financial troubles have far more to do with deindustrialization, destructive trade policies, population loss, political mismanagement and Wall Street’s shady municipal rip-off schemes than it does public pension liabilities.

“Yet, as you might have heard, a judge yesterday handed down a landmark ruling allowing Michigan officials who took control of the city to violate the state’s constitution and slash the average $19,000-a-year pensions of Detroit’s municipal retirees. This ruling is already being touted as a precedent setter for places like California, where a pension-slashing ballot initiative campaign is already underway and where some cities are trying to get out of paying the pension promises they made to retirees.”

Maybe the impoverished retirees can sell soda and popcorn at the new hockey stadium.

Earlier today, I published Judith Shulevitz’s brilliant essay on “disruption” as a business strategy.

As we know, mega-corporations believe they must continually reinvent themselves in order to have the latest, best thing and beat their competitors, who are about to overtake them in the market.

They believe in disruption as a fundamental rule of the marketplace.

By some sloppy logic or sleight-of-hand, the financial types and corporate leaders who think they should reform the nation’s schools have concluded that the schools should also be subject to “creative disruption” or just plain “disruption.”

And so we have the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy, underwritten by billionaire Eli Broad, sending out superintendents who are determined to “disrupt” schools by closing them and handing them over to private management.

Unfortunately, Secretary Arne Duncan agrees that disruption is wonderful, so he applauds the idea of closing schools, opening new schools, inviting the for-profit sector to compete for scarce funds, and any other scheme that might disrupt schools as we know them.

He does this believing that U.S. education is a failed enterprise and needs a mighty shaking-up.

First, he is wrong to believe that U.S. public education is failing. I document that he is wrong in my new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and The Danger to America’s Public Schools, using graphs from the U.S. Department of Education website.

Second, “disruption” is a disaster for children, families, schools, and communities.

Think of little children. They need continuity and stability, not disruption. They need adults who are a reliable presence in their lives. But, following the logic of the corporate reformers, their teachers are fired, their school is closed, everything must be brand new or the kids won’t learn.  No matter how many parents and children turn out at school board meetings to plead for the life of their neighborhood schools, the hammer falls and it is closed. This is absurd.

Think of adolescents. When they misbehave, we say they are “disruptive.” Now we are supposed that their disruptive behavior represents higher order thinking.

But no one can learn when one student in a class of thirty is disruptive.

Disruptive policies harm families because after the closing of the neighborhood school, they are expected to shop for a school. They are told they have “choice,” but the one choice denied to them is their neighborhood school. Maybe one of their children is accepted as the School of High Aspirations, but the other didn’t get accepted and is enrolled in the School for Future Leaders on the other side of town. That is not good for families.

Disruption is not good for communities. In most communities, the public school is the anchor of community life. It is where parents meet, talk about common problems, work together, and learn the fundamental processes of democratic action.

Disruption destroys local democracy. It atomizes families and communities, destroying their ability to plan and act together on behalf of their community.

By closing their neighborhood school, disruption severs people from the roots of their community. It fragments community.

It kneecaps democracy.

City after city is now suffering a “disruptive” assault on public education. Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed dozens of schools in Chicago; Mayor Michael Bloomberg closed dozens of schools in New York City; public education in Detroit is dying; Philadelphia public schools are on life support, squeezed by harsh budget cuts and corporate faith in disruption and privatization.

But the disruptive strategy won’t be confined to urban districts. As the tests for the new national Common Core standards are introduced in state after state, disruption and havoc will produce what corporate reformers are hoping for: a loss of faith in public education; a conviction that it is broken beyond repair; and a willingness to try anything, even to allow for-profit vendors to take over the responsibilities of the public sector. That is already happening in many states, where hundreds of milllions of dollars are siphoned away from public schools and handed over to disruptive commercial enterprises. It doesn’t produce better education, but it produces profits.

Maybe that is the point of disruption.

Electablog comments on an interview that Detroit’s emergency manager Kevyn Orr gave to the Wall Street Journal.

Orr said that the union workers who built the city’s great manufacturing base were “dumb, lazy, happy, and rich.”

This, apparently, is what he thinks caused the ruination of Detroit: All those dumb, rich working stiffs in unions.

Nothing about those dumb, rich executives who sat on their fat salaries while Japan designed a better, more fuel-efficient car.

Nothing about the happy, rich corporate executives who outsourced basic industries to low-wage countries.

Electablog says:

“What Mr. Orr seems to forget is that it was the rise of the manufacturing industry in the United States along with the labor unions that created the middle class. The men and women he degrades with this callous statement worked hard every day in the factories that built things in this country. To describe them as dumb, lazy, and rich is beyond absurd and is incredibly insulting. Detroit’s problems don’t stem from union workers being able to make a decent wage with benefits and a pension. This country is strong, both economically and socially, because workers had enough money in their pockets to buy the things they were building.”


With bankruptcy looming, buzzards are flying by to pick meat off the Motor City’s bones. Before they do, someone should talk to experts on the dangers of privatization:

Contact: Richard Allen Smith

July 23, 2013


As Detroit Contemplates a “Fire Sale” of its Assets, Privatization Experts are Available to Discuss the Dangers of Selling Public Assets and Services

Washington, DC – As the City of Detroit faces an $18 billion Chapter 9 bankruptcy, there has been much discussion of a “fire sale” of public assets and services to private interests as a way to inject quick cash into the city’s budget. Across the country, for-profit corporations seek to capitalize on the misfortune of cash-strapped cities like Detroit, but in nearly all cases, the outsourcing of public services has resulted in a loss of public control over quality of life issues, reduced jobs and benefits for public employees, greater cost to taxpayers and a lower quality rendered service.

As Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr and various judges weigh in on what comes next, experts on privatization and responsible contracting are available to discuss the consequences of outsourcing, and what may be next for the City of Detroit.

Donald Cohen is the founder and executive director of In the Public Interest, a national resource center on privatization and responsible contracting. Donald is a founding board member of the Partnership for Working Families, a national federation of metropolitan-based research, policy and action centers. He is on the board of Green For All, the Ballot Initiatives Strategy Center, and the Center for Effective Government. Donald has recently published opinion pieces about privatization issues in Reuters and Huffington Post.

Shar Habibi is the Research and Policy Director of In the Public Interest, a national resource center on privatization and responsible contracting. She previously worked on issues related to state government contracting at a policy and research organization in Texas, where she focused on the privatization of social services. Before that, she worked for a government procurement consulting firm. She received a Masters in Public Affairs and a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Texas at Austin.

To schedule interviews with them, please contact Richard Allen Smith at or (202) 327-8435.


Watch the billionaires scoop up the treasures of the Detroit Institute of Art.

Is ours a society where the public sector can be ransacked for gain, where legislatures and governors walk away from any responsibility to protect the common wealth?

In a series of legal maneuvers, Governor Snyder of Michigan and his emergency manager rushed to plunge Detroit into a historic bankruptcy. The judge was not pleased.

“Prior to her ruling on Friday, she criticized the Snyder administration and Attorney General’s Office for what appeared to be hasty action to outflank pension board attorneys.

“It’s cheating, sir, and it’s cheating good people who work,” the judge told assistant Attorney General Brian Devlin. “It’s also not honoring the (United States) president, who took (Detroit’s auto companies) out of bankruptcy.” […]“

This is an unbelievable story. I first learned about the Catherine Ferguson Academy from the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC. It is (or was) a school for pregnant girls in Detroit, with an innovative curriculum, for example, the girls learned to garden and tend farm animals and engage in projects and activities.

But the future of the school was in doubt because of the city’s financial crisis. Someone, perhaps the financial manager, decided to “save” the school by turning it over to a charter operator.

Next chapter: the school is now a harsh, tightly disciplined “no excuses” school where the girls get an inferior education. The students are now suing the city of Detroit and the charter operator, called Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy, for giving them a substandard education.

Listen to this from their egalitarian complaint:

“The defendants have terminated many state mandated courses, done away with all classes, ordered teachers not to teach classes, failed to employ certified teachers in math, physical education computing, health education and music and stamped an additional badge of inferiority on these girls through unjustly casting their entire school as a strict discipline academy for students with serious criminal and discipline problems, and have failed even to provide a student code of conduct, leaving all students subject to arbitrary discipline.”


“There are no certified teachers in foreign language, physical education or computer science at the Catherine Ferguson Academy. In addition, according to the suit, “CFA students were told that none of their math work for the school year would be given credit because BKBA laid off the two certified math teachers. Since then, an uncertified math teacher has been assigned to ‘teach’ math and has received all students’ work and graded it.”

What a disgrace!

Calling Rachel Maddow! The girls of Catherine Ferguson Academy need you!

Detroit’s Emergency Manager Roy Roberts announced he was stepping down. But then he said something utterly astonishing. He said that when he took the job, his instructions were to “blow up” the district.

He didn’t say who told him to destroy the district.

Interesting that all of the districts in Michigan that have emergency managers are predominantly African American: Detroit. Muskegon Heights. Highland Park. And the district that went broke this week: Buena Vista.

The state feels no responsibility for supporting and maintaining these districts. Is it because they are powerless in a state run by the far-right? The governor would never dare to play these tricks on a majority white district.

Kudos to Nancy Flanagan, for reporting on the mess at the Jalen Rose Academy charter school.

Why do sports celebrities think they are qualified to run a school?

At the Jalen Rose school, 100% of the teachers quit at the end of the first year.

Nancy asks an obvious question:

“Here’s my question: What would parents think if all the teachers in a traditional public school quit? If their children had no sinks in the science rooms, but flew to Las Vegas to meet a basketball team? Or if students couldn’t access necessary instructional materials because their laptops didn’t work?

“When the Academy (which gets the same per-pupil state funding as all public schools in Detroit) ran out of money in May, they held a private party to make up the shortfall. And in spite of what looks like a poorly managed train wreck of an inaugural year, the article [to which she links in her post] is full of upbeat adults praising Rose’s vision for education.”

Is there some special Kool-Aid that inoculates people from seeing what is happening when a charter school is involved?


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