Archives for category: Detroit

Last week, the Center for Media and Democracy released a detailed (though not complete) list of financial scandals in the charter industry.

In Michigan, the CMD identified 25 “ghost” charters that received $1.7 million in planning grants from the state (taxpayer dollars at work), but never opened.

One of the “ghost schools” was to be a boarding school called Detroit College Preparatory Academy. After failing to open the school, its proponent was then hired as the head of Michigan’s State School Reform/Redesign
Office which is responsible for fixing “Priority Schools,”schools in
the bottom 5% in terms of academic performance. This is often done with a
state takeover, leading to an Emergency Manager. Sometimes, they get turned over to charter companies.

Being a reformer means there will always be a rightwing governor or think tank to hire you.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former CEO in Chicago, recently pleaded guilty to a kickback scheme that would have netted her $2.3 million for delivering a no-bid contract to a former employer. Now, the Chicago Sun-Times reports, the FBI is investigating a textbook contract for nearly $40 million that to another former employer while Byrd-Bennett worked in Detroit.

The Detroit News reports that investigators are reviewing contracts made during Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s time as chief academic auditor for the Detroit public schools under Robert Bobb.

“Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was the chief academic and accountability auditor for DPS from 2009-11, was convicted of one count of fraud in federal court. Federal authorities alleged that as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, she steered $23 million in no-bid contracts to two education firms in return for $2.3 million in bribes and kickbacks.

“One of those firms, Synesi Associates LLC, which trains principals and school administrators, was awarded contracts with DPS while Byrd-Bennett was working for the district, according to records posted on the DPS’ website….

“According to six-month expenditure reports from May and November 2011, DPS paid $1,487,654.08 to Synesi for “Consultant Services/Curriculum/Office of Accountability.”

“The report from November 2011 also lists an invoice of $128,698.77 to Synesi as “disapproved.”
In a statement Tuesday, a DPS spokeswoman said the district is cooperating with authorities.”

Mitchell Robinson, a professor of music at Michigan State University, has figured out how the reform/privatization agenda works.

Robinson writes:

The typical reform agenda goes something like this:

*demoralize the teachers

*defund the unions

*dismantle the schools

*privatize public education

We see evidence of this approach in places like New Orleans with its “Recovery School District,” and Detroit, where Gov. Snyder’s Frankenstein-like “Education Achievement Authority” continues to deprive the students and citizens of local control of their schools. The reformers’ tactics are brutal and unforgiving: create a public perception that the schools are failing, the teachers are lazy, the unions are greedy, and the only solutions are to close schools, expand choice, provide vouchers and valorize charters.

However, one of the more subtle, yet damaging, weapons in the reformers’ playbook is simultaneously less visible to the uninformed eye and more insidious in its ability to accomplish the reformers’ ultimate goal: the destabilization of public education by an intentional, purposeful strategy of near-constant turnover and turmoil in the leadership and teaching force in the schools…..

Detroit is a textbook case of the reform strategy for destroying public education.

An especially egregious example of this sort of intentional destabilization can be seen in the Detroit Public Schools, which has been under state control for most of the previous 15 years (1999-2005, 2009-2016). Under the Snyder administration, Detroit’s schools have suffered from a systematic defunding of facilities and equipment, sub-standard working conditions, safety concerns, drastic curriculum narrowing, and poor teacher morale as a result of the state’s takeover. Recent estimates are that fewer than 30% of Detroit’s children have access to school music classes, and only 40% have an art teacher. In 2014, Renaissance High School, long considered a bastion of high quality arts programming in the city, suffered devastating cuts to its music program, signaling a troubling trend in priorities from Detroit’s educational leaders.

Detroit Public Schools has had four leaders in the past four years.

It’s hard to understand how a school system can make any sort of sustained progress with a veritable revolving door of administrative transition occurring in the central offices–and this is certainly the case in Detroit: “Under emergency managers Robert Bobb, Roy Roberts and Martin, DPS has shed tens of thousands of students, closed dozens of schools and struggled with persistent deficits…Last fall’s (2014) preliminary enrollment was 47,238, less than half of the 96,000 students attending DPS when Bobb was appointed.”

It’s beyond time to declare Gov. Snyder’s approach to education reform in Detroit a resounding failure. The state has had 15 years to “fix” the problems they created through a massive disinvestment of public education in Michigan, and Detroit’s children and teachers have paid the price as a seemingly endless parade of highly paid “experts” have failed to turn the ship around.

State control is not only NOT a panacea; it is a manifest failure.

Robinson says it is past time to turn the public schools back to the people of Detroit. They might make mistakes but they are more trustworthy with their children than Governor Snyder and his appointees.

The Walton Family Foundation is not going to like this. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that Teach for America teachers in a Detroit charter school have the right to unionize.

The charter operator fought the TFA newbies, claiming that they weren’t “real” teachers.

“The National Labor Relations Board ruled Friday that Teach for America teachers in a Detroit charter school have the right to be a part of a union.

“According to a statement from the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, the NLRB said Friday 14 Teach for America corps members should have been able to vote in an election last spring. That election was held to determine if teachers at University Prep Schools, a charter school network in Detroit, wanted to form a union.

“Detroit 90/90, the private company that operates the schools, argued the Teach for America members, as well as long-term substitutes, were not professional employees.

“We are really pleased to be recognized as professional teachers,” said Patrick Sheehan, a TFA corps member and second grade advisor at the time of the election. “U-Prep hired us to teach just like other teachers. Making the legal argument that we are not professionals means one of two things — either Detroit 90/90 doesn’t respect the work we do with students or they lied to prevent us from organizing a union.”

The vote to unionize at University YES caused their sponsor to abandon the school:

“University Yes Academy teachers voted to unionize earlier this year, despite their parent company — New Urban Learning — announcing it was walking away from the school. The announcement of New Urban Learning walking away from University Yes took place days after the school’s teachers announced they planned to hold a vote on unionization.”

Why won’t the Walton Family Foundation like these developments? The Waltons, owners of Walmart, don’t like unions. They like charters, because 90% or so are non-union. They have given more than $50 million to TFA to supply the workforce for non-union charters.

Kids! What’s the matter with kids today?

The powerless elected school board of Detroit has filed a Title Vi complaint against Governor Rick Snyder for discrimination against the children of Detroit.

The complaint documents the failure of state control of the Detroit public schools. For most of the past 16 years, the district has been controlled by the state. Deficits have grown, enrollment has plummeted, and the public school system is nearly destroyed.

The bottom line is that the state did nothing that succeeded in providing the children of Detroit equality of educational opportunity.

Read the complaint. It documents a history of neglect, experimentation, and destruction. The children were the victims.

Over the past generation, Detroit has suffered from de-industrialization, middle-class flight, high poverty, joblessness, and abandonment by the state and civic elites. One reform after another has failed to “save” its schools, because reformers ignored the root causes of poor academic performance.


Now, conservative Michigan Governor Rick Snyder plans to get rid of public education and turn Detroit into an all-charter district like Néw Orleans. This is now public officials’ favorite way of getting rid of their responsibility, by handing it off to the private sector.


Here is one analysis of the continuing abandonment of the children of Detroit. I don’t usually cite partisan sources but this is as good an in-depth a review as I have seen. If you spot any errors, let me know.


It is a sad story. Our nation can’t afford to educate its poorest children. Actually, it can afford to but chooses not to. They need small classes; arts programs; experienced teachers; stability. None of that is part of the plan. We lack the will to help those who most need a good education.

State Representative Tim Kelly, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, called for the dissolution of the Detroit public schools. This is a sign of abdication of responsibility by those on control.

“The state has controlled DPS for much of the last 15 years. It has been run by governor-appointed emergency managers since 2009, and was under state control from 1999 until 2005.”

Kelly admits the state has “some” culpability, but nonetheless wants to eliminate public educationin Detroit, which the citizens of that city have not controlled for 15 years.

Republicans are talking about turnong Detroit into an all-charter district, but as the newspaper points out, charters in Detroit do not outperform the maligned public schools. Some are talking vouchers, but there is no reason to believe that they would be any better.

In short, the same people at the top who have sliced and fixed the schools of Detroit for 15 years are now throwing up their hands and saying, “Let’s abandon the state’s obligation to educate the children of Detroit and instead hand them over to the private sector.”

This is not a solution, it is a retreat from the state’s responsibilty. Why is it that state takeovers and suspension of democracy seem to be concentrated in black districts?

At the Network for Public Education conference in April, Jitu Brown of Journey for Justice described these takeovers as “the new colonialism.”

Tom Pedroni and Karen Twomey write in the Detroit Free Press that it’s time to restore democratic governance to the public schools of Detroit.

Plans and proposals are flying around from every district but all of them involve state control and privatization.

This is ironic as Detroit has had its fill of failed state control.

“All three proposals place inexplicable faith in the state’s ability to rectify the very problems that it, more than any other government entity, has created. Under the state’s watch for 13 of the last 16 years, the district has lost two-thirds of its students — more than 100,000 kids. Meanwhile, long-term debt has ballooned from around $700 million in 1999 to more than $2.1 billion today. Worst of all, state-mandated assessments, including the MEAP, reveal that Detroit’s students have lost even more ground to their state peers since 2009, when the state imposed emergency management.

“The closure of nearly 200 schools since 2002 has exacerbated student flight from the district while hurting already fragile city neighborhoods. What little funding the district retains is increasingly steered by emergency management from the classroom to administrators, consultants and contractors. A district that under the elected board drove 55%-60% of its revenues to classroom instruction — a proportion similar to most suburban districts — now allots the classroom less than 47%.”

The status quo–state control–has failed. The authors propose a return to democratic governance, with state assumption of the District’s debt. They propose a series of common sense reforms that could put Detroit public schools on the path to revival instead of extinction.

Teachers at a Detroit charter school wanted to form a union. The charter operator challenged the vote on grounds that TFA teachers are not real professionals.

“The election was held to establish a union of teachers and staff at University Prep Schools.

“UPrep Schools consist of seven campuses under the University Preparatory Academy and University Preparatory Science and Math charters. They are managed by Detroit 90/90.
“While there were 19 more no votes from those who did not want the union, Detroit 90/90 challenged the voting rights of Teachers for America teachers and long-term substitutes, claiming the teachers they hired to stand in front of students are not actually professionals,” said Nate Walker, K-12 organizer and policy analyst with AFT Michigan.

“Walker said the voting rights of 30 teachers were challenged before the election, during an April 30 proceeding before the National labor Relations Board. Of those, 20 voted Thursday, and their ballots are in question.

“David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan, said the vote Thursday is “not determinative, as there are 20 challenged ballots, most of which result from 90/90 not considering Teach for America teachers and long-term substitutes to be teachers.”

Five charter schools in Detroit have joined the AFT.


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