This is the story of an enthusiastic young teacher who eagerly sought a position in a Michigan charter school, only to be disillusioned by the administration’s indifference to teachers and their views about their work.
When teachers in the charter school became frustrated by their powerlessness, they decided to form a union. Bad idea. The enthusiastic young teacher was out of a job and out of teaching.
The story is bigger than just one person, however. It is the story of how charters began with the sponsorship of the nation’s most important union leader, Albert Shanker, but is now vehemently opposed to unions.
Nationally, 93% of charter schools are non-union. Their teachers are at-will employees.
In Michigan, 79% of the charters operate for profit.
This was not what Shanker had in mind.
When reformers wonder why unions oppose charter schools, it is because the overwhelming majority of charter schools do not permit their teachers to join a union and to have a voice in their working conditions, in the curriculum, or discipline policies, or anything else.
The money behind the charter movement never wanted unions in their schools.
[Michigan’s] focus on free markets and privatization — 79 percent of Michigan’s charter schools are run by for-profit management companies— set a somewhat strained tone between the local unions and the charter movement. Nationally a similar phenomenon was occurring, resulting in the AFT and the National Education Association, the two largest teachers unions, taking national stances against charters as well. In 1993, one year after the first charter opened, Shanker himself renounced the idea, calling charters an anti-union “gimmick.”
As unions pushed against charter schools, the education reform movement shoved back with a narrative of schools in crisis, which largely blamed incompetent teachers, and the unions protecting them, for the achievement gap. Charter schools could do their part in this generation’s civil rights battle — education equality — by using their flexibility to get around unions and collective bargaining, and instead stand up for hiring-and-firing latitude.
While the Michigan Association of Public School Academies’ spokesperson Buddy Moorehouse says the coalition for charter school leaders “does not have an official stance on unions” (MT tried getting in touch with president Dan Quisenberry on several occasions but he would only speak through Moorehouse), their website indicates partiality explaining that most charter schools don’t have unions because they “prefer the ability to [be] innovative and remove the red tape element when a teacher is not performing.”
The Great Lakes Education Project, a Michigan-based charter advocacy group, more accurately highlights the dichotomy between unions and charter schools. Funded largely by the right-to-work, union adverse DeVos clan, the organization has been forthright in its declaration of union failures, stating on its website in 2004 that unions are “status quo forces looking to protect their cash cow.”
The entire article is worth reading to understand the politics of unions and charters. Unions are now trying to organize charter teachers, and they hail each school that they win as a big success, but the reality is that the charter movement is at heart a union-busting movement. Its leaders are hostile to unions, as they are to public audits and any other intrusion on their freedom to operate as they wish with public money.
The Detroit Free-Press speculates about why Ichigan did not win $45 million to create new charter schools. Well, it could be because the stat does not exercise oversight of charter authorizers or charter schools. It could be because the state’s charter schools perform poorly. It could be because the Detroit Free Press ran a series about charters and their lack of accountability or transparency or quality.
But why did Ohio win $71 million for its equally poor charter industry?
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.
Stephanie Keiles is (or was) a math teacher in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She loves teaching. She loves her students. But the mandates and budget cuts finally got to her. I met Stephanie in Austin at the first Network for Public Education conference and again in Chicago at our second conference.
Here’s the piece:
I am sitting here in my lovely little backyard on a beautiful Michigan summer day, drinking a Fat Tire Amber Ale, and crying. I am in tears because today I made one of the hardest decisions of my life; I resigned from my job as a public school teacher. A job I didn’t want to leave — but I had to.
A little background. I didn’t figure out that I wanted to be a math teacher until I was 28. As a kid I was always told I was “too smart” to be a teacher, so I went to business school instead. I lasted one year in the financial world before I knew it was not for me. I read a quote from Millicent Fenwick, the (moderate) Republican Congresswoman from my home state of New Jersey, where she said that the secret to happiness was doing something you enjoyed so much that what was in your pay envelope was incidental. I quit my job as an analyst at a large accounting firm determined to find my passion. I floundered for a while, and then eventually got married and decided I would be a stay-at-home mom, but only until my kids were in school. Then I would need to find that passion.
I was pregnant with my oldest child, sitting on a sofa in Stockholm, Sweden, when I had my epiphany — I would be a math teacher. A middle school math teacher! I thought about it and it fit my criteria perfectly. No, I wasn’t thinking about the pension, or the “part-time” schedule, or any of the other gold-plated benefits that ignorant people think we go into the profession for. Two criteria: I would enjoy it, and I would be good at it. Nine years and four kids later, I enrolled in Eastern Michigan University’s Post-Baccalaureate teacher certification program, and first stepped into my own classroom at the age of 40. I was teaching high school, because that’s where I had my first offer, and I was given five classes of kids who were below grade-level in math. And I still loved it. I knew I had found my calling. After three years I switched districts to be closer to home and to teach middle school, where I belonged. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven! I was hired to teach in my district’s Talented and Gifted program, so I had two classes of 8th graders who were taking Honors Geometry, and three classes of general 8th grade math. This coming year I was scheduled to have five sections of Honors Geometry — all my students would be two, and sometimes three, years advanced in math. I was also scheduled to have my beloved first hour planning period, and I was excited to work with a new group of kids on Student Council. It was looking to be a great year — and I’m still walking away.
My friends, in real life and on Facebook, know what a huge supporter of public schools I am. I am a product of public schools, and my children are the products of public schools. Public education is the backbone of democracy, and we all know there is a corporatization and privatization movement trying to undermine it. I became an activist after Gov. Rick Snyder and his Republican goons took over Michigan and declared war on teachers. I am part of a group called Save Michigan’s Public Schools; two years ago we put on a rally for public education at the Capitol steps that drew over 1,000 people from all over the state with just three weeks’ notice and during summer break. I have testified in front of the Michigan House Education Committee against lifting the cap on charter schools, and also against Common Core. I attended both NPE conferences to meet with other activists and bring back ideas to my compadres in Michigan. I have been fighting for public education for five years now, and will continue to do so.
But I just can’t work in public education anymore. Coming from the Republicans at the state level and the Democrats at the national level, I have been forced to comply with mandates that are NOT in the best interest of kids. I am tired of having to perform what I consider to be educational malpractice, in the name of “accountability”. The amount of time lost to standardized tests that are of no use to me as a classroom teacher is mind-boggling. And when you add in mandatory quarterly district-wide tests, which are used to collect data that nothing is ever done with, it’s beyond ridiculous. Sometimes I feel like I live in a Kafka novel. Number one on my district’s list of how to close the achievement gap and increase learning? Making sure that all teachers have their learning goals posted every day in the form of an “I Can” statement. I don’t know how we ever got to be successful adults when we had no “I Can” statements on the wall.
In addition, due to a chronic, purposeful underfunding of public schools here in Michigan, my take-home pay has been frozen or decreased for the past five years, and I don’t see the situation getting any better in the near future. No, I did not go into teaching for the money, but I also did not go into teaching to barely scrape by, either. As a tenth-year teacher in my district, I would be making 16% less than a tenth-year was when I was hired in 2006. Plus I now have to pay for medical benefits, and 3% of my pay is taken out to fund current retiree health care, which has been found unconstitutional for all state employees except teachers. And I’m being asked to contribute more to my pension. Financial decisions were made based on anticipated future income that never materialized, for me and for thousands and thousands of other public school teachers. The thought of ANY teacher having to take a second job to support him/herself at ANY point in his/her career is disgusting to me, yet that’s what I was contemplating doing. At 53, with a master’s degree and twelve years of experience.
If I were poorly compensated but didn’t have to comply with asinine mandates and a lack of respect, that would be one thing. And if I were continuing my way up the pay scale but had to deal with asinine mandates, that would be one thing. But having to comply with asinine mandates AND watching my income, in the form of real dollars, decline every year? When I have the choice to teach where I will be better compensated and all educational decisions will be made by experienced educators? And I will be treated with respect? Bring it on.
So as of today I have officially resigned from my district, effective August 31st, which is when I will start my new job as a middle school math teacher at an independent school. I am looking forward to being treated like a professional, instead of a child, and I’m pretty sure I will never hear the words, “We can’t afford to give you a raise”, or worse (as in the past two years), “You’re going to have to take a pay cut.” I am looking forward to not having to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on classroom supplies. And the free lunch, catered by a local upscale market, will be pretty sweet, too.
I will miss my colleagues more than you could ever know, especially my math girls and my Green Hall buddies. It really breaks my heart to leave such a wonderful group of people. In fact, it’s pretty devastating. But I have to do what’s best for me in the long run, and the thought of making more money and teaching classes of 15 instead of 34, and especially not having to deal with all the BS, was too much to refuse.
I will always be there to fight for public education. I just can’t teach in it.
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.
Mitchell Robinson, Associate Professor of Music Education at Michigan State University, has compiled a handy guide to the bold idea of “achievement school districts.”
There is the Recovery School District in New Orleans; the Education Achievement Authority in Michigan; the Achievement School District in Tennessee; and more on the way in other states.
The main thing you need to know about these experimental districts is that they promise rapid improvement in the state’s lowest performing schools, and all of them have failed.
Here are the key traits of Achievement School Districts:
Individual ASD schools are often required to pay a “kickback” or “tax” to the state ASD authority for the “privilege” of being identified as a “low performing school”. In Nevada, “ASD schools receive the same state and local per-pupil resources that they would have received as part of their original home district. This includes local, state, and federal funding. As with other charter school sponsors, the ASD will receive a small administrative fee from each school it authorizes.” (bold added)
In other words, in spite of the probability that an ASD school has been chronically underfunded for years, perhaps decades, the state will now take its own cut from whatever local, state and federal funding the school may be receiving for administrative overhead, further decreasing the actual number of dollars that are going to classrooms, teachers and children.
Local control, long recognized as a hallmark of public education, is a dinosaur in ASDs. In Detroit, the locally-elected school board still meets, but has essentially been stripped of all power and authority. The members of the elected school board refer to themselves as being “exiled,” and the newly elected state superintendent of schools has called on the governor and state legislators to return control of the Detroit Public Schools to the local school board, saying, “I believe we ought to have a Detroit school district for the Detroit community.” Instead, Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed a radical plan to split the city’s schools into two districts: one to educate children, and the other devoted to addressing the district’s debt problem.
Even though it is often trumpeted as an integral aspect of effective school governance, very few ASDs follow their own propaganda when it comes to transparency in reporting. Detroit’s EAA is an especially notorious offender in this respect, making claims that do not stand even the faintest amounts of scrutiny. According to Wayne State professor of education Thomas Pedroni, the EAA’s “internal data directly contradicts their MEAP data. Even Scantron, the maker of the internal assessment, would not stand behind the EAA’s growth claims. And Veronica Conforme, the current EAA Chancellor, removed all the dishonest growth claims from their advertising and their website, and told me personally she doesn’t give them credence for the purpose the EAA used them for.” For more from Dr. Pedroni on the EAA’s specious relationship with transparency, see this, and this.
Punitive vs. Educative Methods
Many ASD charters include language regarding the possible consequences if schools do not meet “adequate yearly progress” goals, such as: “Operators of ASD schools that do not demonstrate meaningful improvement will be held accountable pursuant to policies set by the ASD.” Indeed, school closings have become a prominent tool in the school reform playbook:
Washington, D.C. closed 23 buildings in 2008. Officials are currently considering another 15 closures.
New York City closed more than 140 schools since 2002; leaders recently announced plans to shutter 17 more, beginning in 2013-14.
Chicago closed 40-plus buildings in the early 2000s. The district recently released a list of 129 schools to be considered for closure.
This approach follows guidelines first established in the No Child Left Behind legislation, which stipulate draconian changes for any school that fails to meet yearly progress within five years….
This thinking represents a sea change in terms of strategy with respect to schooling and education policy. Never in our nation’s history have we taken a punitive approach rather than an educative approach when schools or children have struggled with demonstrating expected levels of progress.
Gary Rubinstein watched a panel discussion on the reform movement’s three allegedly successful turnaround districts. He reports on the discussion here. The discussion was sponsored by the Fordham Institute, which is in the forefront of the privatization movement. This is an impressive debunking of “reformer” boasts. It is especially important because so many in the media take those false claims at face value, and several states say they intend to copy one of these failed models.
Rubinstein points out that none of these highly touted examples of “reform” success are successful. New Orleans is a swamp of conflicting data, but the bottom line is that it continues to be one of the lowest performing districts in one of the lowest performing states in the nation. The Tennessee “Achievement School District” is based on a bold and wholly unrealistic pledge by Chris Barbic that he could take the lowest performing schools in the state and lift them into the state’s highest 25% in only five years. That has not happened, and it may never happen. The third speaker is from Michigan’s woeful Education Achievement Authority, which has produced numerous scandals but not much academic progress for the students.
Rubinstein uses his keen mathematical intelligence to dissect each of the reformers’ claims. In the case of the Achievement School District, he points to the slippery use of data (a common trait among all the “reform” projects):
In a very revealing moment, Barbic explains that he’s the one who came up with the bottom 5% to top 25% in five years. He could have just said bottom 5% to bottom 10% and he wouldn’t be taking such heat now, but having such an ambitious goal had a positive side effect since “It created a momentum and an urgency that we needed to create to get this off the ground” and allowed them to recruit ‘partners’ and leaders and teachers. In other words, it was a lie, but it was a worthwhile one since it tricked people into giving us their money.
Barbic makes some bizarre claims about the success so far of the ASD like that the bottom 5% ‘priority schools’ are growing ‘four times faster than the rest of the state.’ To put this in context, the rest of the state of Tennessee has had flat math scores and declining reading scores. So if the state went up, on average, of .25%, then ‘four times’ that is just 1%.
Watching these three turnaround gurus quote misleading statistics, give vague abstract answers, and really offer nothing in terms of concrete ideas from what they’ve learned in trying (unsuccessfully) to turnaround their respective districts, made me think that rather than call these ASDs, it would be more accurate to call them BSDs.
NPR has a good news story from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. Brimley Elementary School that serves many low-income students, and it is thriving. More than half the students are Native American.
What’s the secret of their success? Federal aid of an extra $1 million. And it makes a difference.
The principal explains what he does with the extra money:
“So that does help, big time. That really gives us an extra pot of money,” says Routhier. He adds that the school uses that pot for things like hiring more staff and early interventions for struggling students. There’s a resource teacher for special education and a speech and language pathologist.
“First-graders who are having a tough time with reading and writing get one-on-one time with a specialist. There’s an intervention teacher for kids in fourth, fifth and sixth grades — they mostly focus on math. There are teachers’ aids to help out in all the kindergarten, first- and second-grade classrooms. And class sizes are small, averaging 22 kids.”
Teachers regularly give diagnostic assessments to see what the students need and how they are progressing.
There is no miracle ingredient, no silver bullet. It makes south sense that you wonder how it became a news story. But in these crazy times, when everyone has a plan to change everything, common sense seems shocking.
The Leona Group, a for-profit charter corporation that runs the schools of Highland Park, Michigan, will not offer high school classes next year. It will also end its contract one year early. And enrollment in the schools has dropped by 40% since the for-profit takeover. It is just not that profitable to offer high school.
Leona is closing the only high school in the district, and students were stunned.
Hannah, a rising junior, said the students were shocked and upset. “A lot of us couldn’t believe that they’d close the only high school in Highland Park,” she told the World Socialist Web Site. “We thought they couldn’t do that, because where would we go? But the superintendent called us all down to a meeting in the lunchroom and said she had done everything humanly possible to try to keep the school open.
“It’s really crazy. I am going to miss this school.”
A community meeting has been scheduled for Monday, June 8, for parents and students scrambling to find new schools. They will be assigned to the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) system and reportedly will be offered enrollment at DPS schools, a range of other charter operations, as well as slots in the so-called “failing school district” run by the state’s Education Achievement Authority.
Displaced students, facing the hardship of much longer commutes, will be given bus passes. This hardly compensates for the potentially drastic increase in commute times. For a student to take a bus from the current high school, Highland Park Renaissance, to the closest DPS high school, Pershing, would require three buses. Wait times in the city are beyond onerous in the former “Motor City” where buses can be hours late. A single bus ride could take students to Cass Tech High School; however, that school has a very selective application process.
Hannah said she would be spending her senior year at the Detroit Public Service Academy. DPSA is another Leona Group-run charter school, whose students are called “cadets” and specialize in police, military and emergency responder skills.
“It’s not that I want to do that kind of work,” she explained, “I want to do culinary arts, but they’ll have other subjects too. The DPSA will provide buses right at the CVS to get you to the school. If your parents can’t take you to a further school, you need to do what you have to, to get an education.”
It’s all about the kids. The state of Michigan has washed its hands of responsibility or accountability for public education.