Nancy Flanagan tells the story of what happened to Detroit. Once it was a vibrant city with a thriving automobile industry, once its schools were the envy of urban education, now it is a wasteland, a symbol of urban decline. Corporate-style reformers like to blame the low test scores and dysfunction of the schools on the teachers. They say, if only they could get the right evaluation system. If only they could bust the union. If only they could abolish tenure.

But Flanagan says that Detroit has some of the finest teachers she has ever known.

Another way to look at the problems of Detroit:

” There are 50,000 homeless people in the city. There are 30,000 houses with no running water, 10,000 occupied homes with no power, and 40,000 homes in foreclosure. One-third of the land in the city is empty, vacant–and there’s no supermarket in the city limits, so 90% of purchased “food” comes from 7-11s, gas stations and fast food outlets. Burned-out houses are everywhere, and there are entire neighborhoods where unemployment is universal.”

Could these conditions have any bearing on what happens in the schools?