Thomas Pedroni of Wayne State University writes that Governor Gretchen Whitmer wants to impose corporate reform organizations on Benton Harbor to “save” the underfunded district. A cruel hoax. She is carrying forward the foul legacy of Republican Governor Rick Snyder.


Michigan Gov Whitmer Grants Benton Harbor Schools a Trojan Horse-load of School Privatizers 
Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, propelled to the state’s highest office just eight months ago by Black, Latino, and other progressive voters, is coming out to her electorate— not as a progressive, but as a third term retread of former Republican Governor and Flint Poisoner-in-Chief Rick Snyder.
Not only has Whitmer continued Snyder’s penchant for strong-arming and dismantling predominately Black school districts (he gutted Inkster, Buena Vista, Muskegon Heights, Highland Park, and Detroit; she’s “offered” to close Benton Harbor’s only high school in exchange for not immediately dissolving the entire district), but she also shares her predecessor’s fascination with the disruptive possibilities of some of our nation’s foremost corporate education reform companies.
While the Governor has responded to statewide outrage over her indecent proposal for Benton Harbor High School by grabbing her political life preserver and offering to consider alternative suggestions by the elected board (which returns to power after five years of state supervision on July 1), her rhetorical softening comes with a new “proposal”— Benton Harbor trustees must now agree to onboard a “turnaround expert” to guide their return to autonomy.
As the Benton Harbor trustees learned on Wednesday, June 26, just days before their restoration, the Governor has given them a choice— they must work with one of the four whole district “turnaround” companies she has laid on the table: AUSL (Academy for Urban School Leadership), TNTP (the New Teacher Project), TfC (Turnaround for Children), or ERC (Educational Resource Strategies).
AUSL, of course, has consistently failed to reach its promised benchmarks in the schools it’s taken over in Chicago and, remarkably, has underperformed non-AUSL Chicago schools despite receiving large resource infusions from the Gates Foundation. A recent Chicago Teachers Union analysis of AUSL teacher firing and replacement in Chicago found that the largest impact of AUSL takeover may be on the racial composition and experience level of the teaching workforce— fired teachers were disproportionately more experienced and of color.
TNTP, which traces its founding to the teacher-bashing Michelle Rhee and TFA’s Wendy Kopp, has been described by Peter Greene as the “big boys and girls” version of Teach for America, in that its objective is to transform people with established non-teaching careers into teachers. TNTP believes in using computer-administered multiple choice questions to identify better teachers.
The final two organizations, Turnaround for Children and Educational Resource Strategies, similarly partner with and are funded by a who’s who of the corporate education reform world— TfC by the Bezos Family Foundation, the Chan Zuckerburg Initiative, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Kipp DC, and America’s Promise Alliance, among others; and ERS by the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, TNTP, and the New Schools Venture Fund.
How Governor Whitmer’s staff came up with this short list of corporate education reform organizations for Benton Harbor Schools is unclear; but one thing is clear— the Governor is passing over the insights and recommendations she might garner from the Benton Harbor community; from educational researchers and teacher educators; from officials and researchers at the Michigan Department of Education; from rank and file teachers and their unions. Instead she is laser-focused on whoever it is from the corporate education reform world who is whispering in her ear.
Benton Harbor Area Schools, its children, and the people who elected Whitmer deserve much better than this, and there is no reason why they shouldn’t get it. But this can only happen if Whitmer chooses to disavow the corporate education Koolaid and actually listen to the people she claims to value.