Archives for category: Detroit

The DeVos family has had an outsize influence in Michigan, by its charitable contributions and its political contributions.

After the Detroit Free Press published a scathing series of articles about the corrupt, unaccountable practices in charter schools in the state, the legislature was shamed into drafting a law that would provide oversight of the charter sector.

The DeVos family gave out $1.5 million in campaign contributions to make sure that charter schools continued to be unregulated and unaccountable.

80% of the charter schools in Michigan operate for profit. No other state has so many for-profit operators.

Detroit is overrun with charters. It is at the very bottom of all urban districts tested by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, despite all its choice and competition. Or because of them.

Michigan doesn’t have vouchers, because the people of Michigan voted them down in 2000 when the DeVos family proposed an initiative to permit public funds to flow to nonpublic schools. The measure lost overwhelmingly, by 69-31%. No county in the state voted for it.

Milwaukee has had both charters and vouchers for more than 20 years, and it is among the lowest scoring urban districts in the nation, but ahead of Detroit.

Read what the New York Times wrote about charters in Detroit last June. DeVos now owns this mess.

Why should anyone open a charter school, get public money, and be free of oversight? Why should taxpayer dollars flow to religious schools when every state referendum on vouchers has gone down to inglorious defeat by large majorities?

Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, wrote a blistering article about the DeVos family’s purchase of the Republican members of the Michigan legislature in return for their abandonment of any oversight of Detroit’s woeful charter schools.

 

The DeVos family, owners of the largest charter lobbying organization, has showered Michigan Republican candidates and organizations with impressive and near-unprecedented amounts of money this campaign cycle: $1.45 million in June and July alone — over a seven-week period, an average of $25,000 a day.

 

 

The giving began in earnest on June 13, just five days after Republican members of the state Senate reversed themselves on the question of whether Michigan charter schools need more oversight.

 

There’s nothing more difficult than proving quid pro quos in politics, the instances in which favor is returned for specific monetary support.

 

But look at the amounts involved, and consider the DeVos’ near-sole interest in the issue of school choice. It’s a fool’s errand to imagine a world in which the family’s deep pockets haven’t skewed the school debate to the favor of their highly financed lobby.

 

And in this case, it was all done to the detriment of children in the City of Detroit.

 

Deep pockets, long arms

 

Back in March, the Senate voted to place charter schools under the same authority as public schools in the city, for quality control and attention to population need and balance, in line with a plan that had been in the works for more than a year, endorsed and promoted by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

 

But when the bills moved to the state House, lawmakers gutted that provision, returning a bill to the Senate that preserved the free-for-all charter environment that has locked Detroit in an educational morass for two decades. After less than a week of debate, the Senate caved.

 

Even then, several legislators complained that the influence of lobbyists, principally charter school lobbyists, was overwhelming substantive debate. The effort was intense, they said, and unrelenting.

 

Now we know what was at stake.

 

Five days later, several members of the DeVos family made the maximum allowable contributions to the Michigan Republican Party, a total of roughly $180,000.

 

The next day, DeVos family members made another $475,000 in contributions to the party.

 

It was the beginning of a spending spree that would swell to $1.45 million in contributions to the party and to individual candidates by the end of July, according to an analysis by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network…

 

The legislation the DeVos family bought preserves a unique-in-the-nation style of charter school experimentation in Detroit.

 

If I wanted to start a school next year, all I’d need to do is get the money, draw up a plan and meet a few perfunctory requirements.

 

I’d then be allowed to operate that school, at a profit if I liked, without, practically speaking, any accountability for results. As long as I met the minimal state code and inspection requirements, I could run an awful school, no better than the public alternatives, almost indefinitely.

 

That’s what has happened in Detroit since the DeVos family helped push the charter law into existence 20 years ago.

 

On average, the schools don’t perform on state and national tests much better than public schools. A few outliers have reached remarkable heights. A few have done much worse. And charter advocates have become crafty liars in the selling of their product.

 

They’ll crow, for instance, that nearly twice as many of their kids do as well on national math assessments as the public schools. What they don’t tout are the numbers, which show the public schools are 8%, and the charters at 15%.

 

Regardless of outcome, none of the charter school establishment has been subject of a formal oversight and review that would reward the best actors and improve the worst.

 

Education should always be about children. But in Michigan, children’s education has been squandered in the name of a reform “experiment,” driven by ideologies that put faith in markets, alone, as the best arbiters of quality, and so heavily financed by donors like the DeVos clan that nearly no other voices get heard in the educational conversation.

 

 

Students in Detroit are suing the state of Michigan for its negligence and failure to fund adequately the public schools of Michigan.

 

The state’s response: we are required to provide schools but literacy is not a fundamental right.

 

http://nypost.com/2016/11/25/michigan-ag-claims-school-kids-have-no-right-to-literacy-suit/

 

“The state of Michigan is fighting a lawsuit by seven Detroit schoolchildren who say their schools are horrible—by countering that “there is no fundamental right to literacy.”

 

“Michigan’s attorney general made the bizarre argument in requesting that a federal judge toss the kids’ lawsuit, Fox News in Detroit reported Thursday.

 

“The kids sued the state in September, saying that decades of indifference have left Detroit’s schools in deplorable condition.

 

“Schools don’t have enough teachers or books, are plagued by vermin and extreme temperatures, and have unsafe conditions, the kids argued.

 

“The state is obligated to teach kids to read and write, they assert in the lawsuit, which was filed by Public Counsel, a California-based law firm that helps the underprivileged.

 

“But Michigan is asking that the judge dismiss the case outright because under its constitution, state officials are required only to “provide for a system of free public schools.”

 

“What goes on in the schools isn’t their responsibility, they claim, and besides, “there is no fundamental right to literacy.”

 

“The lawsuit counters that the state has been responsible for Detroit’s schools since 1999, when it took them over.”

Mitchell Robinson writes here about Matt Lauter’s campaign to sell stuff from Shinola in Detroit and give the proceeds to “scholarships” for a Detroit charter school. Of course, the charter claims it is a “public school,” so it doesn’t charge tuition. This, it is impossible to give “scholarships” to a charter school. In fact, the money Lauter raises will go to a fund to create more charters and kill off the remnants of public education in Detroit. The Detroit public schools have lost 70% of their enrollment to the charters already. Surely, they want to keep some public schools open so they have a place to dump the kids the charters don’t want.

Why isn’t Matt Lauter raising money to help the neediest kids? They are in public schools, not charter schools.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1974 (Bradley v. Milliken) that a court could not order desegregation across district lines. The case referred to Detroit, which was highly segregated. That put an end to the possibility of metropolitan districts like the one already established in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC. The children of Detroit were doomed to remain in segregated, underfunded schools in an increasingly impoverished district.

This article reports the findings of a study of the most segregating lines dividing the children of different races. http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/08/where-school-district-borders-are-invisible-fences/497279/

[ALERT: I was just informed that Edbuild is funded by reformers who want to destroy our public schools. Keep that in mind as you read—DR]

“A few blocks away from Bernita Bradley’s house, the Detroit Public School district ends and the Grosse Pointe Public School System begins. The border is invisible, but with a 12-year-old daughter enrolled in DPS, the reminders for Bradley are impossible to ignore. Every student seems to have a Macbook. There’s the annual Grosse Pointe toy drive, which distributes free bicycles to kids who need them. And there are the parks with shiny new playground equipment, where parents routinely ask Bradley, “Do you live around here?”

“Ours are torn down and dilapidated,” Bradley says. “Just seeing theirs makes me feel bad.“

“According to a new report and interactive map by the education think tank EdBuild, the district border that Bradley navigates as a parent and an activist (she helped launch Enroll Detroit, which distributes information about school enrollment requirements to families) is the most income-segregating in the nation. The median property value in DPS is $45,100, versus $220,100 in suburban Grosse Pointe, and roughly half of the city student population lives in poverty, compared to one out of every 15 students across the district line—a difference of 42 percentage points. Local per-pupil public revenue is about the same, at around $4,650 per student, but that’s because Detroit now taxes properties at a rate of 8.7 percent each year to pay for its schools. This is 47 percent higher than the rate paid in Grosse Pointe, “where, it goes without saying, there are most likely no vermin carcasses under the desks,” says Rebecca Sibilia, the founder and CEO of EdBuild, in an email to CityLab.

“EdBuild’s report ranked the country’s top 50 segregating school-district borders. More than 60 percent of these borders are in Rust Belt cities in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, eastern Wisconsin, and Illinois, which have suffered from patterns of disinvestment similar to those in Detroit. As the city underwent decades of depopulation, hundreds of Detroit’s public schools closed, leaving properties abandoned and blighted. DPS now struggles with a budget deficit of nearly $300 million, along with frequent teacher shortages and staff walk-outs. Research shows that students coming from profound disadvantage need even more resources from schools than their wealthier peers to achieve equal outcomes—yet DPS cannot meet those needs, even with additional state funding.”

Poor Detroit has been a petri dish for every reformer idea. None of them has worked.

As Peter Greene puts it:

Michigan has run the entire table of reformster ideas– takeover of the district, creation of an achievement district, and charter operators brought in to replace the publics. Detroit is now a reformy buffet. Moreover, Detroit should be a beautiful display of how well the various reformster policies work. Except that it isn’t, because they don’t.

Detroit is a case study in state authorities looking at a system in crisis and saying, “Let’s try anything, as long as it doesn’t involve actually investing money and resources in the children of Those People.” Detroit has been a city in crisis for a while now, and that has allowed leaders to say, “We have a chance to fix education in this city and let some people make good money doing it. And if we can only get one of those things done, well, let’s go with the money-making one.”

When a crisis happens– a hurricane hits, the bottom is ripped out of a local economic driver– that opens up a gaping area of need in a state, officials can respond one of two ways. They can call on people of the state to rally, to provide aid and assistance to the affected communities. Or, they can try to build some sort of firewall between the affected communities and everyone else, try to insure that everyone else is protected from any effects, any cost created by the affected communities. The citizens of a state are like mountain climbers roped together and hanging onto the side of a precipice. When one loses his grip (either because of accident, weather conditions, or because he was pushed), the others can either try to haul him back up, risking trouble themselves, or they can cut the dangler loose. If they’re extra cynical, they can sell the dangler an umbrella “to break his fall,” and congratulate themselves on having saved him before they cut him loose.

Michigan’s leaders have treated the tragedy and decline of Detroit as an opportunity to sell umbrellas. They have stripped poor non-white citizens of democratic processes, of their very voices, while stripping critical systems like education and water for parts. The ship has been sinking and Michigan’s leaders have decided to fill the lifeboats with bundles of cash rather than human beings.

Reformers are willing to try anything, except spending more money to repair this woeful district. In Detroit, children of the state of Michigan have been used as guinea pigs for every faddish idea.

Allie Gross has reported in-depth on education issues in Detroit.

In this article, which appeared in Metro Times, she gives the context and background of the sudden closure of University YES Academy’s high school. High school students were told with only two weeks’ notice that they had to find a new school. One student she interviewed was just starting her senior year and was shocked to learn she had to find a new school at the last minute.

There is a backstory, and it relates to the school’s efforts to keep a union out.

“WHILE THE INSTABILITY FELT by the high schoolers at UYA Monday may seem like an isolated incident, it’s in fact one of several topsy-turvy occurrences that have transpired over the past few months — and really years.

“UYA, which opened its doors to sixth-grade students in the fall of 2010, came into local spotlight in the spring of 2015 when staff made public their desires to unionize. The decision was ill-received by the school’s then-charter management company, New Urban Learning (NUL), and by April NUL announced that it would be leaving UYA.

“We believe that a larger charter management organization with more resources and fresh ideas would better enable UYA to meet its 90-90-90 goals — game changing goals we believe are attainable,” the letter forwarded to the staff by Lesley Ester Redwine, the CEO of NUL, read.

“The news was crushing for staff, as the resignation of NUL meant that should the staff vote in favor of a union (which they did a few weeks later) they would have nobody to bargain with. At charter schools, the management company is the employer not the school board — which means the departure of the management company is also the departure of the employer the staff hoped to bargain with. More dispiriting, the departure of NUL (the employer) meant that everyone on staff was terminated and had to re-apply for their jobs. At the start of the following school year, only 17 of the school’s 68 employees had been there the year prior.

“While these were clear signs of instability there was one consistency. After leaving the school as NUL, Redwine created a new management company — InspirED Education — and submitted an RFP to run the school under the new company. The board decided to go with Redwine’s new company. In other words: the management company more or less stayed the same, but the obligation to bargain was gone. Redwine argued that she did not need to bargain because InspirED was not at the school at the time of the union vote and that the majority of the staff had changed since then.

“What complicates this story — and the instability seen at UYA — is what occurred next. In March the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint, alleging that Redwine created an “alter ego corporation” (InspirED Education) in order to avoid collective bargaining with the UYA staff, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of union representation in the spring of 2015. By May the school’s charter authorizer, Bay Mills Community College (located about 342 miles aways from the school), sent a letter of revocation, saying the school was at risk of losing its charter.

“In June, reports Michigan Radio, the school board struck a deal with the authorizer, which promised to get the school back into “good standings” if it dropped Redwine’s management company and found a new company to run the operations.

“This is where things get particularly tricky.

“At the end of June Redwine signed a settlement with Michigan ACTS promising to bargain with the staff; however, two days before the settlement agreement was signed, the UYA board announced their intentions to sign a contact with New Paradigm, a local charter management company run by self-proclaimed “education entrepreneur” Ralph Bland. While the board essentially had to find a new management company to keep the school open, the move once again shook up the school. For a second year in a row, the entire staff was fired and asked to re-apply for their jobs, and once again the obligation to bargain was voided. The big difference this time around is how it would so directly affect the students.”

While the charter operators were playing their games, the students were an after-thought. They were referred to other charters managed by the same corporation.

It is a shameful story: a business run by people who are indifferent to their students.

In Detroit, the University YES Academy convened its high school students to tell them to find another school because the charter school would not be opening.

Officials for University YES Academy held an impromptu meeting today to tell high school students they needed to find another school to attend. Only parents and students were allowed in the meeting, and they were barred from using recording devices.

“What are our kids supposed to do?” a parent told Metro Times reporter Allie Gross. “Another black school closed down. More black kids cannot be educated.”

The school’s management company, New Paradigm, handed parents and students a list of six other schools, including one of the company’s own schools, Detroit Edison Public School Academy, Gross reported from outside the meeting.

Students criticized New Paradigm for waiting until the last minute to announce the school’s closure.

“They call about everything else, but they don’t think to call about closing the school,” a student told Gross.

The University YES Academy, at 14669 Curtis St., will continue to teach K-8.

The school fought off a union drive in 2015.

Dora Taylor, parent activist in Seattle, describes that city’s battle to prevent the mayor from taking control of the public schools. She notes that the reason for mayoral control is to avoid the messy business of democracy, where parents and ordinary citizens get the opportunity to influence decisions about their schools and their children. Mayoral control and the establishment of state or local “emergency managers” are flimsy but powerful means of eliminating democracy and allowing politicians and elites to exert total control of decisions. Mayoral control and emergency managers clear the way for school closings and privatization. Parents don’t like school closings, but under mayoral control, schools are easily closed and replaced by charter schools.

Philadelphia, under the autocratic School Reform Commission, is constantly teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and collapse, as the SRC closes schools, fires teachers, cuts costs, and opens charters. Its attempt to void the union contract was recently tossed out by the state supreme court. Philadelphia’s public schools have been stripped bare, while its charters are thriving (except the ones led by people who have been indicted).

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel made history in an invidious way by closing 50 public schools in one day, claiming they were under enrolled, at the same time that he continued to open new charter schools.

One of the worst examples of the autocratic seizure of control occurred in Michigan under Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm. She led the way to the establishment of an emergency financial manager for Detroit, under whose watch the district’s deficit tripled and charter schools proliferated. Detroit is now a worst case scenario, where there is plenty of choice, but none of them are good choices. The recent New York Times article about Detroit schools was titled, “A Sea of Charter Schools in Detroit Leaves Students Adrift.”

Dora Taylor writes in The Progressive:

The most egregious example of a politician’s undemocratic control of public schools can be seen in the state of Michigan with the decision by former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to hire Emergency Financial Managers. The emergency managers have the power to take control of a city’s government, reduce pay, outsource work, reorganize departments and modify employee contracts. Emergency managers can also deem school districts “failing,” close public schools and convert them into charter schools.

The first appointed emergency manager, Robert Bobb, took over the Detroit Public School system in 2009. The County Circuit Court in 2011 found this takeover illegal but soon after, emergency managers were appointed in mostly minority communities around the state, including the city of Flint. In several of these towns, such as Highland Park, Michigan the public schools were closed and taken over by charter operators.

Darnell Earley, the unelected manager of Flint, presided over the devastating decision to switch the city’s water supply to the Detroit River resulting in lead poisoning of residents throughout the city. After the water disaster, Mr. Earley was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder to become the CEO of Detroit Public Schools.

Now the Emergency Managers are being named CEOs, as in Chicago, and given tremendous powers. These CEOs can:

Assume the financial and academic authority over multiple schools;

Assume the role of the locally elected school board for those schools they have been assigned;

Control school funds without the consent of the locally elected board;

Permanently close a school without the consent of the locally elected board;

Sell closed school buildings without the consent of the locally elected board; and

Convert schools into charter schools without the consent of the locally elected board.

The people have no voice or control over how their children are educated or by whom. The same holds true for mayoral control. That’s why, in Seattle, people are fighting back.

This is the kind of nondemocratic governance that organizations like ALEC love. Governor Rick Snyder loved it too, since it gave him control of so many districts. The emergency manager gambit blew up in his face when his own appointee, Darnell Early, was responsible for the decision to switch the water in Flint from a safe source to one that was not safe.

All of this matters because the fight for democracy is being waged in state after state. Georgia, for example, will decide in November, whether to allow a state commission to open charter schools against the wishes of the local community.

Let’s hope that former Governor Granholm recognizes that her decision to allow the appointment of emergency financial managers was a disaster. She is a member of Hillary Clinton’s transition team.

I recently heard from a teacher who taught in a charter middle school in Detroit. He is a certified social studies teacher, who has taught in both public and charter schools. The school he describes here is one of Michigan’s many for-profit schools (80% of charters in Michigan are run for profit). I asked him if he could write about his experience, and he sent the following:

“You are there to produce results, specifically test results; you are there to provide structure; you are not there to think; you are there to obey; you shall follow the curriculum; you shall train students for future careers and colleges; you need to enforce the rules and procedures; if students do not follow the rules and procedures, they need to go.

“White men in suits will watch your classes and nitpick your every move; every mistake and negative outcome is your fault. There is no excuse- there are never any excuses. Arrive earlier, stay later, care more, think less; others will go, maybe you will go; students will go; others will take your places. More structure- more discipline- take away recess- make the students sit in classrooms silently at lunch. Force students to march on the blue line all through the school- they need to obey. But don’t ask why all of this happens- never ask.

“Math and reading; reading and math; reading and more math” is what a student told me when I asked him what he worked on during summer school. These are taught because they are tested. Your job and the school’s charter depend on test score results. So, you teach math and reading test questions, even in classes named “Leadership,” “Workshop,” and “Computer Science.” History is the subject that doesn’t matter, science is the subject that doesn’t matter but gets computers. Gym, recess, art, and music are frivolous- there’s no time for that. Drill students more on test questions. Use the internet more- don’t reinvent the wheel- let your dean and principal do the thinking.
Stop the students from talking, from talking to one another; don’t let them talk using that hood talk, that’s not correct; they are not living correctly. You need to correct them, so put them in front of the computer and let the computer teach. Let the student’s mind go- they need to pass the test- THEY NEED TO PASS THE STANDARDIZED TEST OR ELSE WE FAIL.

“Let the curriculum do the thinking- your thoughts aren’t valued here. Your values aren’t valued here- that’s for JC Huizinga and Clark Durant (look them up). That’s for rich white men who didn’t go to charter schools or urban schools, who never taught in charter schools, who have no training in how to educate young minds. These are the same men who skim a buck off of broken down buildings and communities and who make $300k per year as figureheads but want to tell YOU how to uplift the poor and vulnerable on an at-will contract and a $40k/year salary.

“Let’s do something” Durant and Huizinga and the others must have said; they cared; they really did. But they asked the wrong questions; they didn’t learn their history. They created their own history; they want to take a giant eraser and erase the painful moments for those who are in pain; but you can’t erase pain. Pain and suffering and exclusion caused by systemic racism and lead poisoning and drug addiction and unstable home lives cannot be simply erased with business practices, more structure, and fancy gimmicks. These gimmicks, procedures, and pressures will not bring the jobs back to Detroit nor will it erase the poverty that causes shame and despair for the Black people that remain in the ashes. The charter schools rob the already crumbling public schools of money and students, rob the community from knowing what’s really going on, and pin full responsibility for uplifting students out of poverty on teachers.

“The true solutions require messy answers, holistic and complex answers, and they require the rich white men to give back some of their money, not just using their money to tell other people how to live- people that they don’t know, black faces in black spaces, places that these men would themselves never step foot in.

“So if you want to know what it’s like to teach in a charter middle school in Detroit, it devalues your life as a teacher, takes away your power and values just like it takes away the students’ power and values, substitutes them with gimmicks and buzzwords, and tells you that it’s your sole responsibility to uplift students out of poverty.”