Archives for category: Detroit

California teacher Tom Ultican has been systematically deconstructing the “Destroy Public Education Movement,” one claim, one city at a time.

In this post, he explores the disastrous consequences of the policies of school choice zealots, especially the DeVos family. Every intervention made things worse, especially for the poorest children, who live in Detroit. They were not simply abandoned. Their schools and city were ransacked by raiders of DPE.


Mercedes Schneider describes Betsy DeVoid’s effort on Twitter to recover from her awful interview on 60 Minutes, which made her appear ignorant and clueless, even about her own state.

In the interview, she feigned ignorance when Lesley Stahl said that the state’s scores on NAEP dropped precipitously over the past decade of choice, which Betsy engineered. But Lesley Stahl knew.

The best Betsy could come up with was that Detroit charters—which select their students— have higher scores than Detroit public schools. But even the charter scores were abysmal.

If Betsy wants to argue the miracle of choice, Detroit is not a good example. No miracle.



At a town hall meeting in Detroit, students, families, and teachers spoke out against the damage caused to them by the false promise of “school choice.” Allie Gross covered the meeting for the Detroit Free Press.

One parent described the wonderful school attended by his child with cerebral palsy; it was to save money.

“In 2008, Alfred Wright enrolled his son, Timothy, in kindergarten at Oakman Elementary/Orthopedic, a small school on the Detroit’s northwest side that specialized in teaching students with special needs.

“Timothy had recently been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and the school — which came with spacious hallways, discreet changing rooms, small class sizes, and an on-site nurse — seemed like the perfect match.

“And, according to Wright, it was. For five years, he watched his son thrive in the close-knit and accepting community. Oakman not only was prepared to accommodate Timothy’s needs but it helped Wright, as a parent, better understand his child.

“But then the seemingly unexpected happened. In spring 2013, Roy Roberts, Detroit Public Schools’ second emergency manager, announced that Oakman would be one of six schools to close the following school year. It would add to the list of nearly 100 district schools that had shuttered since 2009, when the state took over DPS due to finance.

LWright and the rest of the parents were given two traditional public school options: one that was 1.2 miles away and the other that was 2.4 miles. Both choices fell within the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state for academic performance. More notably, neither were handicap accessible.

“All of the things we feared happened,” Wright said, explaining how issues at Henderson Academy, where Timothy ultimately ended up, ranged from bullying and isolation to a lack of knowledge and preparedness when it came to educating students with special needs.

”This reality — instability, uncertainty and inefficient resources — is why on Tuesday night, Wright and Timothy made their way to Wayne State University’s Law School to participate in an Education Town Hall hosted by the #WeChoose Campaign. A movement made up of 25 organizations from across that country — including the NAACP, Advancement Project, Dignity in Schools and Journey for Justice Alliance — the group is working to support racial justice and end educational inequality via, among many things, town hall gatherings that bring attention to what the group sees as “the illusion of school choice.”

“Parents, students, and educators do not choose the sabotage of their neighborhood schools, school closings, zero tolerance policies that target black and brown students, punitive standardized testing school deserts,” the group’s mission statement explains. “We choose equity, not the scam called school choice.”




Tuesday, February 13 is the next National Critical Conversation on Public Education, and it will be held on the Wayne State campus in Detroit.

Jitu Brown, Kamau Kheperu and Tom Pedroni are the planning committee and Yohuru Williams is the MC.

Keynoters are Randi Weingarten and Lily Garcia.

Detroit youth and parents are playing prominent roles.

Here is the Facebook event page.

A new blogger, a teacher in Detroit who has taught in both charter and public schools, ponders here why it is so hard to desegregate the public schools in Detroit.

Detroit has lots of segregated schools and lots of choice.

He notes:

“Thus, a problem with school of choice is that many White parents simply remove their children from schools with increasingly Black student populations, either taking them to Whiter public school districts Whiter charter schools, or Whiter private schools. Regardless if this is the intention, the result is the same: students are losing out on the valuable opportunity to learn next to students that don’t look like them.”

Doug Ross, a charter founder in Detroit, wrote an opinion piece for the Detroit News in which he shows that Detroit charters outperform the much abused Detroit public schools. This’s is no surprise since charters are free unlike public schools) to choose their students and to push out the students they don’t want. The public schools must enroll the students not wanted by the charters. This is hardly a meaningful comparison.

Ross wants to make the point that the charters get better results than public schools—without acknowledging the fundamental difference mentioned above—but he does acknowledge that the charters are far below the statewide averages on every measure (except high school graduation rate, which is easily manipulated). No charter miracles here.

Curiously, the Detroit public schools have higher SAT scores than the charters.

The Detroit charters perform far worse than the state averages in math and reading.

The percent of students rated proficient in reading in grades 3-8 is 12.3% is public schools; 23.6% in charter schools; and 47.3% statewide.

Ross concludes:

“The next few years are not about DPSCD-charter competition. They are about learning together across DPSCD-charter lines about the best ways to help Detroit children get the education they deserve, and providing the quality public schools the city urgently requires if it is to continue to move forward.”

He is right. Where we part company is on the basic concept of charters, that they have the freedom to choose their students while the public schools take the kids unwanted by the charters.

That is not a formula for high quality public schools or for equity.

[I am reposting this because it was wrongly attributed to Richard Schwartz, when in fact, as I just learned, it was written by the brilliant educator and photographer Susan Lee Schwartz. She sent it to me using her husband’s email, which caused my confusion.]

As readers know, I wrote an article <a href="“>about how to help Detroit public schools. After 25 years of charters, it should be obvious that they have failed and they are now the status quo.

In response, a Michigan blogger associated with the DeVos-funded Mackinac Center misleadingly summarized my article as a plea for “sports teams,” when in fact it made the straightforward proposal that poor kids need what rich kids expect to get every day. But my critic insisted—absurdly—that my big ask was for “sports teams.”

Then came a rebuttal by our friend Susan Schwartz:

“I have been saying for a long time now, that no society or civilization survives if the decisions they make are based on lies.

“In this post-truth society, where propaganda is permitted to compete with facts in the name of ‘free speech, genuine journalism is Not practiced. In this day of ‘balanced’ news, where every opinion gets to be aired as if it truthful, serious conversation is impossible.

“An example of this appeared before me today, regarding the subject of the truth about charter schools. You see, I read and write at the blog of Dr. Diane Ravitch, a brilliant, dedicated educator who was Ass’t Sec’y of State for Bush — who told him how his NCLB act would end public education.

“She is one of Politico’s MOST ‘IMPORTANT AMERICANS’ and is recognized as the top Academic in America; Thus, the Detroit News invited her to write a plan to revive education in Detroit — a city which has been a Petri dish for reformers for 25 years, and where Everything they tried has failed.,

“Diane wrote this proposal.

“Today, she writes about “the response ” that the paper published. “He or she ignored everything I said to focus on what I mentioned in passing… claiming that I believe what public schools need is sports teams. Sports teams? What about the arts, a full curriculum, experienced teachers, small classes, a nurse and social worker, well-tended facilities, robotics, dramatics? Nope. Just “sports teams.””What about “poor kids need what rich kids take for granted.” Nope.”The writer is defending a failed status quo.”DIane’s article was clearly hitting some nerves, otherwise the misrepresentations and defense of charters would not be so calculated to ridicule what she actually wrote.

“Diane, my dear friend, the Daily News ‘balanced’ your expert report with the propaganda from The Mackinac Center for Public Policy– a non-profit free market think tank headquartered in Midland, Michigan — a well-known critic of public institutions, unions, and anything that is not clearly captured for profits.

“No wonder American cannot figure out anything. No wonder so many Alabamans can be sold a predator as a senatorial candidate.

“And, at this moment, the GOP ‘s media is selling a tax plan that is GRAND THEFT from the pockets of the middle class.


Thank you, Susan.

Mackinac, stop lying.


I just saw an article which purported to respond to my article in the Detroit News saying that charters were an abject failure in Detroit.

I wrote:

“The only way to improve education in Detroit and Michigan is to admit error and change course.

“Michiganders should acknowledge that competition has not produced better schools. Detroit needs a strong and unified public school system that has the support of the business and civic community. There should be a good public school in every neighborhood.

“Every school should be staffed with credentialed and well-qualified teachers. Class sizes should be no larger than 20 in elementary schools, no larger than 24 in middle and high schools. Every school should offer a full curriculum, including the arts, civics, history, and foreign languages. Every school should have a library and media center staffed by a qualified librarian. Every school should have fully equipped laboratories for science. Every school should have a nurse and a social worker. Every school should be in tip-top physical condition.

“Students should have a program that includes physical education and sports teams, dance, chorus, robotics, dramatics, videography, and other opportunities for intellectual and social development.

“That is what the best suburban communities want for their children. That’s what will work for the children of Detroit and the rest of Michigan.”

This is the response.

The writer of the response claims that I believe what public schools need is sports teams. Sports teams. What about the arts, a full curriculum, experienced teachers, small classes, a nurse and social worker, well-tended facilities, robotics, dramatics? Nope. Just “sports teams.”

What about “poor kids need what rich kids take for granted.” Nope.

He or she ignored everything I said to focus on what I mentioned in passing.

The writer is defending a failed status quo.

Time for fresh thinking, not the failed charter idea.

The Detroit News invited me to write a plan to revive education in Detroit.

Detroit has been a Petri dish for reformers for 25 years. Everything they tried has failed.

Here is my proposal.

Eli Broad says he is stepping down from leadership of his foundation to “devote more time to his family.” This is cause for the New York Times to speak of his many gifts to the cultural life of Los Angeles.

We can only hope that he steps away from his hyperactive efforts to privatize public schools in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Eli Broad and his wife Edythe are graduates of the public schools of Detroit. But they feel no gratitude to the Great Democratic Institution that helped to lift them into a life of great riches.

Maybe they hated their teachers.

For whatever reasons, Eli Broad has contributed a significant bit of his vast fortune to training Superintendents to close public schools and replace them with privately run charters. They are known across the nation as “Broadies” and are viewed by parents and teachers as top-down bullies. He has created a plan to put half the children in Los Angeles into private charters. He contributes to publications and policy groups that defame public schools.

Why the hostility to public schools? Why doesn’t he want to make public schools the best they can be instead of undermining and closing them?

I don’t have the answer but I do recall meeting with Eli in his gorgeous penthouse on Fifth Avenue in New York City. What stuck with me was his frank admission that he knew nothing about education but was certain that good management was the key to solving the problems of urban education.

When he looks over his accomplishments, education reform will not be one of them. He meddled heavily in Detroit, and he and DeVos cannot call it a success for their shared philosophy.

There is not a single district he can point to with pride and claim success.

He has been a destructive force in the world of education. His love of disruption produced nothing but disruption.

While he is retiring from an active role in philanthropy, don’t be surprised if he continues to meddle in education, about which he admittedly knows nothing but has very strong opinions.