Archives for category: Michigan

In this post, Mitchell Robinson lays out the strategy of Betsy and Dick DeVos in Michigan, which they have since exported to other states in their well-funded campaign to destroy public education and substitute for it a marketplace of for-profit charters and publicly-funded religious schools.

 

Robinson, a professor of music education at Michigan State, writes:

 

 

“As Michiganders know, Betsy and Dick DeVos are religious and school privatization/choice/voucher zealots. They were humiliated by the twin failures of voucher legislation in 2000 and Dick’s loss in the Michigan governor’s race to Jennifer Granholm in 2006, and these dual humiliations resulted in the development of the DeVos’ “long-game” strategy to achieve their goals of privatizing public education:

 

*destroy the Democrats’ biggest single source of financial support by gutting teacher unions via Right to Work legislation
*capitalize on the elimination of the charter school “cap” to explode the number of non-regulated and for-profit charter schools in the state
*use charter schools as the mechanism to “blur the lines” between public and private/religious schools
use this “blurring” of boundaries between church and state to build public support for the redistribution of public funds to religious and private schools”

 

In the timeline that Robinson created, he includes the infamous secret video of Dick DeVos speaking at the Heritage Foundation in 2002.

 

He writes:

 

“One of my first encounters with the DeVos ideology of education was stumbling upon this video of a speech that Amway heir Dick DeVos (husband of Betsy, brother-in-law of Blackwater private mercenary army founder Eric Prince, Betsy’s brother), gave on December 3, 2002, at the Heritage Foundation (which is funded generously by the DeVos family foundations). The gist of this speech was Mr. DeVos’ argument that school privatization was an issue that was deeply divisive, and not at all popular with the public; so in order to get vouchers and privatization through the legislature a “stealth approach” was necessary: “We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities.”

 

At least we know where she stands. She is not neutral among the different sectors of K-12 education. She doesn’t like public schools. She wants unregulated competition among charters and religious schools, all funded by taxpayers.

 

A few years back, I visited Michigan and spoke to a group of district superintendents who collectively represented about half the students in the state. They described Michigan’s public school choice program, which obliterated district lines. Students could go to any public school, taking their dollars with them. Every district competed with every other district to lure students because total revenues rose or fell based on enrollments. Each district spent about $100,000 a year on radio and TV advertising, trying to “poach” students from neighboring districts. No one liked this approach. No one thought it was educationally sound. It was a colossal waste of money. Add to this the competition with charters, most of which operate for profit, and you have a state school system focused on dollars as the bottom line, not students or education.

 

 

 

Jennifer Berkshire (aka EduShyster) is a funny, affable, charming person who often visits reformer gatherings, to learn more, get to understand the reformer ideas, and engage reformers face to face. Not in a hostile way, but as an interested observer who listens and learns.

 

In this remarkable post, she explains what Betsy DeVos wants. She first encountered Betsy DeVos at a Republican candidates’ parley in the summer of 2015. The candidates spoke, each outlining their bipartisan views on school choice, and DeVos spoke, and Berkshire wondered:

 

Could the education reform coalition’s major selling point, its bipartisan-ness, really stretch to incorporate the extreme right-wing views of DeVos?”

 

Some reformers are less than thrilled with DeVos, says Berkshire, especially because of her personal role in torpedoing efforts to bring some order and accountability to the charters in Detroit. Other reformers did not appreciate the “outsized role she has played in shaping Detroit as an, um, education laboratory in which an out-of-control lab fire now burns.” Detroit is hardly an advertisement for educational reform via school choice.

 

For a brief moment in time, there was a genuinely broad-based coalition that wanted to save Detroit. It formed in 2014, and it seemed to be heading towards a hopeful conclusion. But the effort collapsed in the summer of 2016:

 

The feel-good story screeched to a halt last summer thanks to a wall of GOP opposition. Except that *wall* and *opposition* make it sound as though there were a whole bunch of people involved in the kneecapping that went down. There was a single family: Betsy and Dick DeVos. The bill that ultimately passed, with the DeVos’ blessing and with the aid of the lawmakers they bankroll, did virtually nothing to regulate Detroit’s *wild west* charter school sector, and will likely hasten the demise of the Detroit Public Schools. While Michigan’s burgeoning charter lobby was well represented in the final negotiations, elected representatives from Detroit were missing; in a clear violation of House rules, they weren’t even allowed to speak on the bill. And in a final twist of the shiv, the legislation that emerged lets uncertified teachers teach in Detroit, something not allowed anywhere else in Michigan. Oh, and don’t forget the new punishments for teachers who engage in *sick outs* to call attention to the appalling conditions in the city’s schools.

 

There is a queasy, racialized undertone to much of the education reform debate, with its constant implication that students of color fare best in schools over which their communities have little say. In Michigan, though, that argument has been taken by reform advocates, Betsy DeVos chief among them, to its extreme conclusion. The official message of DeVos’ organization, the Great Lakes Education Project, during last summer’s legislative battle was that dissolving the Detroit Public Schools would *protect kids and empower parents,* a cause that came with its own hashtag: #EndDPS. But what GLEP really meant was hard to miss. Detroit is a tax-hoovering abyss whose residents are too corrupt and incompetent to oversee their own schools.

 

After the GOP took control of Michigan in 2010, the charter cap was lifted, then eliminated. The state, once home to the nation’s industrial unions, became a right-to-work state. The legislature passed a law allowing “emergency managers” to take control of financially stressed districts, with unlimited powers. Voters passed a refendum eliminating the emergency managers, but the legislature revived it in a budget bill.

 

Guess whose districts and and schools were taken over by emergency managers and turned over to charter operators?

 

You’ve heard about Detroit, and Flint, with its poisoned water, but there are other less well known cases—like Benton Harbor, Muskegon, and Highland Park, which at last count was down to a single public school. Within a few years of Public Act IV’s enactment, half of Michigan’s Black population was living under some form of emergency management. *The municipalities and school districts that have been taken over are predominantly African American and poor,* David Arsen, an economist at Michigan State University, told me when I interviewed him last summer. *The optics are not good, especially in the context of the long civil rights struggle for voting rights.*

 

Berkshire realized that the real danger of the Trump era is that he is “moldable clay,” amenable to the plans of others.

 

The terrifying thing about the dawning of the Trumpian era isn’t just the specific awfulness of the President-elect’s policies. It’s that Trump is what the long gamers think of as *moldable clay,* receptive to whatever plots and plans they’ve spent years dreaming and scheming up. In Michigan, the long game has long been about making over the state’s schools: breaking up the government monopoly over education and getting rid of that pesky prohibition that keeps public monies from following kids to private schools, especially private schools of the religious variety. When Detroit-based writer Allie Gross set out this summer to document the long history of the efforts of the DeVos family and its allies to remake Detroit’s schools, she dug up an archival piece that a reporter at her paper, the Metro Times, wrote in 1995. Gross’ predecessor described a *relentless attack* on Michigan’s public education system, and a *Trojan horse* meant to blur the distinction between public and private schools en route to realizing the real goal: public funding for parochial schools.

 

Betsy DeVos is playing the long game, and she knows what she wants. What others want is irrelevant.

 

 

 

 

Nancy Flanagan is retired from a distinguished career as a teacher in Michigan. She sent the following comment accompanied by this article about how school choice has increased segregation in the public schools of Holland, Michigan.

Flanagan writes:

“This is the best, most accurate and representative piece on what the DeVos family–over 25 years–has done to public education in Michigan. Slowly, subtly, they have damaged the Holland public school system, trading on racism and fear to chip away at a once-highly respected and functional system. Please understand: Holland used to be an all-white, all-Christian, largely Dutch town. When diversity arrived, DeVos & Co. planted one of their first “innovative” charters there, Black River. Holland’s white enrollment has plummeted 60 percent. The linked article explains how DeVos used charters (because vouchers necessitated a change in state legislation, which they could not get through) as a strategy to bust integration and bust teachers unions, in the place where they had the most success: western Michigan.

“My best friend was a teacher for many years in Holland. As Hispanic (and it’s mostly Hispanic) families moved in, white families moved out. The dis-integration of a sturdy, well-run public district–the kind of district you wouldn’t expect to go under, because it once had considerable public support… This is not “low-hanging fruit”–a chronically stressed urban or rural district in poverty. This is the next phase…

Please read: http://bridgemi.com/2016/11/betsy-devos-and-the-segregation-of-school-choice/

 

 

 

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?

GOP state leaders in Michigan are warning that they plan to find a “solution” to the problem of teachers’ pensions. This is the DeVos legislature, commanded by Republicans who salute when the  DeVos family calls.

 

 

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.

 

 

Nancy Flanagan, retired NBCT teacher and current blogger, explains in a comment what has happened in Michigan, where she lives:

 

 
I live in Michigan, where the charter movement was an outgrowth of Betsy DeVos’s inability to get a voucher law through, resulting in her turning to charter schools (DeVos family paid–twice!–to put failed voucher initiatives on the ballot). Initially, 25 years ago, the goal was conversion charters–making Christian (not Catholic) education free for white parents in western Michigan, by putting up a new sign and moving Bible Study classes to the end of the day, as an “elective.” A few education progressives took advantage of the law to start high-tech schools (very sexy, at the time), including one in Henry Ford Museum. Charters were all about serving the privileged kids and the promising kids, with new, out-of-the-box thinking.

 

It wasn’t until the DFER Democrats came along, promoting charters as a “civil rights” initiative (just about the time the admin turned over), that charters could also be positioned as a cheap and promising strategy for “saving” kids in troubled urban districts. Connecting charters to the civil rights movement was a brilliant (although utterly failed) strategy, because the charter model produced nothing of consequence in urban education, except financial malfeasance.

 

People who live in states where charters are very limited and relatively new immediately perceive–because we have plenty of evidence now– all the things that are wrong with the charter movement. You have to go to a state where the policy has been in place for 25 years–like Michigan, which has 300+ charter schools–to see what advanced-stage charter syndrome looks like.

 

Jay Mathews is just stuck in the past, following an old (but seductive) narrative. And he has plenty of company–witness the terrible, deceptive coverage of education (and the policies of major candidates) in the 2016 election.

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 is a professor of music education at Michigan State University. He writes here about the Betsy DeVos that the people of Michigan know, the one who wants to monetize education spending and voucherize the schools so that families can spend their education dollars wherever they want.

 

Robinson writes:

 

The news that Donald Trump has named Betsy DeVos as his choice for Secretary of Education is just another brick in the wall for Mr. Trump’s plan to turn the US into a giant flea market, selling off the bits and pieces of a once great nation for parts to the highest bidders.

 

I had to laugh in recent weeks as folks set off alarms at the rumors of Michelle Rhee or Eva Moskowitz being appointed to this position. The truth is Rhee and Moskowitz are mere amateurs at this school privatization scheme. For Pete’s sake, Ms. Moskowitz still spends her days actually stepping foot in to schools in NYC, terrorizing students and teachers. And Rhee, a former Teach for America recruit, whose “go to” classroom management technique was taping the mouths of her reluctant “scholars”, has been in hiding after a disastrous run as Superintendent of DC’s schools, an experiment that ended in failure for all concerned, and threatened to dim the rising star of the corporate reform movement–until recently, when she and her icky hubby reemerged for a photo op at Trump Tower.

 

Betsy DeVos, on the other hand, is a pro at this game. And unlike Rhee and Moskowitz, who depend on the kindness–and financial backing–of others, Betsy has the financial wherewithall to bankroll her own plans. Like her new boss, Ms. DeVos–allegedly–won’t be beholden to any “special interests” in her efforts to turn our public education system into a Sotheby’s auction.

 

Rest assured, also, that unlike Ms. Moskowitz, Betsy DeVos hasn’t been spending any of her valuable time in…”schools” lately, and certainly hasn’t been close enough to a real, live student to tape them up–even though I’m sure she approves of Ms. Rhee’s approach to building a safe and welcoming classroom learning environment. No, Ms. DeVos has been busy dreaming up new ways to capitalize on the billions of taxpayer dollars currently being wasted on children, teachers, and schools, and helping her puppet in the Michigan governor’s residence with his plan to destroy the state’s schools.

 

Remember, Michigan is the state where the Governor poisoned the water in one of the city’s largest cities, and more than 400 days later has still refused to replace a single water pipe. And the state whose lawyers recently claimed–and I swear I’m not making this up–that the state’s children had no “fundamental right to literacy.”

 

This is Betsy DeVos’ and Rick Snyder’s dream for how a state should govern–that a state and its elected officials have no responsibility to provide clean drinking water or a quality education for its children. It’s a dystopian vision of the future that absolves a state’s leaders and institutions from providing, maintaining, repairing, and supporting its schools, roads, water systems, and infrastructure, or protecting its most vulnerable citizens from the permanent damage caused by a poisoned water supply.

 

So, if you want to know what our new federal education policy is going to look like under Secretary DeVos, what has happened in Michigan under Gov. Snyder–and bankrolled and supported by the DeVos family–provides perhaps the best example of what to expect…

 

Robinson tells the story of the “skunk works,” which was a secret gathering of Snyder allies intent on turning public schools into “a virtual bonanza for profiteers.”

 

The idea behind the “skunk works” plan was to radically increase the use of technology (i.e., virtual charters, online classes) to dramatically reduce the number of teachers needed, and to decouple tax dollars from schools by providing every student in the state with an “education debit card” that could be used for a wide range of educational experiences (i.e., music lessons, art classes, sports teams).

 

The ultimate goal here was to create a new “value school” model in the state, delivering schooling at a per-student cost of roughly $5000, over $2000 less than the average reimbursement provided by the state for each child enrolled in a district’s schools–with “edupreneurs” pocketing the balance. For Snyder and DeVos, the purpose of education is not to help develop a more informed and educated citizenry, or to help children to become more fully human by providing a comprehensive, high quality curriculum, including music, art, and physical education in addition to the rest of the disciplines. The purpose of education under Snyder and DeVos is to turn the state’s once excellent system of public schools into an educational WalMart, boasting “low, low prices” in place of quality instruction….

 

Ms. DeVos is the perfect ideological mate for Mr. Trump: neither seems concerned with allowing petty little things like rules, regulations, or ethics get in the way of them pursuing their agendas. The Constitution only applies to the “little people,” not the billionaire “deciders” who will make the rules in the Trump administration.

 

Betsy DeVos was the absolute worst possible choice for Secretary of Education, so it’s no surprise that Trump chose her for this cabinet post. Her appointment is much closer to Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist than it is to his choice of Reince Preibus as Chief of Staff. One is a party insider who will make the “trains run on time”: the other is an arsonist who would happily burn the train station to the ground.

 

Betsy DeVos’ mission is no less than the total destruction of public education. Her apparent support for charters is merely a head fake to the right to distract us from for her ultimate goal of “decoupling” state and federal dollars from supporting schools of any type.

 

Under Secretary of Education DeVos we will see the emergence of a two-tiered educational system:

 

One, a system of elite private and religious schools for well-to-do, mostly White parents with the means to afford expensive tuition payments, staffed by qualified, certified teachers, with a rich curriculum based on face-to-face instruction in clean, safe, well-maintained schools…

 

The other, a parallel system of “fly by night” virtual and online “schools” that open and close seemingly at random, and for-profit charters operated by scam artists like Northern Michigan’s Dr. Steve Ingersoll, with little to no state or federal regulation or oversight, and a bare bones, “back to the basics” curriculum delivered by unqualified and uncertified “teachers”.

 

I’m guessing that the leadership at Teach for America is practically salivating today.

 

For the rest of us, welcome to the Hunger Games of public education….

 

Betsy DeVos needs to hear, loudly and clearly, that her cynical, selfish, profit-focused vision of public education isn’t constitutional; it’s predatory.

 

Her approach is not that of an educational leader; it’s that of a vandal.

 

Tell her that these are OUR public schools, and we value them and need them. And that we won’t let her, and her new Boss, destroy them.

 

A few days ago, I said that I support Michigan billionaire and hard-right voucher advocate Betsy DeVos, because she would show the world that “reformers” are out to destroy our public schools. No ambiguity there. She would demonstrate the close link between “reform” and the rightwing.

 

But I hereby formally withdraw my support for DeVos’s candidacy. To be sure, it was meant in jest, but many readers failed to see the humor in supporting someone who would totally privatize education.

 

Why am I withdrawing my support? Well, I just learned that DeVos has more flaws than I thought. Not only does she want all children to have vouchers (charters apparently are a fall-back form of privatization for her), she opposes any regulation or oversight for the private schools she supports. When the Michigan legislature made an attempt to create some oversight for charter schools, DeVos spent over $1 million to block the effort, and she won. In Michigan, 80% of the charters operate for-profit, without regulation or oversight, and DeVos is happy with that. The scandals and waste of taxpayers’ dollars don’t concern her. I also object to her because she supports the Common Core. My reasons for opposing the Common Core are different from that of people on the Trump team. I oppose them because they were imposed without a field trial, without any evidence that they were good standards. I oppose them because I oppose standardization in education. I oppose developmentally inappropriate demands on young children. If any teacher loves them, use them, but they are not and never will be national standards, nor will they reduce achievement gaps. If anything, they increase  the gaps and reduce achievement.

 

So, sorry, Betsy, you are not my choice.

 

Who is my choice? Glad you asked that question. I support Williamson (Bill) Evers, whom I have known for nearly 20 years. He is not mean, unlike some of the other candidates. He is at heart a libertarian and won’t shove federal policies down everyone’s throats. He is the only choice Trump might make that would do the least harm.