Archives for category: Michigan

Chris Savage of Eclectablog writes about the disasters of privatization in Michigan.

There are at least three public services, he says, that should never be privatized:

Healthcare, education, and prisons.

Why? Because the bottom line is profit, not service or quality.

Yet Governor Snyder just can’t get over his certainty that privatization must work, if only he can find the right vendor. He can’t. The incentives to game the system for profit are too great, and they are baked in.

In this blog post, Sharon Murchie, a mom-and-teacher in Michigan describes what happened after her daughter’s M-STEP scores arrived. Right into the trashcan! (A hat tip to Nancy Flanagan for sending this post to me on Twitter.)

She writes:

I had not seen the results report before; two years ago, I opted her out. But last year, in a co-parenting compromise with my ex-husband, I allowed my daughter to take the test.

You will be happy to know that my daughter is 100% adequate. Or, to be specific, she is making “adequate progress.” I was surprised at the naming of this progress indicator, since her scores are in the “Advanced” range in Math and English Language Arts, and at the very top edge of the “Proficient” range in Science. But, for a 4th grader approximately 1/3 of the way through her K-12 education, her progress is deemed as adequate. One must suppose then, that her teachers have also been adequate and her school is pretty adequate.

I question the use of this terminology; does “adequate” seem “proficient” or “advanced” to you? I realize that this word, according to google, means “satisfactory or acceptable.” But I challenge you to use this word in conversation and see how it is perceived. In fact, next time you are eating a dinner that your significant other prepared, I dare you to announce that it is “adequate.” And next time you and your significant other are in the midst of…ahem…a romantic physical encounter, I challenge you to announce that he or she is “making adequate progress.” I look forward to hearing about the ensuing conversations. Go ahead and get back to me with the results.

While she waits to hear from us about those conversations, she tells us more about the “inadequacy” of student reports based on the state tests.

The report itself is so…ahem…inadequate. For example, the color-coded Performance Bands at the top of each section read from left to right. The left indicator is Not Proficient, and the right side is Advanced. However, the Performance Level Descriptors at the bottom of the page begin with “Advanced” on the left and move to “Not Proficient” at the right. Who created this graphic? Why would a performance band read from left to right in the visual section of the graphic and then from right to left in the explanations? And then, for the sake of clarity, the Science section is broken into disciplines with points earned/possible points reported. No pointy-up or pointy-down triangles in science. Science gets Numbers! And science is apparently so unscientific, that the margin of error spans 3 performance levels. Luckily, my daughter may possibly be partially proficient, proficient, or advanced, but she is not to be deemed adequate in science.

I dare you to ask a 4th grader what is wrong with this report. Have them analyze the modeling and the data analysis. Have them explain to you what this report means. I look forward to hearing about those conversations.

Everyone is unhappy with the state tests, even the state of Michigan, as well it should be.

The State of Michigan, to its credit, is very concerned about the M-Step scores. Students are scoring very poorly on this test that has been redesigned two times in the two years it has been administered. And so, the State, based on M-Step scores, is threatening to take aggressive action and “rid the state of failing schools.” Instead of spending time and resources making sure that schools have the resources they need, the State will close those failing schools. They might also create a new test, administered 3 times a year, to replace the current test that replaced the old test that replaced the test before that one. Because clearly, the answer to poor test scores is more testing.

I would instead challenge the State to do something truly revolutionary. I would challenge them to go into those failing schools and make sure that there are enough teachers there to teach the students. I would challenge them to make sure that the schools had enough funding to buy chairs. I would challenge them to make sure that students have access to community supports and a standard of living that allows for walls full of books and access to museums and to higher education and to apples.

I challenge the State to actually do something about it, instead of forcing students to sit on milk crates to take more meaningless tests that result in poorly designed nonsensical reports. I challenge the State to make adequate progress.

Okay, maybe you can’t be shocked anymore to learn that billionaires have bought politicians. Still, when you read this article in the Detroit Free Press, I think you will be as outraged as I was and am. The charter lobby has outdone itself this time. I haven’t paid as much attention to the DeVos family as I should have. Their fortune comes from Amway. Betsy DeVos started a privatization organization deceptively named the American Federation for Children. The family would like to replace public education altogether, preferably with vouchers. They are devotees of the free market ideology, though they are happy to have government subsidize the free market. One thing is clear: they despise public schools and will gladly reward legislators to agree with them.

This article was written by Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press. If the DeVos family and the Michigan GOP wanted to help the children of Detroit, would they insist on eliminating any accountability for charter schools?

Henderson writes:

“Bought and paid for.

“Back in June, that’s how I described the Detroit school legislation that passed in Lansing — a filthy, moneyed kiss to the charter school industry at the expense of the kids who’ve been victimized by those schools’ unaccountable inconsistency.

“And now, through the wonder of campaign finance reports, we are beginning to see what it took to buy the GOP majority in Lansing, just how much lawmakers required to sell out Detroit students’ interests.

“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 polite term for this kind of reflexive giving is transactional politics; it is the way things work not just in Lansing but in Washington, and in political circles in all 50 states.

“But the DeVos family has a singular focus on one issue, school choice. And given Michigan’s murky campaign finance laws, it’s harder to quantify what’s going on until long after it has happened.

“The substantive tragedy here, of course, is much starker.

“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.

“The legislation debated this spring in Lansing was the first meaningful effort to change that — not to punish charter schools for independence, but to subject both charter and public schools to a rational means of review and improvement.

“There is no conscionable objection to this kind of basic oversight. But the DeVos family’s purchase of the souls of the GOP majority stalled progress for children in this state’s largest city.

“In all the other states where I’ve lived — Maryland, Illinois, Kentucky — it is impossible to imagine such a tightly held interest wielding that much influence.

“Why allow it?

“Beyond the substantive problem, there is the profound question of the sanctity of our political process.

“Is this how we do business in Michigan? Is this how we reach conclusions about important matters of public policy? The DeVos family isn’t breaking any law. The question we have to ask ourselves is why our laws permit this measure of single-interest dominance in politics.

“Back in the spring, I suggested that the legislators who sold out to the DeVos family be rounded up, sewn into burlap bags with rabid animals, and tossed into the Straits of Mackinac.

“My hyperbole was fueled by indignant outrage. I meant it to be. This kind of craven betrayal by public officials, so naked and with so much consequence for vulnerable citizens, ought to make all of us indignant, and outraged.

“Now that we know the other part of the story — the DeVos family’s apparent purchase of our state’s GOP — it should do more than outrage us.

“It should motivate us to make change.”

Mercedes Schneider here describes a new entity that has joined the corporate reform movement. It is called SEN, the School Empowerment Network. It seems to be funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the billionaires who want to privatize all of public education and get rid of teachers’ unions. It is based in Brooklyn, New York, but gained its first contract in Michigan.

Michigan is the state where 80% of the charters operate for-profit. It doesn’t really need more charters. It does need accountability and transparency. The Detroit Free Press published a week-long series in 2014 about taxpayers being fleeced by the charter industry, which gets $1 billion a year and is never held accountable.

Thanks to Mike Klonsky for calling attention to this article about state takeovers of districts and schools. A takeover nullifies parent and community voice. A disproportionate number of takeovers have been inflicted on African-American communities. As we know from the failure of the Achievement School District, these takeovers have a bad track record. What do they accomplish? They nullify parent and community voice.

In New Jersey – which, in 1987, became the first state to take over a school district – Camden is among several urban districts that have come under state control. The state hired Camden’s superintendent, while the mayor appoints school board members – a practice that predates the state takeover of the district in 2013.

A judge last week dismissed a lawsuit from Camden residents seeking the right to elect school board members, questioning the rationale for electing a board that has been stripped of its power by the state.

In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia School District is governed by a five-member School Reform Commission, with three members appointed by the governor and two by the city’s mayor. The Chester Upland district is also under state control. Camden, Philadelphia, and Chester Upland have large minority populations.

Be sure to read the descriptions of districts where democracy was snuffed out.

They are districts hollowed out by poverty, deindustrialization, and white flight. The state takeover didn’t help. It stripped away one of the few ways in which residents had a voice. Now they have lost that too.

This is how the story of Highland Park, Michigan, begins:

“Highland Park, Michigan, a small city within Detroit’s boundaries, was once called the “City of Trees.” Thick greenery lined suburban blocks crowded with single-family homes built for a growing middle class. Henry Ford pioneered the assembly line at his automobile plant on Woodward Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare. The suburban school district was considered one of the top 10 in Michigan, according to a report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1962.

“Today, most of Highland Park’s trees are gone. Overgrown, empty lots and burned-out houses outnumber occupied homes on some blocks. The Ford plant stands empty. And parents say Highland Park’s once-proud school district has collapsed, hastened by four years under state control.”

As you read these stories, ask yourself the question: seeing the problems, why was state takeover of the schools supposed to be a good idea?

A businessman named Clark Durant founded private schools and charters schools in Michigan.

The private schools are religious.

But this blogger says that it is hard to tell the difference.

Michigan’s state constitution specifically prohibits public funding of religious schools.


Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press has penned a glowing column about Cornerstone Schools. In the piece, Henderson writes about Cornerstone’s private schools and charter schools. He explains that businessman Clark Durant founded Cornerstone Schools 25 years ago; he describes the schools’ history and growth. He portrays Cornerstone Schools as constantly improving. He emphasizes that Durant recently reassigned a particularly effective principal from Cornerstone’s private high school to one of Cornerstone’s charter schools.

I’m sure Cornerstone provides a satisfactory education for many children — in both its private and charter schools. That’s not the problem. The problem is that it can be difficult to tell the difference.

Try a Google search for “Cornerstone Schools Detroit” sometime. Then check out the results. Are you looking at the website for Cornerstone’s private, religious schools? Or are you on the website for its charter schools? Can you tell?

Sure, you’ll notice that Cornerstone’s religious schools are headquartered at 6861 Nevada on Detroit’s east side. By contrast, Cornerstone’s charter schools are based at a location in Royal Oak. The private schools and charter schools have different telephone numbers, and their websites list different media contacts.

But they also share many similarities. The boards of directors have members in common, including Durant, Oakland Circuit Judge Michael Warren, and attorney John R. Nicholson. Both websites state, “We see transformed lives, for good; and a new city for all.” And both sites reference Cornerstone’s “Christ-centered” beginnings.

Christ-centered? Yes. You read that correctly. Unlike Cornerstone’s private schools website, the charter schools site does not explicitly mention “Jesus.” Nevertheless, the religious undertones are present if you know where to look. Under “The Cornerstone Charter Schools Story,” beneath the subtitle “Read More About Our History,” the website specifically recounts how Cardinal Adam Maida once “asked the community to help build cornerstones for the city,” and makes clear that Cornerstone’s charters grew out of “a Christ-centered schooling alternative . . . .”

With so much overlap between Cornerstone’s private and charter schools, one has to wonder whether the charter schools are simply an alter ego for the private schools. They certainly appear to be two sides of the same coin. Do they have separate identities? Or are they so closely related that they make up a single unit? One founder. Common directors. The free transfer of employees between the two. Similar websites. Identical mission statements. These factors strongly suggest a unity of purpose, and provide at least some evidence that one entity is a mere instrumentality of the other.

Since reformers are agnostic about public schools, they see no reason to distinguish between their “public” charter schools and their religious schools. Does the state constitution say it can’t be done. Ignore it.

School reform officials in Michigan announced that more public schools would be closed based on their test scores over the past three years.

Blogger Bill Boyle called the “The Politics of Cruelty.” It implies that the adults in the building are not trying, don’t care, or are incompetent.

He wrote:

I could write how many of the so-called “failing” schools are under the auspices of the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), a state-run school district that was created to turn around so-called “failing schools.” We know how that has worked.

Boyle notes a strange coincidence:

Under the state’s emergency control, authorities decided to cut off the water to people who didn’t pay the water bill.

As most know, the city of Detroit was under the control of a state appointed Emergency Manager beginning in March, 2013, before it began the process of bankruptcy. This is important history. In May of 2014, while under the control of the state of Michigan, it was determined that those unwilling or unable to pay their water bills would have their water shut off.

Boyle wrote in an earlier blog:

“In May of this year, the Detroit Water and Sewage Department began a crusade to collect unpaid fees by residents of Detroit. They are currently shutting off water access to any Detroit resident who is either $150 or two months behind in payment. This will affect over 120,00 account holders over a 3 month period at a rate of 3,000 shut offs per week. (The suspicion of many is that the shut offs are occurring in the midst of Detroit’s bankruptcy in order to make DWSD more attractive for privatization.)

Mind you, this is occurring in a major US city, the richest country in the world, that has a poverty rate of 44%, is over 80% black, whose residents have already have their democratic vote similarly cut off, in a state that is surrounded by 4 of the largest fresh water lakes in the world.”

Boyle says that Pershing High School, which was moved into the EAA, is likely to be on the closure list.

It is not surprising to find that this high school exists in one of the neighborhoods most affected by water shut offs and home foreclosures. It’s a neighborhood, in other words, whose existence is in peril. Students show up to school hungry, thirsty and homeless. This is undeniable, but it is obscured by the talk of “failing schools.” And to deny it, to allow it to be obscured, is cruel. To close a school in a community such as this, to take one more piece of property out of a neighborhood that has had its water stolen, its homes stolen, and now its school threatened, is simply, callously cruel.

A Democratic legislator said the school closing plan was “irresponsible.”

The state official referred to schools with low scores as “failing schools.” Here’s a prediction: the vast majority of schools identified as “failing” will have large enrollments of children who are poor, children of color, children who don’t read English, and children with disabilities. In addition, they will be highly segregated.

Do you think the state will offer the displaced students the opportunity to enroll in excellent suburban schools?

Neither do I.

Massachusetts is considering lifting the cap on charter schools. This move is being pressed by Republican Governor Charlie Baker and the usual gang of hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs, and free-market ideologues.

Public school parents are rightfully alarmed. Massachusetts is renowned for having the best schools in the nation. It is the birthplace of public education. This is where Horace Mann, as the state’s first Secretary of Education, persuaded his fellow citizens that the entire community would benefit by supporting the education of the young in common schools.

Now, almost 200 years later, a coterie of faux reformers want to destroy the great public school system that Horace Mann built and that millions of taxpayers have sustained. These so-called reformers believe that Horace Mann was wrong. They want taxpayers to fund privately managed schools, chain schools run by corporate entities.

Andrea Gabor, professor of business journalism at Baruch College of the City University of New York, writes here that Massachusetts should learn from the “calamity” caused by charter school expansion in Michigan.

She analyzes a study by David Arsen of Michigan State University that shows how the growth of charters affects the remaining public schools. (Jennifer Berkshire, who blogs as EduShyster, interviewed Arsen about his study, which is cited by Gabor.)

The charter landscape in Detroit is so bad it makes New Orleans, which has the largest concentration of charters in the country and, a decade after Hurricane Katrina, more than a few growing pains—see here and here and here and here look like a well oiled machine. While there is little transparency or regulation in either city, Detroit has so many charter authorizers that when a school’s charter is revoked for poor quality—as has often happened—they need only go shopping for a new authorizer; New Orleans, by contrast, has had only two main authorizers.

Arsen’s study, which looked at every school district in Michigan with at least 100 students and followed them for nearly two decades, found “that 80 percent of the explained variation in district fiscal stress is due to changes in districts’ state funding, to enrollment changes including those associated with school choice policies, and to the enrollment of high-cost, special education students.”

To put it simply, Arsen told Berkshire: We found that, overwhelmingly, the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent.”

Arsen points out that Michigan has one of the most “highly centralized school finance systems” in the country. “[T]he state sets per pupil funding levels for each district, and most operating revenues follow students when they move among districts or charter schools. Districts have very limited authority to raise additional tax revenues for school operations from local sources.” Consequently, when enrollments decline, either because families move out of the district or put their children in charter schools, local authorities have little choice but to reduce spending.

Arsens study….shows that the impact of this funding formula hits the mostly African-American central cities the hardest, with a 46 percent drop in inflation-adjusted school funding revenue between 2002 and 2013.

Bottom line: as charters grow, they suck the resources and the life out of nearby public schools. They are like a parasite that kills its host unless it is contained or removed.

A new study in Michigan finds that the proliferation of charter schools has undermined the fiscal viability of traditional public schools.

David Arsen, a professor at the College of Education at Michigan State University, discovered that school choice and especially charters were diverting resources from public school districts, leaving them in perilous condition.

“Which Districts Get Into Financial Trouble and Why: Michigan’s Story” asserts that “80 percent of the explained variation in district fiscal stress is due to changes in districts’ state funding, to enrollment changes including those associated with school choice policies, and to the enrollment of high-cost special education students.”

In other words, the fiscal failings of DPS that we just addressed had less to do with poor spending on the part of district — though we’re sure there was some of that — and more to do with statewide policies, such as those that promote competition, that put the traditional district at a disadvantage.

“Overwhelmingly, the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent,” Arsen explained to education blogger Jennifer Berkshire (author of the website EduShyster) in a recent interview.

To read Jennifer Berkshire’s illuminating interview of David Arsen, open this link to her website.

Here is a portion of her interview:

David Arsen: The question we looked at was how much of this pattern of increasing financial distress among school districts in Michigan was due to things that local districts have control over as opposed to state-level policies that are out of the local districts’ control: teacher salaries, health benefits, class size, administrative spending. We also looked at an item that the conservative think tanks are big on: contracting out and privatization. We found that, overwhelmingly, the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent. We looked at every school district in Michigan with at least 100 students and we followed them for nearly 20 years. The statistics are causal; we’re not just looking at correlation.

EduShyster: There’s a table in your paper which actually made me gasp aloud—which I’m pretty sure is a first. I’m talking, of course, about the chart where you show what happened to Michigan’s *central cities,* including Detroit, as charter schools really started to expand.

Arsen: We have districts getting into extreme fiscal distress because they’re losing revenue so fast. That table in our paper looked at the central cities statewide and their foundation revenue, which is both a function of per-pupil funding and enrollment. They had lost about 22% of their funding over a decade. If you put that in inflation adjusted terms, it means that they lost 46% of their revenue in a span ten years. With numbers like that, it doesn’t really matter if you can get the very best business managers—you can get a team of the very best business managers—and you’re going to have a hard time handling that kind of revenue loss. The emergency managers, incidentally, couldn’t do it. They had all the authority and they cut programs and salaries, but they couldn’t balance the budgets in Detroit and elsewhere, because it wasn’t about local decision making, it was about state policy. And when they made those cuts, more kids left and took their state funding with them.

EduShyster: As you followed the trajectory of these school districts, was there a *point of no return* that you could identify? A tipping point in lost enrollment and funding from which they just couldn’t recover?

Arsen: When we looked at the impact of charter schools we found that overall their effect on the finances of districts statewide was modest. Then we looked to see if there were nonlinear, or disproportionate, impacts in those districts where charters enrolled very high and sustained shares of resident students. And then the results got huge. We saw very significant and large impacts of charter penetration on district fund balances for different thresholds, whether there were 15, 20 or 25% of the students going to charter schools. That was really striking. At every one of those thresholds, the higher the charter penetration, the higher the adverse impact on district finances. They’re big jumps, and they’re all very significant statistically. What’s clear is that when the percentage gets up to the neighborhood of 20% or so, these are sizeable adverse impacts on district finances.

State officials in Michigan approved a new emergency plan to rescue Detroit public schools from its crushing debt, most of which was accumulated since the state took control of the district.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

Michigan’s Emergency Loan Board on Monday approved measures to implement a $617-million financial rescue and restructuring plan for Detroit’s public schools, over the vocal objections of elected school board members and others who attended the meeting in Lansing.

The board approved borrowing to retire or refinance debt, plus the transfer of assets from the old Detroit Public Schools to a new Detroit Public Schools Community District.

There were shouts of “Shame!,” “Jim Crow” and “Black lives matter” as the three board members left an auditorium at the Michigan Library and Historical Center through a back exit.

Critics say the plan treats Detroit public school students as second-class citizens because they would be the only Michigan public school students who could be taught by uncertified teachers. They also say much of the debt addressed by the plan was rung up while Detroit schools were under state control.

“We believe that the state owes the district considerably more, and we have asked continuously for an audit,” said Lamar Lemmons, president of the elected school board.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, has called the legislation “an historic plan to save Detroit schools – and the rest of the state – from a disastrous and unprecedented bankruptcy,” adding “this incredible investment by Michigan taxpayers will erase decades of debt and set the new district up for success.”