Archives for category: Michigan

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.

The Alliance to Reclaim Our Public Schools (AROS) has gathered important information about state takeovers, which target disproportionate numbers of black and brown communities.


Be sure to check out this fact sheet.


When the fact sheet was published earlier this year, AROS identified 116 schools that were operating in state takeover districts in Louisiana, Michigan, and Tennessee. Of 44,000 students affected, 96% are African American or Latino.


The first consequence of the takeover is the abolition of elected school boards. Democracy ends, and the board is replaced by an appointed board, often made up of people who have no connection to the community.


The results have been disappointing. Nearly half the schools in the New Orleans Recovery School District are rated D or F by the state (other studies put the figure even higher). The charters in the Tennessee Achievement School District lag the performance of public schools. In Michigan’s Educational Achievement Authority, 79% of students either showed no improvement or lost ground on state tests.



Betsy DeVos is a billionaire school reformer in Michigan. She funds charter schools and voucher schools not only in Michigan but across the nation. A few years back, her American Federation for Children gave its annual award to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for crushing the unions in his state and to D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee for advancing the school-choice views of AFC.

I endorse Betsy DeVos.



I don’t agree with any of her ideas about school reform, but I think it would be refreshing to hear candid advocacy for privatizing and eliminating public schools instead of privatizers pretending that they want to “improve public schools.” They don’t. The privatization movement should be unmasked as the rightwing, anti-public school movement that it is.

I oppose privatization. I oppose turning public schools over to private corporations. I oppose for-profit schooling. I oppose schools run by for-profit management. I oppose vouchers.

I support community-based, democratically controlled public schools, staffed by certified and well-prepared teachers.

I believe that most parents like their public schools and don’t want them to be privatized. We saw clear evidence of that sentiment in Massachusetts and Georgia, where voters resoundingly rejected efforts to private public funding for public schools.

I endorse DeVos not because I want her ideas to prevail but because I want them exposed to the clear light of day and rejected because they are wrong for democracy, wrong for children, and wrong for education.

Learn more about DeVos here.

It would be refreshing to see privatization in its honest clothes, not disguised as a “civil rights” movement (led by billionaires and Wall Street and hedge funders). Honesty is the best policy.

State police in Michigan are investigating online schools for financial fraud and inflating enrollment.

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.