Archives for category: Michigan

Allie Gross has been reporting on the misadventures of the charter industry in Detroit in the Metro Times.


This week, she wrote about a charter school, University Academy, that fired eight teachers without any explanation or cause. When teachers have no union, the school doesn’t need to give any explanation about why teachers are fired.


Last fall, Allie wrote about the $3.5 million that Michigan doled out to charter applicants who never opened a school.


The latter article includes a useful summary of the U.S. Department of Education’s very costly investment in the charter industry:


In 1995, four years after the first charter school law was enacted, the U.S. Department of Education started its Charter Schools Program grant. The general gist of the initiative was state education agencies could vie for funding and then host their own competitions for sub-grantees who wanted to create or expand charter schools.


The goal of the grant is two-pronged: 1. It aims to expand the number of “high-quality” charter schools across the nation and, 2. It seeks to evaluate the effects of charter schools. The first aim is achieved through three types of grants that the U.S. Department of Education asks state education agencies to offer: planning grants, implementation grants, and, lastly, dissemination grants.


That first year the department gave out just over $4 million; today it doles out upward of $125 million. According to the Department of Education, the federal government has spent more than $3 billion on the charter sector in the past 20 years.


Michigan received $23 million from the program in 2007 and in 2010 decided to apply again, this time asking for $44 million. By this point the state had 240 charter schools, and as the application explained, there was an expectation of growth. Just a few months earlier lawmakers decided to lift the cap on the number of charter schools university-authorizers could sponsor.


This predicted expansion was highlighted in MDE’s application, as was the goal of ensuring authorizers would have high quality operators to choose from when they weren’t burdened with a cap.


In 1995, the same year that the Charter Schools Program grants started, Michigan opened its first charter school, a National Heritage Academy in Grand Rapids. Today, NHA, which was started by billionaire J.C. Huizenga, is the state’s largest charter school operator, with 48 different schools across Michigan. This multi-site, for-profit model has proliferated in Michigan — currently, 79 percent of Michigan’s charter schools are run by for-profit charter management organizations — and cracking this monopoly was a stated goal in MDE’s application. Specifically Michigan explained how “planning funds” could help level the playing field and empower grassroots community groups with charter school ideas.



Chris Savage, who blogs at Eclectablog in Michigan, reports that multimillionaire Dick DeVos has threatened to run opponents to Republicans who fail to support expansion of the disastrous Education Achievement Authority. DeVos funds vouchers and privatization. He just plain doesn’t like public schools.


Chris Savage writes:


“I have confirmation from two independent sources in the Michigan legislature that multi-millionaire Dick DeVos is using the threat of massive financial support for Republican primary opponents of vulnerable Senate Republicans to force them to vote for the bill that would expand the Education Achievement Authority statewide. The same approach was used to peel off recalcitrant House Republicans before they passed the EAA expansion bill last month. If Democrats John Olumba and Harvey Santana had not voted for it, however, they would not have had enough.


“According to my sources, DeVos has pledged to fund Republican primary opponents to the tune of $100,000 each. In addition, he would provide the Republican victims of their effort with a list of other wealthy donors who would also support their primary challengers.


“This is the same approach that DeVos was reported to have used to force passage of legislation that made Michigan a Right to Work state in during the lame duck session in December of 2012:


“…….In public, Snyder insisted that right-to-work was still not on his agenda. Privately, his aides met with labor and suggested that concessions on other issues would keep the bill off the table. All the while, though, DeVos and his team were furiously whipping the vote. In the weeks before the start of the lame-duck session, DeVos personally called dozens of state lawmakers, pledging his support if the unions threatened recalls or primary challenges…..”


“If there was any doubt in your mind that wealthy corporatists are attempting to subvert our democracy and our government, this should dispel that idea. What the Koch brothers are doing nationally, the DeVos family is doing in Michigan to promote their anti-labor, anti-public education corporatist agenda.


“They are literally buying our government, one legislator at a time.


“It is my hope that Republicans in the Senate will be as offended as the rest of us by this blatant attempt to extort their votes. Anyone who values our American democracy and who values the principals of a representative, one-person/one-vote republic should be outraged at this.”





To prove that filtered Flint water is safe, Governor Rick Snyder pledged to drink it for one month, at work and at home.


It is a cheap trick because the risk of lead in the water is not for adults but for small children and infants, whose brains are developing.


What is he doing for the children who drank toxic water as a result of his cost-cutting?





There are three so-called achievement school districts in the nation that have some history. One in Tennessee, one in Michigan, one inNew Orleans. The three are so what different: New Orleans district is all-charter, all privatized. The other two were created by the legislature to gather the state’s lowest-scoring schools into a single district, then turn them over to charter operators.


Opinions differ about New Orleans, but no one claims that it has closed achievement gaps or left no child behind. It is not a miracle district. Some critics have called it the lowest performing district in one of the lowest performing states.


Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority has no defenders. It is a disaster.


The Tennessee Achievement District was studied by Vanderbilt researchers, who reported there was no statistically significant improvement in test scores. Gary Rubinstein looked at state data and concluded that there was virtually no improvement: the lowest performing schools are still very low performing schools.


Yet Georgia and North Carolina both plan to create achievement school districts, and now Nevada wants one too. Why? It must be ALEC model legislation.


Angie Sullivan wrote this about Nevada, where she teaches:


“This was the scary announcement yesterday in Nevada Education:


“Board of Examiners meeting Tuesday, Canavero announced the appointment of Jana Wilcox-Lavin as the superintendent-in-residence of a new Achievement School District.


“Based on similar models in Louisiana and Tennessee, the state-run district will hand over control of persistently failing schools to charter management organizations.”

“Can someone explain to me why Nevada would want to create an Achievement School District – just as other states are closing their failing achievement school districts?


“Does anyone in the Department of Education or on the Nevada State School Board have google? I strongly suggest everyone google: achievement school districts Tennessee or Lousiana.


“Does anyone do research before they make these expensive decisions?


“It is obvious that the real plan is to privatize and destroy public schools like Tennesse and Louisiana. The data is in and students did not do better after expensive achievement school districts were created there. Extreme and documented failure.


“We are hiring someone from those failures to create a Nevada failure?


“Why are we doing this?


Tennessee: Legislators Propose Closing “Achievement School District”


Gary Rubinstein Reviews the Failure of the Tennessee Achievement School District


Tennessee: Memphis School Board Calls for Moratorium for Achievement School District


Tennessee: “Achievement School District” In Search of High-Performing Students


Tennessee Dad: It’s Time to Dump the “Achievement School District”


Andy Spears: Is Tennessee Sick of the (Low) Achievement School District?


North Carolina Parents: We Don’t Want an “Achievement School District”
“Bottom line: Business does not do better at running schools. Business type reforms are not changing schools for the better.


“The same data system that kills public schools -shows that privatization and business ran schools fail too – usually worse and more expensive.


“Somehow we are supposed to only use data to kill public schools but then ignore data that suggests expensive reforms are failures?


“Doesn’t Nevada already have enough failing segregated disenfranchising charters? Why don’t we clean up the charter messes we already made -rather than import a mess maker from another state to make another mess. Why are we renewing failing charters?


“We better start thinking about kids Nevada – rather than about making some business people very rich at the expense of our kids.


“We do not need to be scammed like Lousiana and Tennessee.





The Detroit School Board has filed a federal lawsuit against Governor Rick Snyder. 


The Detroit school board has filed a federal lawsuit against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, alleging that his state-appointed emergency managers have failed to adequately address the district’s financial troubles, crumbling school buildings, and academic deficiencies.


The suit seeks class-action status on behalf of roughly 58,000 students who have attended classes in the district since 2011. That total includes students enrolled in the state’s Education Achievement Authority, a state-run district that operates the worst Michigan’s lowest-performing schools.


The suit notes the district’s declining enrollment and an ongoing scandal that has more than a dozen former administrators facing charges in a bribery and kickback scheme. Also named in the suit are at least three of the emergency managers that have run the Detroit schools; the district has been under state oversight since 2009.


“Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law and related practices were used to compromise and damage the quality of education received by all [Detroit public schools] students with life-long consequences in the name of financial urgency,” the lawsuit claims.


The suit also names former Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett. Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty in 2015 to an indictment charging her with receiving money and benefits from her former employers in exchange for steering no-bid contracts worth more than $23 million to the firms. Federal investigators are also scrutinizing contracts awarded during her time in Detroit, where she worked as chief academic officer.


Snyder’s emergency manager law has faced renewed scrutiny this year as the district teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, and teachers and parents have become more vocal about their distaste for the law.


It is fair to say that state control has been a disaster for the Detroit Public Schools. Every “reform” trick has pulled, and every time the children are the losers.


The text of the plaintiffs’ brief is here. 


The best line in the brief:


The Emergency Manager Law is predicated on the concept that a local financial crisis is due to the inability of local officials to address the problem. In fact, beginning in 1999 the State took over the management of the DPS which was functioning financially ‘in the black’ and with its student body performing at a level on average with the school districts of the entire state of Michigan and, in the seventeen years since, have turned the district into a virtual financial hell-hole. 


The Emergency Managers appointed by the Governor, the suit alleges, drove the district into financial disaster with their profligate spending and unwise decisions.

This is one of the most curious, most convoluted charter scandals I have come across. Of course, it happened in Michigan, where about 80% of charters  operate for-profit and where the state exercises minimal oversight of the charter sector.


In 1999, an optometrist named Steven Ingersoll was among the first to see the potential in the charter industry. He developed his own pedagogy called Integrated Visual Learning and opened the first of four charters, Grand Traverse Academy. The board of directors were other optometrists who liked Ingersoll’s ideas. Certainly, optometrists would be drawn to a teaching method based on “visual learning.”


There were chummy relationships among Ingersoll, the management company he hired, and board members:


“It was not until lawyers for the school began asking questions that the tangled financial relationship between Ingersoll’s management company and the charter he founded began to unravel, culminating in the most significant federal criminal case in the history of Michigan’s 20-year-old charter school industry. Ingersoll, who started Smart Schools Management, Inc., stands accused of illegally diverting construction loan money for another charter school to his private account, in part to pay back money he had taken from the Grand Traverse charter. His hand-picked members on the school board knew he had advanced himself money from Grand Traverse, but had no problem with the arrangement, school records show.

“Ingersoll will go on trial next month on seven criminal charges of bank fraud and tax evasion. The allegations of financial self-dealing and cozy relations between Ingersoll, his associates and board members could not come at a worse time for the Michigan charter movement. The state’s powerful, mostly for-profit charter school industry has found itself on the defensive since the Detroit Free Press published a devastating series last June chronicling how charters receive nearly $1 billion a year in state taxpayer money with little accountability or transparency on how that money is spent. The series detailed how board members at some charter schools were forced out when they pushed to learn more about finances from management companies, and how state law failed to prevent self-enrichment by those operating some low-performing charter schools.”


One blogger, Anita Senkowski, doggedly followed the case of Steven Ingersoll and posted documents. Her blog is called “Glistening Quivering Underbelly,” where she calls herself Miss Fortune. She described Ingersoll as the poster boy for Michigan’s lack of charter oversight.


Ingersoll was indicted in 2014 and convicted in 2015 for tax evasion and fraud.


Senkowski wrote last fall:


“Convicted in March [2015] on three counts of tax evasion and conspiracy, Ingersoll owned and formerly managed the Bay City Academy and managed the Grand Traverse Academy until days before his April 10, 2014 indictment.


“Between 2007-2012, Ingersoll misappropriated an estimated $3.5 million dollars from the Traverse City charter school — but has never been investigated or charged with embezzlement.


“And what about the Grand Traverse Academy’s Board of Directors? After much public posturing, it opted not to pursue any legal remedy to recover the money, and apparently that’s where it stands.”


Senkowski alleged that the board knew what Ingersoll was doing and didn’t care.


Now she has another bombshell report. Even after Ingersoll’s indictment, he continued to receive monthly payments of $12,500 from Mark Noss, a member of Ingersoll’s original board who started his own charter management company.


She writes:



“An accountant formerly employed by Mark Noss at his Full Spectrum Management, LLC (FSM) sent a stunning whistleblower email to the Grand Traverse Academy Board of Directors on March 15, 2016 at 6:00pm, alleging Noss deceived the Board when he stated during its December 17, 2015 meeting that he “has no business relationship with Dr. Ingersoll at the present time.”


“The former FSM accountant disclosed information to Board president Brad Habermehl and Grand Traverse Academy employee, Heidi Sych, that revealed Noss had been making monthly $12,500 payments to Steven Ingersoll for nearly two years.


“The incendiary email, sent by former FSM accountant Richard Lowe, and a March 16, 2016 response from Mark Noss, were both provided to the U. S. Attorney’s Office by counsel for Lake Superior State University.


“According to a supplemental brief filed late this afternoon by government prosecutors, FSM honcho Mark Noss acknowledged paying Ingersoll $12,500 per month since he took over the role of educational services provider for the Grand Traverse Academy on March 19, 2014, with the first payment issued in April 2014.”











While parents in Flint worry about whether their children have suffered brain damage from the toxins in their water, Governor Rick Snyder will face a lawsuit accusing him of complicity in the diversion of clean water from Flint. Angry parents have filed a RICO lawsuit, which is usually a tool for prosecuting racketeering.


Endangering the life of children would have been good reason to prosecute him.


How owe much money was saved by switching to polluted water? How much will it cost families and children and the state to deal with the consequences of this absurd decision? Which is more cost effective: cost-cutting on the business model or human services that put people above dollars?

Peter Greene made a discovery. He unraveled a secret that puzzled those who watch the career trajectories of Broad superintendents. Why did Briadie Superintendent John Covington leave the Kansas City school district that he promised to “save” before it was saved? He abruptly left, surprising many in Kansas City who thought he had made a commitment to stay.


Was it the higher salary for the leader of Michigan’s new Educational Achievement Authority? No.


Peter found the answer: Covington left Kansas City for the EAA because Eli Broad told him to.


When Eli calls, his disciples listen.


The EAA was supposed to be the proof point for Broad’s educational theories. No school board. Total control. It failed. Covington bailed out, amidst complaints about his expense account.


After more than a dozen years of “training” urban superintendents in his unaccredited program, Eli  has no successes. Yet he is pushing to take control of half the children in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Maybe he will put John Deasy in charge. No, wait, he tried that already.


Caveat emptor.


Let educators educate, not billionaires who think they know everything just because they are rich.

At the Congressional hearing about the Flint water crisis, Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan said he didn’t want to point fingers, but then proceeded to blame everyone but himself. 

It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to recognize that the real culprit was on the stand. Governor Snyder appointed every official involved in the decision to save money by shutting off the clean water supply.

“Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder began his opening statement before the House Government Oversight Committee hearing on the Flint water crisis by saying, “I am not going to point fingers.” In the same statement and in comments made during questioning, he then blamed the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the failure to prevent the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water with the powerful, tasteless, odorless, invisible neurotoxin lead. He explicitly called out “bureaucrats created a culture that valued technical compliance over common sense”. Presumably this includes the man he himself appointed to head he DEQ, Dan Wyant, a man with no previous experience in dealing with water regulation or regulations:

“Prior to directing the MDA [Michigan Department of Agriculture], Director Wyant provided policy expertise for the Senate Majority Office and was associate director of Governor John Engler’s Office of Legislative Affairs. He began his career in the private sector, as a marketing manager for the Ralston Purina Co. and then as an export trade consultant for Lowe’s International.



“Director Wyant holds a bachelor’s degree in food systems management from Michigan State University (MSU) and a master’s in business administration from American University in Washington, D.C.



“Gov. Snyder also stated plainly that “this was a failure of government at all levels”. The truth, of course, is that this wasn’t a failure of “government”. It was, in fact, a failure of Gov. Snyder, members of his administration, and, most importantly, the policies of Emergency Management and “running government like a business”. Gov. Snyder’s blaming of “government” is the continuance of a Republican policy of running government poorly and then blaming the broad category of “government” rather than the specific policies and individuals who are responsible for running that government. The fact is, properly run, government is not the problem, it is the watchdog to prevent problems. There is a direct and fatal line between Gov. Snyder’s policies of Emergency Management and “running government like a business”. In fact, during questioning, Gov. Snyder admitted this. When asked if the situation in Flint was a direct result of the failure of Emergency Management, Gov. Snyder replied, “In this particular case, with respect to the water issue, that would be a fair conclusion.”



“Another aspect of the hearings was a continuation of Republicans blaming the EPA for this catastrophe. It was bewildering to watch the very same Congressional Republicans who have worked to undermine the EPA and who fight what they see as EPA over-regulation to now malign that agency for under-regulating in the case of Flint.



“During the hearing, Democratic Rep. William Clay from Missouri was to the point:


[He said:]



“You know, I have to hand it to my Republican colleagues. They are actually making their argument with a straight face. And, you know, just to be clear, Republicans here today are claiming that the EPA – the Obama EPA – should have been more aggressive in stepping in and seizing control and overruling the Republican-controlled state of Michigan. They are just outraged that the EPA wasn’t more assertive with Michigan and didn’t immediately go public with their complaints about the state’s failure to follow the law. Ms. McCarthy, the irony is almost overwhelming, isn’t it? Republicans have been absolutely slamming the EPA for overreaching at every possible turn. Now they criticize the EPA for not doing more when Gov. Snyder fell down on the job.”


Givernor Snyder should take responsibility, hold himself accountable for poisoning the water of Flunt, and do the right thug: RESIGN.

Paul Thomas of Furman University in South Carolina knows that elected officials are intrigued with the idea of “turnaround districts,” although they know surprisingly little about the research or experience associated with such districts. The idea is simple: if a school has low test scores for x number of years in a row, or if it ranks in the bottom x% of all schools in the state, fire the principal and the teachers and give the community’s public school to a private charter operator. Kind of like declaring bankruptcy, but forgetting that a school is not a business like a chain store.


Thomas points out that there are good reasons to be wary of turnaround districts. He cites research about what has happened to them.


First, advocacy for takeovers is mostly political cheerleading, and second, a growing body of research has revealed that takeovers have not achieved what advocates claim and often have replicated or even increased the exact problems they were designed to solve, such as race and class segregation and inequitable educational opportunities.


New Orleans is a low-performing district that has become even more segregated and stratified than it was before the takeover.


He writes:


Takeovers in several states—similar to embracing charter schools and Teach For America—have simply shuffled funding, wasted time, and failed to address the root causes of struggling schools: concentrated poverty and social inequity.


Yes, SC must reform our public schools, and we should shift gears to address our vulnerable populations of students first. But charter takeover approaches are yet more political faddism that our state and children cannot afford.


Continuing to double-down on accountability based on standards and high-stakes testing as well as rushing to join the political reform-of-the-moment with clever names is inexcusable since we have decades of evidence about what works, and what hasn’t.


SC must embrace a new way—one committed to social policies addressing food security for the poor, stable work throughout the state, and healthcare for all, and then a new vision for education reform built on equity.


All SC students deserve experienced and certified teachers, access to challenging courses, low class sizes, fully funded schools, safe school buildings and cultures, and equitable disciplinary policies and practices. These are reforms that must be guarantees for every public school student regardless of zip code, and they need not be part of complex but cleverly named programs.


You will want to read the post in full to gain access to its many excellent links to news and research.


Those who continue to advocate for already failed fixes are stalling, delaying the day that we must address the root causes of educational failure. They should be held accountable for their neglect of the real needs of children, families, and communities. And some day, they will.



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