The Red Queen

The ultimate target of Betsy DeVos’ agenda isn’t teachers unions, or even the *education establishment.* It’s the Democratic Party…

Image result for vintage playing cards red queenBy the measures that are supposed to matter, Betsy DeVos’ experiment in disrupting public education in Michigan has been a colossal failure. In its 2016 report on the state of the state’s schools, Education Trust Midwest painted a picture of an education system in freefall. *Michigan is witnessing systematic decline across the K-12 spectrum…White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income—it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live.* But as I heard repeatedly during the week I recently spent crisscrossing the state, speaking with dozens of Michiganders, including state and local officials, the radical experiment that’s playing out here has little to do with education, and even less to do with kids. The real goal of the DeVos family is to crush the state’s teachers unions as a means of undermining the Democratic party, weakening Michigan’s democratic structures along the way. And on this front, our likely next Secretary of Education has enjoyed measurable, even dazzling success.

This story goes back a long ways, so settle in. We could start in the 1840’s, when the first Dutch settlers began to arrive in Western Michigan, or in 1970, when the DeVoses made their first attempt to amend the state constitution so as to allow for public funding for private, religious schools. Another obvious starting point is 1993, when then Governor John Engler called the public schools in Michigan an *educational gulag* and a *monopoly of mediocrity,* lobbing the first fusillade in a war against the state’s teachers that has never ceased. For the sake of brevity, though, I’ll fast forward to the mid-oughts, when Betsy’s husband Dick DeVos ran for governor. It was the fourth time that the DeVoses had brought their crusade to give the market and the Maker more sway over the state’s schools to the voters, and each time Mitten staters had delivered a resounding *no thanks* in response. And so the DeVoses pivoted. If they couldn’t convince voters to enact their favored policies, they’d purchase the legislature instead. Continue reading →

The Cost of Choice

A new study finds that charter school expansion in Michigan has meant financial chaos for a growing number of school districts…

detroit_damage2_640-900x570.jpg (900×570)Jennifer Berkshire: Your new study looks at why certain school districts in Michigan have descended into a state of, as I like to describe it, *smoking ruin.* To keep the suspense alive, tell us what you found DID NOT contribute to the severe financial distress of these districts.

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.  Continue reading →

License to Loot

How Michigan charter schools became prime feasting ground for edu-vultures.

turkey vultureBy Tim Fournier
I started teaching in the Detroit Public Schools in 1993, the very year that Michigan approved its first charter schools. Last week The Detroit Free Press published the results of a year-long investigation into the state’s now 20-year old experiment with charters. The series confirms what many of us predicted back then: that freeing these schools from oversight has left them uniquely vulnerable to profiteers, hucksters and charlatans. *Vultures* was the word I used in this letter to the editor I wrote back in 1996. Continue reading →

If It Smells Like a Skunk…

Michigan officials have launched a bold and secret project known as Skunk Works to create “value schools.”

Someday, in our bold choice-tacular future, once-stifled students will be able to choose the educational option of their choice. Choice chosen, they will then swipe their EduCards to pay for 21st century skills building served up steaming and blended. And should they have any Edu Bucks left after choosing their choice, they can spring for extras like AP courses, athletics or super cool cyber courses. What’s that, you say? Such a choice-tacular future is already in the werks in none other than Michigan, USA? Why we must go there directly to smell the odeur de choix for ourselves… Continue reading →

Michelle Rhee’s Hero Problem

Does heroism hold value in Michelle Rhee’s measure of a teacher’s worth?

In the annals of tin-eared condolence statements, the one released by Michelle Rhee in the wake of the Newtown school shooting stands out. Her very word choices felt stilted and wrong, evoking a strange world in which children are “assets,” stunned and reeling teachers are “colleagues,” and family are the members of Rhee’s own “team.” But if the statement began on an off note, worse was still to come. The lesson of the hours-old tragedy, Rhee seemed to conclude, was that she’d been right along. “Improve schools for children,” (read, eliminate tenure and other workplace protections for teachers) and thereby “improve entire communities” (read, prevent senseless slaughter). As for her parting, there was nothing left for Rhee to do but double down, announcing that she and the entire StudentsFirst organization—”including the members of our team in Connecticut“—were recommitting to their mission today. Not two days from now, when the first of the unending series of memorials would begin, not a week from now when the funerals would at last be over, but today.
Continue reading →