Corporate Reformers Detroit Education Industry Education Reform Privatization

Mitchell Robinson: How the Reform Agenda of Churn and Chaos Undermined Detroit Public Schools

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Mitchell Robinson, a professor of music at Michigan State University, has figured out how the reform/privatization agenda works.

Robinson writes:

The typical reform agenda goes something like this:

*demoralize the teachers

*defund the unions

*dismantle the schools

*privatize public education

We see evidence of this approach in places like New Orleans with its “Recovery School District,” and Detroit, where Gov. Snyder’s Frankenstein-like “Education Achievement Authority” continues to deprive the students and citizens of local control of their schools. The reformers’ tactics are brutal and unforgiving: create a public perception that the schools are failing, the teachers are lazy, the unions are greedy, and the only solutions are to close schools, expand choice, provide vouchers and valorize charters.

However, one of the more subtle, yet damaging, weapons in the reformers’ playbook is simultaneously less visible to the uninformed eye and more insidious in its ability to accomplish the reformers’ ultimate goal: the destabilization of public education by an intentional, purposeful strategy of near-constant turnover and turmoil in the leadership and teaching force in the schools…..

Detroit is a textbook case of the reform strategy for destroying public education.

An especially egregious example of this sort of intentional destabilization can be seen in the Detroit Public Schools, which has been under state control for most of the previous 15 years (1999-2005, 2009-2016). Under the Snyder administration, Detroit’s schools have suffered from a systematic defunding of facilities and equipment, sub-standard working conditions, safety concerns, drastic curriculum narrowing, and poor teacher morale as a result of the state’s takeover. Recent estimates are that fewer than 30% of Detroit’s children have access to school music classes, and only 40% have an art teacher. In 2014, Renaissance High School, long considered a bastion of high quality arts programming in the city, suffered devastating cuts to its music program, signaling a troubling trend in priorities from Detroit’s educational leaders.

Detroit Public Schools has had four leaders in the past four years.

It’s hard to understand how a school system can make any sort of sustained progress with a veritable revolving door of administrative transition occurring in the central offices–and this is certainly the case in Detroit: “Under emergency managers Robert Bobb, Roy Roberts and Martin, DPS has shed tens of thousands of students, closed dozens of schools and struggled with persistent deficits…Last fall’s (2014) preliminary enrollment was 47,238, less than half of the 96,000 students attending DPS when Bobb was appointed.”

It’s beyond time to declare Gov. Snyder’s approach to education reform in Detroit a resounding failure. The state has had 15 years to “fix” the problems they created through a massive disinvestment of public education in Michigan, and Detroit’s children and teachers have paid the price as a seemingly endless parade of highly paid “experts” have failed to turn the ship around.

State control is not only NOT a panacea; it is a manifest failure.

Robinson says it is past time to turn the public schools back to the people of Detroit. They might make mistakes but they are more trustworthy with their children than Governor Snyder and his appointees.

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