The Detroit landmark decision that children deserve to learn to read in school is a case that reflects decades of troubled education in Detroit. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and school privatization are not mentioned in this case. But school privatization initiatives have been failing children in the Motor City for years. DeVos is the current face of a long line of those peddling such reforms.
Harmful school reform initiatives go back to Gov. John Engler’s administration. Many school reformers, both Republican and Democrat, have their fingerprints on the crime scene. The DeVos family is from Michigan and has affected Detroit and school reform there for years.
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of Detroit students who claim they were denied their rights to a “basic minimum education.” Called the “Right to Read” lawsuit, Gary B. v. Whitmer exposes the decrepit conditions found in schools run by State leaders who failed to support Detroit’s students. The case was originally filed under former Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration.
It’s critical to recognize DeVos’s connection to the Detroit school failures. During this pandemic she is flagrantly redirecting public money to the same privatization agenda. It puts democratic public schools in jeopardy, like schools were put at risk in Detroit. Here’s a petition you can sign now to try and stop her.
School privatization cheerleaders have for years promoted the idea that choice will equalize education by giving parents choices. They’ve pushed for online charter schools and school turnarounds that get tough on teachers and students of color. Choice failed in Detroit.
Schools had no literacy programs.
The case describes what good reading instruction should consist of in school. Sometimes it appears to be delving into the Reading Wars, emphasizing the loss of explicit phonics.
The trouble is, one can’t get to a debate over how students learn to read, without overcoming the fact that students have untrained teachers and an atrocious learning environment.
It’s troubling to think the case might result in only professional development and a push for unproven programs, even online reading programs, that don’t address the need for creating quality schools, professional teachers, and more individualized attention for the children of Detroit.
Poor school conditions have been a part of Detroit’s schools for years. Students struggle to learn in slum-like conditions, no air-conditioning in the summer, freezing temperatures in the winter. Who can forget these pictures from 2016, the year the case was filed?
Vermin, mold, and contaminated drinking water plague the schools. Bullets, dead vermin, condoms, and sex toys have been found on the playground. Fire safety equipment and fire regulations are missing.
Betsy DeVos’s mantra is that education is about students and not buildings. She has done nothing to improve the condition of schools in Detroit or around the country.
Teaching resources were deficient. The case describes classrooms without enough textbooks, and old books that haven’t been updated in years.
The only school library mentioned had no librarian and was locked!
At one school, textbooks, library books, and other curricular materials were thrown away into a dumpster at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year when the school opened as an EAA [Educational Achievement Authority] school; the intent was to switch to digital learning. But the new digital platform was ineffective, lacked existing instructional materials, and was abandoned in the 2015-16 school (p.53).
Teachers had to pay for the barest essentials like pencils and paper.
Qualified teachers resigned. The State lessened the regulations for teacher qualifications only in Detroit.
Teach for America corps members taught in schools. TFA’s school reform organization promises that their corps members will transform poor schools. Many go on to become leaders in state education departments with little education background.
In 2018, TFA received $39,835,621 in government grants, $184,002,232 in contributions, and their total primary revenue is $235,973,769.
TFA didn’t do what they promise in Detroit.
The case includes three schools from the Detroit Public Schools Community District and two charter schools.
The DPSCD schools are Osborn Academy of Mathematics (“Osborn MST”), Osborn Evergreen Academy of Design and Alternative Energy (“Osborn Evergreen”), originally Osborne High School, and the Medicine and Community Health Academy at Cody.
Experiencia Preparatory Academy was a charter school connected with Educational Partnerships Incorporated.
Hamilton Academy was authorized by Northern Michigan University who later left the agreement. The Marion Law Academy (distance learning) connected with the troubled Educational Achievement Authority, which ended in 2017, also worked with the school.
Broad Academy trainee Robert Bobb, appointed in 2009 by Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, served as the emergency financial manager for the Detroit Public Schools.
Osborne High School had a troubled history. Bobb closed the school, but parents pressured him to keep the school open. He reopened the schools renaming them Osborne MST and Osborne Evergreen. Bobb refused any capital improvements to Osborn High.
Quoting the above article, he said,
This is a great opportunity to explore a public-private partnership to support the construction of a new small high school for the Osborn lower schools.
Nor did Bobb decrease the district’s debt as promised. According to Electablog:
When Robert Bobb was appointed to be the Emergency Financial Manager for Detroit Public Schools in 2009, the district was $219 million in debt. When he left two years later, the debt had ballooned by 50% to $327 million. This is one of the legacies of Emergency Management in Michigan.
Despite failing, Bobb moved on….
Unequal Charter Schools
Betsy DeVos pushed for public education to be dissolved in Detroit, replaced by choice. At one point on Twitter her political organization started the hashtag #EndDPS. But school choice failed in Detroit.
For example, school privatization often involves labeling schools with appealing career titles (i.e. Osborn MST and Osborn Evergreen, and Medicine and Community Health Academy.) One is led to believe that students will learn skills that will propel them into future careers. There’s little evidence such schools do what they claim.
The West Michigan DeVos Aviation school does not appear to be the same failed school as the Detroit district schools and charters. Such disparity provides a good example of how charter schools will not solve the problem of equality.
If Betsy DeVos truly believed in charter schools, why hasn’t she worked to make the charters in Detroit more like the Aviation charter school?
While the DeVos backed charter advocacy group Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), has been a prominent part of pushing charter schools in Detroit. They haven’t been about creating quality charters.
From The Atlantic:
…in 2011, GLEP successfully killed a provision that would stop failing schools from duplicating; this past year, the organization helped stop the creation of the Detroit Education Commissions (DEC), a panel that would have overseen school openings and closings in Detroit, arguing that the commission would hurt charters by prioritizing the stability of district public schools.
During this time of uncertainty, America needs to support and uplift its public schools like never before. They are our schools. They don’t belong to just Betsy DeVos and her friends in high places.
Betsy DeVos is using this pandemic to end democratic public schools. There will be no hope of fixing the shoddy conditions found in Detroit schools, or schools around the country under DeVos’s rule. Those belong to us too, and we all have a responsibility to fix those schools.
Detroit is a example of what a future divide with schools will look like in America if school privatization is permitted to flourish. Gary B. v. Whitmer shows school privatization failed Detroit’s children. It will fail all of America’s children.
Michele Manhire says
Although I agree with the overall premise of. your article, I can’t help myself from cringing when I read (twice) the use of the term, “democratic public schools”. Any parent in the system knows the fact that there is NOTHING ‘small d – democratic’ about public schools! The State is in charge, being run by politicians, not educators (as you know too well). Parents have had little to no say in any matters from curriculum to building conditions for decades. There is nothing “for the people; by the people” in our educational system. I feel this term is being used politically here, and it’s not appreciated. If you actually mean ‘capital D – Democratic’, then use your terms correctly. Politics is ALLLLLLL up in education, and there’s no denying it. As advocates for Public Education, we all need to make every effort to take politics OUT of our discussions, and point our efforts only on moving forward with SOLUTIONS, not finger pointing. This landmark case from DPSCD gives all in MI (let alone in the entire country) the opportunity to state the facts, get involved to encourage new paths to success, and advocate for legitimate leadership on the State, Legislative, District, and classroom level. I, for one, do not want the old system to be restored!! It is time for a new prioritization of education in this country; one in which the huge investments are made to bring every school up to the established modern standard. Nothing else will do.
Nancy Bailey says
Capital D–Democratic refers to the Democratic Party. The lower case democratic refers here to us having representation in the decisions made for our schools, This occurs through those we elect or who are appointed to represent our schools, like school boards. Education is political, funded by our tax dollars. I don’t see how we can get around that.
I argue that political things have been done to schools to intentionally make them fail. I want robust school systems that have more teacher/parent/citizen control .
I’m not sure how we really disagree. I do believe the idea behind public schooling is a good one and has served many schools well. Obviously, the schools in Detroit have not had the support of the State and I argue that the push for substandard charters and choice in Detroit hurt schools.
Betsy DeVos is using tax dollars to fund her privatization agenda. Do you approve?
Nancy Bailey says
My thanks to Diane Ravitch. I appreciate that she likes where I point my pen.
Robert Shepherd says
Outstanding article, Nancy! Bravo!