District will fire teachers, staff, break unions, hand schools over to unelected charter boards
By Diane Bukowski
DETROIT – Detroit Board of Education President Anthony Adams is clearly “joined at the hip” with Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Robert Bobb, as Mayor Dave Bing said he (Bing) is joined with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
On April 5, Adams presented what he called a “joint” board-EM charter school plan for DPS to the Detroit City Council. It was virtually identical to the “Renaissance 2012” plan announced earlier by Bobb. (See VOD articles at http://voiceofdetroit.net/?p=5584 and http://voiceofdetroit.net/?p=5724.)
The plan involves the closure of at least 40 DPS schools for the year 2012, with an additional 18 scheduled for closure if charter operators are not found for them. Another 27 schools not scheduled for closure will be put on the charter auction block. (See blue box listing schools.)
Adams passed out copies of a presentation on the plan to the council, which was obtained by VOD from the City Clerk’s office. The report has a “Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager” logo stamped on every page.
Board member Ida Short said the board has not voted to approve the Adams-Bobb plan.
“We have not voted to accept the chartering plan even though our President and Vice-President [Tyrone Winfrey] have appeared in several places about it,” Short told the Council. “We have chartering in New Orleans, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and New York, but the data shows that on the whole the charters are not doing as well as public schools.”
A March 13, 2011 article in the New York Times said, “Charter school students score about the same on state tests as Detroit district students, even though charters have fewer special education students (8 percent versus 17 percent in the district) and fewer poor children (65 percent get subsidized lunches versus 82 percent at district schools). It’s hard to know whether children are better off under these “reforms” or they’re just being moved around more.” (Click on http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/14/education/14winerip.html to read entire article.)
Adams said he has favored charter schools at least since 1994, and has recently been involved in ongoing discussions with charter operators who are chomping at the bit to get DPS’ $7200 per pupil from the state of Michigan for an estimated 16,000 students.
That’s at least $115.2 million, if Snyder’s plan to cut per-pupil funds by $400 passes the state legislature. If not, the current per-pupil rate is $7600, bringing the total to $121.6 million. Bobb has said the plan would save DPS $70-$90 million.
“The irony of this whole movement is that when the state charter law was first enacted, I think DPS was first school district to offer charters,” Adams said. He noted the first Detroit charters were “Afro-centered.”
“We should have taken advantage of that charter school opportunity then because it would have given us a different base of funding and a different prospect for how we handle education in city of Detroit now,” Adams told Council members.
In fact, the State Constitution DOES guarantee a free public education for every student without discrimination. (See yellow box). Charters won a court battle indicating they are “public schools,” but in the court of public opinion, there is certainly “reasonable doubt” about this issue.
Adams did not explain why since 1994, years which included his term as DPS general counsel to state appointed-CEO Kenneth Burnley, he never advocated for African-centered education in the entire Detroit system. The vast majority of students attending DPS are Black. Additionally, many authorities believe African-centered education is historically accurate, unlike Euro-centered education, which begins the history of civilization with the Greek and Roman empires.
It should thus be advantageous to students of ALL races.
In fact, the nation’s PUBLIC school system was largely founded by Africans who broke the bonds of slavery during and after the Civil War, with the intention of educating ALL children regardless of race or economic status. To them, free PUBLIC education was a paramount RIGHT, since many had been whipped and lynched for learning to read.
Michigan state law first authorized the opening of charter schools or “public school academies” as they are euphemistically termed, in 1994. These schools, while garnering the same state per pupil aid as public school districts, are not governed by elected school boards or subject to the same oversight requirements, as well as guarantees of teacher certification and union representation.
The charter schools proposed by Adams and Bobb will not be any different. Adams said the charter operators are averse to dealing with union contracts, and that the firing of teachers and staff in the schools will happen. He said the district will continue to own the schools and will provide a “menu of services” for the charter operators, including maintenance and transportation (which have already been privatized).
But he claimed the schools, which would be under district authority, would have ample “community involvement.”
Adams said each charter school board would be required to have three members from the community, but would not specify if that meant DPS parents or even Detroit residents. He said board members will not be elected by the community, but selected by charter operators.
“As a part of this process, we will be taking applications from community people on a first-come, first-served basis, who will be given training at no cost, and become certified to be board members,” Adams said. “Their names will be provided to the charter operators who will select them from list. This will be a moment of empowerment—the community will now have the opportunity to make a difference at the school level.”
In response to questions from Councilwoman Brenda Jones about the logistics of implementing such drastic changes over the summer, Adams said, “This is very aggressive plan, it does require in a very short time line a two-phase approach. There are a number of schools currently in hopper scheduled to be closed,” Adams said.
He said the proposed closings allow the district to seek Requests for Proposals from charter operators, which have now been posted on the DPS website.
“We can’t in good conscience continue to operate in same way in the same manner, if our kids are not becoming very proficient in what they do,” Adams said. “We must embrace the notion of academic excellence. Academic failure will no longer be tolerated.”
Adams claimed only five percent of Detroit school children are proficient in reading as compared to the national average.
Studies to support this allegation are not included in the report. Adams was likely using the 2009 Trial Urban District Assessment, a national test developed by the Governing Board of the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education, and the Council of Great City Schools. The test only sampled students, using categories of Advanced, Proficient, Basic and Below Basic.
Crain’s Detroit Business said of the test, “Detroit’s fourth graders received an overall score of 200 on a scale of 0-500, putting the city dead last among the other 17 large central U.S. cities grouped together in the NAEP test. The national average of districts of all kinds was 239.”
In fact, 20101state “report card” grades accorded to schools on the chopping and/or auction block for 2011 show only three with “D alert” grades. The remainder have B or C grades, and there are even several with A grades. (See list of schools.)
Adams neglected to say that Detroiters also come in dead last in the rate of poverty among “large central U.S.cities,” ranking highest at 33.6 percent in 2004, with a whopping 45.8 percent of its children living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census. Current breakdowns from the 2010 U.S. Census are not available on that website, which has been drastically altered.
Detroit children also receive about three-fifths the amount of state per-pupil aid as do children from wealthy suburbs like Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham, according to Michigan Department of Education figures. That unquestionably violates the non-discrimination clause of the state’s constitution, but has NEVER been challenged by any Detroit official or state politician.
In other words, Detroit is back to slavery days, when Africans were considered three-fifths of a person.
To make things worse, 86 percent of that minimal per-pupil aid goes to pay off the district’s debt to the banks. (Go to VOD article )
Councilwoman JoAnn Watson told Adams, “The state of Michigan led a takeover initiative in 1999, and since then huge deficits have been garnered under the state’s watch. It is unconscionable to leave DPS with this debt—it’s their debt. Detroit citizens voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to excuse that debt. The district had a $93 million surplus in 1999, and was right in the middle academically. It was all about money, power and politics and it still is.”
Adams showed a slide of enrollment projections for the district. The district expects a school population of 50,617 in 2016 as compared to an actual population in 168,213 in 2000, he said. That’s 30 PERCENT of pre-state-takeover figures.
Detroit parents are fleeing to charters and to suburban districts, as schools close, he said. Reports show seventy thousand Detroit children now attend charter schools, causing the loss of $533 million in school aid ANNUALLY to the Detroit Public Schools.
Adams claimed that under the Renaissance 2012 plan, no student will be relocated from their current school, if the school is selected for charterization.
He said charters will be required to take special education students. But the actual language in his presentation is “Charter operators will be contractually required to meet all special education needs of enrolled students,” a rather different statement.
In response to questions from Councilwoman Brenda Jones, Adams defended the closing of the Day School for the Deaf and other Special Education programs. He said the Day School’s students will be merged into Edmonson and Schultz schools and questioned the validity of separating deaf and special ed students from the general population.
“Kids must understand they don’t live in a world by themselves, deaf children should be accepted,” he said. “The district keeps special needs populations in their own world, but some with moderate challenges should be merged, so they have a broader understanding of what the world is all about.”
He claimed all programs for deaf and special ed students would transfer with them.
“Whether society will be sensitive to their needs could be very questionable,” Jones responded.
There is a national movement in the deaf population that manifested itself in uprisings at the country’s only university for the deaf, Gallaudet in Washington, D.C., in 1988 and 2006. Students demanded a president who is deaf. Many in the deaf community still prefer to use sign language, which they consider a language as valid as English or Spanish, as opposed to “blending in” to the community at large by learning to speak vocally and reading lips.
Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins congratulated Adams on working closely with Bobb despite the board’s earlier adversarial relationship with him. Adams himself sued Bobb at one point for slander because Bobb claimed Adams wouldn’t show up for hearings on shady DPS real estate deals because he was involved in them.
“We can continue to fight,” Adams said. “We won the battle on mayoral control, but where has that gotten us in terms of improving the quality of education for our children?
He said the community and the district’s EM should work together with private foundations, since the district’s status as a public school system had prevented the private foundations from contributing funds for the benefit of Detroit’s children.