Sunday, July 5, 2015

Detroit News Is Clueless

Detroit News writer Ingrid Jacques reports breathlessly about the arrival of education experts into the motor city. Actually, the headline writer says the experts "descend" on Detroit, which tells you plenty about how the editor views the relative position of these experts and the city, even if the editor stopped short of writing "Experts descend from on high to enlighten lowly locals."

Jacques and her editors have an odd view of what constitutes an educational expert, because the experts in question are Mike Petrilli (Fordham Foundation) and Eric Chan (Charter School Growth Fund). So, not so much "educational experts" as "charter school marketing experts." They were invited by Excellent Schools Detroit. ESD deserves its own piece, but the short form is that ESD was formed in 2010 as one of those "community philanthropic boards" that allows all sorts of privatizers to get a seat at the school management table without having to be, you know, elected or anything. These boards are carefully crafted to make sure that The Right People are in charge of making all the decisions about how to manage schools (and those sweet, sweet piles of public tax money).

Chan and Petrilli were working the next phase charter talking points, which is generally to call for tighter quality controls on charter schools, because while the theory is that charters need to be opened because the charters do a better job than public schools, it turns out that many don't do a better job than public schools and so the charter system has to be fixed. This is the newest odd paradox in the privatizing narrative-- when public school systems fail, they must be replaced, but when charter school systems fail, they must be nurtured, supported, managed and improved. Go figure.

Jacques says that Detroit should look at "models that are working," citing New Orleans and Memphis, so I guess by "working" she doesn't so much mean "providing quality community school systems" as she means "creating good revenue streams for privatizers." She does note that Detroit is "complicated" and poses some "unique challenges." Which leads us to this improbable sentence:

That's partly why the education debate in Detroit is attracting such high-profile expertise.

Will this be the place where she introduce people who are actually experts in education? (Spoiler alert: no). Her next example is Paul Pastorek, the former NOLA superintendent who turned post-Katrina public school crisis in to charter school gold (well, gold for charter operators-- for students and local communities, not so much). Pastorek has used that experience to launch a new career as traveling charter system salesman-consultant, and he's been working in Michigan to show how to make Detroit's system more profiteer-friendly.

Jacques alludes to some of Detroit's issues, including a mish-mosh of authorizers plus the state's version of an Achievement School District as well as the financial disaster that happens to a public school system when you let a swarm of charters feast on its blood. Why is all this a problem? Could it be a problem because it disenfranchises local voters, or because it creates instability for the poorest neighborhoods that need stability, or because it fails to provide decent education for the students?

Pshaw. None of that. It's a problem because it makes life harder for investors in charter schools. That's why Chan's here. His investment group has big bets placed on most of the major charter operators.

But those top management companies have shied away from Detroit because of the unstable environment that currently exists. With a dozen different authorizers opening and closing schools in Detroit, Chan says this creates unpredictable enrollment and limits the expansion potential for highest-rated operators. That could change, however.

"As an investor, I'm optimistic," Chan says. "I sense you're heading in the right direction."

So we see once again why privatizing public schools is a crappy idea-- because privatization transforms the very purpose of schools. Educating students or serving a community? Naw, that's way down the list. Provide a good return for investors-- that's the real purpose of a school system.

That's why I have to feel bad for the folks in Detroit-- they have a school system deeply in crisis, and a newspaper that can't tell the difference between a doctor and a vulture.

1 comment:

  1. Ingrid Jacques is a regular hoot. Every editorial is a shameless promotion of charter privatization or a slam on unions. When a few Detroit charters had unionization votes, good ol' Ingrid launched a screeching editorial about how those unions would restrain all that amazing charter innovation that I hear a lot about but see nothing of. A read of her positions can help crystallize the real point of all of the reform: determining who gets the money.

    In Ingrid's world and that of the slimy privatizers, the money goes to the charter school CEO. Not the teachers or ancillary staff. This is the world we live in.

    And yes, Mr. Greene, you are beyond correct in your assessment that failing public schools need to be shut down apparently but those low-performing charter schools need support and nurturing. Because, you know, those darn investors have their hearts in the right place.