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Detroit Board Sues to Stop High School Turnaround Plan


From guest blogger Dakarai I. Aarons:

A plan to turn over management of three-fourths of Detroit's high schools to private managers hit a snag this week.

Just days after Detroit Public Schools leader Robert C. Bobb announced his plan to bring in EdisonLearning, EdWorks, the Institute for Student Achievement and the Model Secondary Schools Project to run 17 high schools, the Detroit school board voted to sue Bobb, saying he's overstepped his authority as the emergency financial manager.

"It was a growing frustration on the part of many board members," board member Anthony Adams told me this week. "There's been a total lack of communication between his office and the board on academic policy in the district."

The board and Bobb have been at odds over what his role is. Bobb, who was appointed this spring by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, has sole authority over contracts in the district for his one-year term.

Adams and Keith Johnson, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, also raised concerns about the companies being hired, especially EdisonLearning, which they say has not improved education in places like Philadelphia. (Studies on the efficacy of the private management have been mixed.)

Bobb and Granholm say he is operating within his authority and should not be micromanaged by the board.

"The board's attempt to distract and confuse the public by claiming that we are privatizing schools is disingenuous. We are not privatizing these schools. We are not creating a charter district," Bobb said in an editorial column yesterday's Detroit News. "The district has partners working with DPS principals, teachers and parents to bring the best national models of school improvement to Detroit families."

Keep your eyes peeled for more on this, and other challenges in Detroit schools in the next issue of Education Week, hitting a mailbox near you August 12.


Even with Edison at the helm there is no fundamental change to the incentive structure or the ability of the system to function objectively. Edison merely represents yet another interest feeding at the public trough. Whether Detroit follows its traditional Bolshevist path or moves toward a more right-wing corporatist program there is one solid thing that can be said: the public school system will remain socialist- with all the problems that come with it. “Democracy” is the religionist propaganda, force fed to school children and popularly worshipped uncritically, that provides socialism its ideological cover. How many times do you hear the word democracy associated with freedom of action yet simultaneously with rights to the labor and property of others? Proponents call it “democratic rights” to education, healthcare, National Defense and ….yikes, the socialist list is endless. The contradiction goes unexamined and the people of Detroit suffer. It is like all of Detroit is forced to go on the Titanic’s tragic voyage over and over again with an added caveat: the system itself creates the iceberg and can do no better. The only way out of this Dantean hell is liberty, but very few people believe in it. So for Detroit hell it shall be.

I hate it when banks and financiers who created our recession come out of it smelling like a rose.

But, we're a nation of laws not men (and women). Obviously I can't cite the letter of their law. But it sure looks like the spirit of the law was violated.

When I was a researcher at a public library, as a condition of employment we had to sign a code of ethics. We were prohibited from violating the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. If the local police wanted to see someone's records, for instance, it was unethical to comply.
But today's reformers seem to have no such compunction, for instance, trying to take advantage of the economic downturn to violate contracts in regard to seniority. Even if the reformers are right and the unions are wrong, how can people advocate something like that in a constitutional democracy and expect to be seen as reputable?

Since you talk directly to teacher quality "reformers" and I don't, I'd like you to ask the following. Why are they so confident that they are right that they take an ends justify the means position?

That is a good transition to a similiar post you made. You guys also linked to a Catalyst post which said, Duncan may "want to warn districts that it (turnarounds) is no quick fix.

And that there is yet no evidence that they can fix high schools at all."

Shouldn't all of that uncertainty breed some modesty? Also, the comments on the latest Catalyst post were important. They recount the incompetence and the ignorance of the private contractors who led the turnarounds. Given their dismal records, why believe that Edison could do a better job? Given Edison's track record, this sounds like cronyism. I know that that sounds unbelievable that Detroit or Chicago would cut corners regarding the law but ...

The way that the majority of our schools have been mismanaged by the public sector, I can't see it being any worse with private managers at the helm. I would like to see if they could root out the waste and corruption and perhaps improve the schools overall. Maybe a dream when we consider what the private sector has done during this economic crisis.

Now it's SOCIALISM that's causing problems in an economic hell-hole like Detroit? Unlike some armchair experts, I've actually spent time in Detroit and in its schools (I was field supervisor for secondary mathematics student teachers with the University of Michigan from 1993 to 1998 and had about a dozen student teachers in Detroit over that time). I still live in southeastern Michigan and have occasion to see many areas of the city. Anyone who thinks the problems there can be attributed to the public schools or socialism is smoking something. Not that there is a great deal wrong with Detroit and not that its public schools are anything vaguely near where they need to be. But they do not operate in a vacuum. How "socialism" comes into play beggars the imagination.

As for privatizing, from what I've seen, that will simply lead to more efficient theft. That Obama and Duncan (and "liberal" Gov. Granholm, the Great Do-Nothing) buy into charters and other privatizing schemes is disappointing in the first case and predictable in the latter two. ANd it isn't going to help at all.

Insert "not" between "is" and "a" in the third sentence from last in my first paragraph above.

Michael Paul Goldenberg,

Are you so surrounded by socialism and its effects that it all seems quite normal to you? Public schools are socialist- that includes UMichigan- your former employer btw. How could you ignore this reality? Oh, I see, maybe you carry the belief that socialism is good?

Sorry Michael, but socialist institutions by nature are unable to provide any net benefit. To the degree they are socialist is the extent that structural incentives are at odds with whatever mission the institution claims to have, i.e. to serve the people. In add, the banishment of the profit/loss, price evolving system based on voluntary exchange, call it the market, blinds socialist leaders and prevents them from planning economically.

Indeed, you have agreed with me that Edison would bring about a more efficient leeching of the system. Note that it is still socialism. This "privatizing" represents a more fascist socialism vs. the current Bolshevist means.

A better characterization of Edison's relationship with public schools can be found in an analogy with how squid get along with other squid: cannibalism. Public schools are already cannibalizing the tax payer and child. Is Edison the bigger squid?

Put that in your pipe.

Turning public schools over to private companies will make privatization complete. Even the public schools have involuntarily (NCLB) and voluntarily (textbook companies, reading "programs," and testing companies) have bought into corporatization. We have seen how the corporations care about the individual.


The key factor is that the money and funding is still via taxation and government direction- hence the corporatization (read: economic fascism) that you describe so well. If the system were really private the threat of going-out-of-business would inject a large degree of real accountability. Parents and shareholders can vote with their feet in the market- but nobody can escape the clutches of NCLB.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Fallon: Parronchi, The key factor is that the money and funding read more
  • Parronchi: Turning public schools over to private companies will make privatization read more
  • Fallon: Michael Paul Goldenberg, Are you so surrounded by socialism and read more
  • Michael Paul Goldenberg: Insert "not" between "is" and "a" in the third sentence read more
  • Michael Paul Goldenberg: Now it's SOCIALISM that's causing problems in an economic hell-hole read more




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