"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Will Authoritarian Control of Detroit Schools Let Duncan Sleep Better?

(Photo: Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)
In terms of one-man rule, Detroit has been there, done that. In 2004 voters overwhelmingly rejected mayoral control and put an elected school board back in charge. Unfortunately, that did not stop the blowing up of the system as NCLB's impossible explosive devices (IEDs) continued to wreak havoc in the schools. The current $300 million dollar deficit is the result of parents fleeing the effects of the onslaught.

Now Dunc and the vulture philanthropists have moved in, advocating for dictatorial control of the schools in order to make sure the school buses run on time and the corporate charter franchises are given free rein.

Too bad Wayne County Commissioner, Keith Williams, did not get to meet Dunc yesterday:
While Duncan met with state and local leaders this morning, other local representatives and parents met with Peter Cunningham, assistant secretary for communications and outreach for the federal education department.

Wayne County Commissioner Keith Williams said poverty is a big concern in Detroit. Others raised the problems of gangs in schools, and text messaging in classrooms.

"If you can solve the poverty issue, you will solve the education issue," he said.

Cunningham said the secretary and his team generally see education as the way out of poverty.

Cunningham also raised the issue of whether mayoral control was a consideration here in Detroit. Williams said mayoral control isn't the answer.

"We don't need a takeover," he said. "We need cooperation."
A little history of the Detroit situation from the Detroit Free Press:

. . . .DPS has been under mayoral control before. In 1999, a state law gave the mayor power to appoint six of Detroit's seven school board members. The other was the state superintendent or his designee. The board had no financial powers, solely existing to hire, evaluate and fire the chief executive officer who ran the district.

In 2004, Detroit voters became the nation's first to repeal a school takeover, giving power back to an 11-member elected board. Those against mayoral control resented Lansing legislators for passing the law, calling it a racist power grab for control of the district's $1.5-billion construction bond.

Freman Hendrix, adviser to Bing, a former mayoral candidate and the first president of the reform school board appointed by then-Mayor Dennis Archer in 1999, said frustration and apathy favor mayoral control. "I think the mood is different now, the city is beat down now," he said.

After 3 1/2 years under an elected board, DPS has an estimated $305-million deficit, and the governor, in March, took financial control from the school board for the next year. DPS has lost 45% of its students in the past 10 years, fueling the financial problems.

Wednesday's meeting with Duncan came one day after Bobb announced that 29 of DPS's 200 schools will close for good this summer -- bringing the five-year total to 100 closed buildings. An additional 40 schools will be restructured; some may be placed under control of private companies.

Duncan, a supporter of mayoral control, is the former chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools. In that city, Mayor Richard Daley appoints the CEO and school board. . . .


  1. R J Casey3:12 PM

    Frankly, I’m mystified by the belief that turning Detroit schools over to Mayoral control will free the system from the entrenched bureaucracy and school board leadership that runs heavily to the “friends and family” mode. Detroit has a new mayor, true. However, I doubt that things will be greatly different from the crony-connected operations that have tended to characterize Detroit’s city leadership over several decades. Does Secretary Duncan understand, that unlike Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and even DC, Detroit is not a city that functions very well? Detroit has most recently operated on a system much like the Detroit Public Schools: Heavy with departments and divisions lead by insiders, friends, and family friends, light on people in the trenches. Our new Mayor was elected in the wake of our former mayor being sent to prison. Because of those special circumstances, he faces another election this November. That makes Detroit’s mayor extraordinarily subject to removal by citizens who are angered at school closings,
    Detroit has few groups or organizations that open doors and shine light on the corruption that tends to grow where personal friendships and filial relationships are more important than simple competence. Our newspapers are in decline and leaning toward death. We don’t have such things as Chicago’s Catalyst or Washington’s DCPSWatch or a significant set of blogs that comment on our school system. No one noticed a few years ago, for example, when a school board member’s nephew, who lacked any sort of certification, was place in a leadership position over a very important part of the school system’s student services.
    I hear a lot of blame placed on teachers and teachers’ unions. What I don’t hear is acknowledgment of the extensive poverty and lack of opportunity within the city. Yes, improved education can move people out of poverty, but that takes time closer to a generation, rather than a 4-year political cycle. What I don’t hear is discussion of the very real effects of lead exposure that blights the lives of many Detroit children, and in the absence of early intervention, leaves too many students permanently learning disabled.
    I hear about funds that are wasted, which is certainly true. What I don’t hear is that many Detroit suburbs, to which Detroit’s students and teachers are unfavorably compared, are typically getting much larger funding per child from the State of Michigan. Some of these Districts get thousands of dollars more per child than Detroit does. The playing field is far from level.
    I hear the idea that principals should have power to hire and fire teachers they consider to be incompetent. What I don’t hear is anything to suggest that teachers are being asked how well principals are running their schools. I don’t hear how teachers, in the absence of a union, can defend themselves against principals who are arrogant, unqualified, or just mean-spirited. I don’t hear how paying teachers less, as is the typical case in Michigan’s charter schools, improves instruction. Don’t other professions attract the best candidates by raising their pay?

  2. RJ Casey,

    Your post is loaded with truth, and honest, wise questions.

    You wear your integrity on your sleeve, sir.

    If only there were more people like you, willing to look deeper and ask the hard questions.

    Thank you for posting!