What counts?


What counts?

By Shea Howell


For the first time in nearly a decade, Detroit Public Schools may stem the tide of decreasing enrollment. Steve Wasko, spokesperson for Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb, says that if all students are counted at the end of the month, DPS “would log the smallest decrease in students since at least 2003.”

This unexpected strength in public school enrollment led Bobb to claim an endorsement for his policies.”We’re sensing that people are pleased with the new academic rigor we’re putting forth,” said. Wasko.

Before EFM Robert Bobb gets too celebratory, he had better take a close look at election results around the country. The New York Times reported this week that voters are rejecting the topdown, “test-scores-driven, tenure-busting, results-rewarding sort of reform epitomized by organizations like Teach for America and championed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan” and Bobb.

In New York, for example, senate candidates who backed the pro-charter school platforms didn’t even get 30% of the vote. In Washington DC, Mayor Adrian Fenty was soundly defeated by Vincent Gray. Fenty was identified with exactly the kind of policies being pursued by Bobb. In 2007, Fenty appointed Michelle Rhee to run the DC schools. She grabbed national attention as she fired hundreds of teachers and principals, closed schools, pushed testing and measurable teacher performance.

More than any single reform, people resented Rhee’s top down approach. The President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, commented that people are looking for “a reform agenda that’s being done with people, not to people.”

EFM Bobb and Mayor Bing would do well to look at these election signs. Especially since Bobb’s current policy flies in the face of the kind of educational change parents and teachers say makes the most sense.

Parents, teachers, students and community activists are all rejecting the move to privatize education. This is the core of EFM Bobb’s ideal of educational reform.

Along with the reporting of the number of students in the preliminary count of 77,669 students in class and the hunt for 5,089 no shows on that day, local media also noticed the shift in policy by Bobb to sell closed public schools to for profit charter companies.

Last year, 44,375 Detroit students enrolled in charter schools. According to a Detroit News report, that means charter schools got $336 million in state money, millions that could have gone to DPS.

In other words, EFM Robert Bobb’s policies encourage the closure of public schools and the sale of these buildings so they can be reopened for a profit. It is no accident that the deficit in DPS is almost identical to the state money collected by for profit charters.

Now EFM Bobb intends to close more schools, increase class size and sell more buildings to charters.

In a document prepared at the end of July, EFM Bobb says he intends to close 30 more schools in FY 2011, 40 more in FY 2010 and 30 in FY 2013, reducing the entire district to 59 schools.

In the K-3 grades he wants to increase class sizes from a maximum of 25 to 31. In grades 9-12 he wants to increase class sizes from 35 to 62. In his narrative explaining this, EFM Bobb says his plan “includes the implementation of a ‘lecture hall’ model of instruction…consistent with what students would expect in large university settings and consistent with policy objectives we have …for projected savings of $32.7 million in FY 2012.”

Such a direction is nonsense. It is unsupported by any educational research or common sense. It is completely the wrong direction.

Communities are rejecting such short- sighted efforts. There are far better ideas being projected to address the crisis of failing schools, e.g. by introducing real changes that motivate students by making learning relevant to their lives. ___________________________________________

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