Schools for profit

The title of this NYT magazine feature really captures it, “Michigan Gambled on Charter Schools.  Its Children Lost.”  In fairness, properly done, there seems to be a useful place for charter schools in our broader public school ecosystem.  Alas, under the influence of wealthy ideologues, like Betsy DeVos, Michigan charter schools have come to represent the worst pathologies of Republican ideology.

First, they are incredibly poorly regulated, because, obviously, all government regulation is bad.  Secondly, they exist primarily as a profit-making venture for many.  Now, this is a problem beyond Michigan (including NC) and so corrosive.  I’m sorry, but it just creates a set of horribly perverse incentives for private businesses to look to be profiting of off K-12 education (and higher education, too, for that matter).  At least maybe the rest of states can see Michigan as a model of what not to do.  Alas, I suspect few Republican state legislators will be so enlightened.

Some key excerpts:

The story of Carver is the story of Michigan’s grand educational experiment writ small. It spans more than two decades, three governors and, now, the United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, whose relentless advocacy for unchecked “school choice” in her home state might soon, her critics fear, be going national. But it’s important to understand that what happened to Michigan’s schools isn’t solely, or even primarily, an education story: It’s a business story. Today in Michigan, hundreds of nonprofit public charters have become potential financial assets to outside entities, inevitably complicating their broader social missions. In the case of Carver, interested parties have included a for-profit educational management organization, or E.M.O., in Georgia; an Indian tribe in a remote section of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; and a financial firm in Minnesota. “That’s all it is now — it’s moneymaking,” Darrel Redrick, a charter-school proponent and an administrator at Carver at the time I visited, told me. [emphases mine]

Redrick can pinpoint the precise moment he experienced this revelation: “One of my former principals — this is like 10 years ago, at another school — he said: ‘Redrick, I can tell you why we don’t kick kids out. This child right here represents $6,700.’ ” The principal was referring to the per-pupil state funding at the time. “And if you put out 10 kids, Red,” the principal went on, “that’s about $70,000. And where are we going to get that money?” …

In a 2002 book that Miron wrote with Christopher Nelson called “What’s Public About Charter Schools?” the authors consider two different charter models deployed by states: competitive and collaborative. While the collaborative approach encouraged the public and private sectors to “share innovations,” Michigan favored the other approach: “Engler wanted to lift public schools,” Miron told me, “but he believed in getting as much competition as quickly as possible. It became the Wild West state: Push, push, push.” While other states — Miron cited Ohio, Texas and Arizona — also emerged as exemplars of the “competitive” model, most have since reintroduced some regulation. “Michigan is still an outlier,” Miron said. “No state comes near us when it comes to privatization.”

The results have been stark. The 2016 report by the Education Trust-Midwest noted:

Michigan’s K-12 system is among the weakest in the country and getting worse. In little more than a decade, Michigan has gone from being a fairly average state in elementary reading and math achievement to the bottom 10 states. It’s a devastating fall. Indeed, new national assessment data suggest Michigan is witnessing systemic decline across the K-12 spectrum. White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income — it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live….



About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Schools for profit

  1. Mike in Chapel Hill says:

    Michigan is simply expanding the potential voter base for the future plutocratic Nazi GOP candidates.

  2. R. Jenrette says:

    Groups like those clearly prefer citizens who can’t reason, can’t educate themselves, can’t think for themselves and have been taught to over respect authority.
    It’s so much easier to live for the moment and let others make the tough decisions.

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