Bad Business

THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Bad Business
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, May 23, 2010

Emergency Financial Manager Bobb’s plans to reform Detroit Public Schools fall apart under serious examination. His claim that he can improve the schools through massive closures, shifting resources to charter schools and bringing in Teach for America (TFA) cannot be substantiated.

First, No Child Left Behind, now repackaged as Race to The Top, which is the overall framework driving Bobb’s schemes, is a thinly veiled effort to shift public resources into private hands. It is not concerned with education, with democratic values or with developing creative, critically thinking Americans. Even its early proponents, as they have witnessed the havoc they have created, have abandoned their support for privatizing education.

Second, as discussed last week, charter schools, both nationally and locally, do not out-perform public schools. In many cases, they do worse. In Detroit both the high school graduation rate and the dropout rates are worse in charter schools than in DPS. The only real difference is that charter schools make money for individuals and corporations. They do not provide a better education.

Third, it is now clear that plans for school closures in Detroit have nothing to do with what is actually happening inside our schools. Many of those schools slated for closure are among the most innovative and best performing in the city. Moreover, they are often the ones that have garnered the most parent and community support. As a result, they are the schools bringing new ideas about education along with additional resources. Often they are the schools eliminating walls so that young people can learn not only from the classroom but also from the community itself.

Now Manager Bobb plans to add yet another bad idea to his growing list. He intends to bring in Teach for America. The announcement came on the heels of his decision to lay off 2000 DPS teachers. TFA has been encouraged by a partnership between Skillman Foundation and the Broad Foundation. They have agreed to contribute $2.5 million to TFA to support their national recruiting efforts.

The Broad Foundation, which schooled Bobb in his current notions about education, and Skillman are using their resources to distort the democratic processes of our city. Skillman has openly refused to work with the duly elected school board. Broad, whose primary mission is to turn education into profit-making businesses, operates without any public accountability.

Perhaps all of this would be acceptable if Teach for America represented new ideas in education. But it does not. Like charter schools, the research shows that Teach for America produces the same outcomes, or worse, than public school teachers.

Part of the problem of TFA is the premise that just bringing bright young people into a school for a few years will make a difference. Almost every researcher agrees that one of the major issues in public education is the revolving door of new teachers. Experienced teachers are generally better teachers. TFA begins with a premise that recent college graduates will contribute two years in an “underserved setting,” then move on to something else.

A peer reviewed 2005 study by Linda Darling-Hammond and three other colleagues at Stanford University looked at data from Houston covering a 6 year period and 132,000 students. It concluded, “We found no instance where uncertified Teach for America teachers performed as well as standard certified teachers of comparable experience levels teaching in similar settings.”

Bobb and the foundations are promoting old ideas of education. These ideas have proven to do little for children. Their only real promise is to make money for those who see education as a business.

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