Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What will 2013 bring our state's school system

   Can you imagine investing nearly $8,000 in something you hold very dear and being told that your investment is worth only about $4,000 nearly minutes after you write the check? If you are disappointed to hear that, that is what many privateers such as Clark Durant and many others who want to privatize schools do not want you to know. Cutting corners to make a profit in the hands of private companies are what is on the mind of some.

Books... Gone.

Veteran teachers. Also gone.

The right to bargain or control class size. That is also in the words of the late Ernie Harwell: "long gone."

     For vested school partners who wonder what might happen to schools if those who favor private companies and vouchers to get their way, Glenn Gilbert, editor of the Oakland Press discusses the issue in this editorial.


GILBERT: What will 2013 bring for our state's school system?

Perhaps the new year will bring a less heated and more fact-based approach to the debate over public school reforms touted by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

Public school administrators — many from Oakland County — have objected loudly to the proposals.

The controversy seems to revolve around the idea of allowing more for-profit and charter schools.

Well, if it improves education, what difference does it make?

That ought to be the focus of the discussion.

Typical of some of the near-hysterical reaction was a recent statement from Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan Senate Democratic leader and a potential challenger to Snyder in 2014.

She said Snyder wants “to dismantle Michigan’s public education system and replace it with a voucher plan that favors for-profit corporations operating our schools instead. It would hand our tax dollars over to out-of-state companies with little or no oversight, allowing them to make decisions based on what’s profitable instead of what’s best for our students.”

Whitmer suggests people go to to sign a petition telling Snyder that the people of Michigan do not support his plan to put profits ahead of our students’ education.

“Descriptions like these play into the completely unfounded hysteria the public school establishment is attempting to create,” said Michael Van Beek, education policy director of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Charter schools, however, are public schools with public school boards. Charter schools often choose to contract with a for-profit management company to operate the public school, Van Beek said.  
He said a student has to first opt to enroll in the public charter school and the charter school district has to approve an agreement with the for-profit operating company.

“It is very different from a voucher system where public money can go directly to a private school,” Van Beek said.

“Angry cries of ‘privatization’ greet the relatively modest number of reform-minded, for-profit providers that offer tutoring or charter-school options to kids trapped in lousy schools,” wrote Frederick M. Hess recently in The Wall Street Journal. Hess is director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Hess said that between 1996 and 2011, the number of for-profit charter schools nationwide increased to 758 (with nearly 400,000 students) from six (with 1,000 students). That’s still less than 1 percent of the 50 million students enrolled in K-12 schools. In higher education, by comparison, for-profit providers enrolled 2.4 million students in 2010, or more than 10 percent of total postsecondary enrollment.

“The record of private ventures in education, to be sure, is mixed,” Hess wrote. “The incentive to cut costs can translate into a willingness to cut corners. The urge to grow can lead to deceptive marketing. These are legitimate concerns that demand transparency and sensible regulation.”

And that is where the focus should be.

But what once required a textbook can now be delivered faster, more cheaply and more effectively using new tools and technology, Hess said.

“As schools, systems and suppliers respond accordingly, students will be well-served if educators, parents and policymakers recognize that public systems, nonprofits and for-profits all have vital roles to play when it comes to providing great schooling for 50 million children,” Hess wrote.

“Where is the leadership and plan from the education community?” Tom Watkins, former Michigan superintendent of public instruction, wrote recently in Dome magazine. “Whining and complaining is not a plan.

“Honestly, the current system is failing far too many of our kids,” Watkins wrote. “Education should be about TLC: teaching, learning and children. Yet, once again, when it comes to providing the education our children deserve and need to thrive in a fast-paced, hyper-competitive, knowledge-based economy — where jobs and ideas migrate effortlessly — the focus quickly deteriorates into PCPA: power, control, politics and adults.”  

In Michigan, charter schools are clearly growing in popularity, so parents must think they are achieving something.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reported recently that Detroit now ranks second nationally when it comes to the percentage of students enrolled in charter schools. A full 41 percent of school-age students in Detroit attend a charter school, up from 37 percent last year. Flint ranks fourth nationally, with 33 percent of its students in charter schools.

Statewide in Michigan, about 7 percent of students attend charter schools — just more than 120,000 students total. There are currently 276 charter schools in the state.

Hopefully, the subject of education reform can generate some intelligent discussion as the legislature considers it next year.

Glenn Gilbert is executive editor of The Oakland Press. Contact him at or 248-745-4587. Follow him on Twitter @glenngilbert2.