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Shea Howell

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Thinking for Ourselves: Style and Substance

Posted: 02/15/2012 12:27 pm

Detroit is bracing for another round of school closings. While lacking the arrogance and of his predecessor, Robert Bobb, Emergency Financial Manager Roy S. Roberts has made it clear more schools will be shut down. 

Highlighting the difference in management styles, Roy Roberts has been quietly meeting with parents and staff to tell them their schools will be closed or consolidated. In addition some schools will be transferred into the hands of the Education Achievement Authority. This is the new statewide district for "low achieving" schools. 

The style may be different, but the substance is the same. Mr. Roberts is closing and consolidating schools, laying off teachers, renegotiating contracts, disrupting classes, upsetting parents, students, teachers and communities without any public accountability. 

His thinking about closures, criteria for consolidation, decisions about who will and who wont be turned over to even more distant state control, are all private. They are made behind closed doors, without any public discussion about where we are headed in public education. 

This is because the clear aim of the governor and the right wing extremists in the state legislature is to dismantle public schools, break the power of unions and turn the schooling of children into a for profit businesses. They have no concern for our children, their education, or their future. 

While Roy Roberts was preparing his lists for school closings, another group of legislators was meeting in Florida, also outside of any public view. Hundreds of state legislators gathered for an "education academy" sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). 

Strongly supported by the Goldwater Institute and Heritage Foundation, ALEC is best know for its Report Card on American Education. Here state education systems are rated not on academic achievement but on policy issues pushed by the right wing group. Of their 14 categories for rating states, seven focus on the ease of home schooling, alternative teacher certification charter schools, private schools of choice and the use of virtual learning methods. Only two standards look at academics, and the rest deal with how states retain effective teachers and get ride of what they call ineffective ones. 

In a recent article published by PRWatch.org, Dustin Beilke says:

ALEC's education bills encompass more than 20 years of effort to privatize public education through an ever-expanding network of school voucher systems, which divert taxpayer dollars away from public schools to private schools, or the creation of new private charter schools with public funds, and even with private online schools (who needs actual teachers when you can have a virtual one?). The bills also allow schools to loosen standards for teachers and administrators, exclude students with physical disabilities and special educational needs, escape the requirements of collective bargaining agreements and experiment with other pet causes like merit pay, single-sex education, school uniforms, and political and religious indoctrination of students.


States where students score well on tests but where ALEC's legislative agenda around school choice, charters, merit pay, de-unionization and alternative certification have not yet taken hold get low grades. States where elected officials are gung-ho for ALEC's agenda but the students are not faring so well are still graded generously.

The effort to turn our schools into places of profit, where children either learn to obey or find themselves on the way to prison was highlighted this week by the so called truancy sweep. Operation Safe Passage Task Force brought the combined power of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, Detroit Police and Detroit Public School Police to bear on the children who have the good sense to walk out of these dehumanizing environments. 

As citizen oversight diminishes, the power of the state increases, enforcing compliance with deadening systems designed to demand obedience and control.