School Reformers Have 'Significant Concerns' About State Superintendent Finalist

Superintendent: 'I am not opposed to charter schools ... they are now part of the fabric of Michigan Public Education'

Vickie Markavitch, superintendent of Oakland Schools. Image via oaklandschoolsmi.files.wordpress.com

On March 2, Oakland Schools sent out a tweet on its public Twitter account that read, “SCHOOLED! Separating Fact from Fiction in 21 Claims About #CHARTER Schools."

The post then links to a Washington Post article that is critical of school choice.

Oakland Schools, the intermediate school district in Oakland County, is run by Superintendent Vickie Markavitch, and the district has defended the numerous anti-school choice postings on the public account in the past.

“She doesn’t miss an opportunity to repeat or amplify messages that are hostile to charters,” said Gary Naeyaert, spokesman for the Great Lakes Education Project, which advocates for choice and reform in Michigan.

The public criticism of charter schools takes on additional significance, however, now that Markavitch is one of six finalists to be the next state superintendent of education.

“I am not opposed to charter schools and understand that they are now part of the fabric of Michigan Public Education,” Markavitch said in an email. “I was and still am, however, opposed to uncapping the number of charter schools without demonstrated evidence of their quality and transparent use of public money. We need to protect parent choice for both charters and community governed schools – one set of choices should not diminish another set of choices.” (See Markavitch’s full email response here.)

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Michigan has the fifth-most charter school students in the country at 159,000, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Michigan had 303 charter schools as of the fall of 2014.

Markavitch has been one of the most outspoken critics of charter schools.

Oakland Schools acknowledged that in 2012, Markavitch allowed other superintendents to use a script she herself had used for a podcast attacking proposed legislation that would have expanded the number of Michigan cyber charter schools. At least one superintendent repeated Markavitch’s script nearly word-for-word and posted his video on the school district’s website.

In 2012, Markavitch toured the state, criticizing the proposal, which never passed.

Advocates of charter schools are concerned Markavitch is in the running to take the top job in public education.

“Based on the extensive public comments she’s made about charter schools, we would have significant concerns about Vickie Markavitch becoming the next state superintendent,” said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. “The next superintendent should be someone who values all public schools, and someone who values the right of the parent to make the best educational choice for their child.”

Oakland Schools also served as a hub that transferred taxpayer dollars to a lobbying organization without reporting it. The school had an arrangement with a 501c(4) lobbying group called the Tri-County Alliance. Public tax dollars are used to support Tri-County Alliance and the Oakland School Twitter feed links to it. The Tri-County Alliance states that it is simply educating parents, but posts many articles with a specific point of view, such as editorials from mainstream newspapers that are critical of school choice. It used to work out of the offices of Oakland Schools.

“She is the most vocal of the existing superintendents in the state on the agenda of education reform,” Naeyaert said. “She is heads and shoulders above the rest. And it’s not just charters. There isn’t an issue we have pursued that she has supported.”

Here's a list of the six finalists for the state superintendent position, as released by the Michigan Department of Education:

Randy Davis, Superintendent, Marshall Public Schools; Marshall, MI

Alan Ingram, Deputy Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education; Malden, MA

Randy Liepa, Superintendent, Livonia Public Schools; Livonia, MI

Vickie Markavitch, Superintendent, Oakland Schools; Waterford, MI

Scott Menzel, Superintendent, Washtenaw Intermediate School District; Ann Arbor, MI

Brian Whiston, Superintendent, Dearborn Public Schools; Dearborn, MI

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