Governor's Plans For Detroit Schools Allows Leader to Limit School Choice

Some fear schools czar would be political pawn in replicating 'DPS 2.0'

Charter school proponents are criticizing Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal to overhaul Detroit Public Schools, which they fear could put too much power in the hands of a chief education officer for all public schools within the geographical boundaries of the district. This person would have the power to shut down any public school inside the district, including charter schools, many of which are currently not subject to district control.

Snyder’s plan would call for a Detroit Education Commission to hire a position called the “Detroit Chief Education Officer.” The commission would be made of up political appointees — three named by the governor and two by the mayor. The chief education officer would craft an accountability plan that would cover all schools within the newly created Detroit district.

Snyder wants the Legislature to enact his vision for Detroit education into law before the next school year. That places him at loggerheads with charter school supporters.

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“We’re totally opposed to that component of the plan,” said Buddy Moorehouse, spokesman for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. “We are totally opposed to a single politically appointed person being in charge of decisions like that. No matter who the person is we would be opposed. The mere fact that a single person would have that amount of power over children's futures is not a good thing.”

Moorehouse can point to strides made by charter schools in educating students within the city of Detroit. These were shown by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), which released a report in March. It pointed to academic progress at Detroit’s charter schools as a model for other communities.

The CREDO study reported that on average, each year a student is in a Detroit charter school, he or she gets the equivalent of a few weeks to as much as several months of additional progress in reading and math compared to peers at conventional public schools.

There are 50 charter schools operating within the city of Detroit, including 13 authorized by Detroit school district itself. The rest are authorized by independent entities as specified by state law.

The concerns about one official having power over what are now independently chartered schools have some weight given political realities. One political party in the state Legislature has been actively trying to curtail the growth of charter schools in the state, very few of which are unionized. In a five-month period in 2014, Democrats introduced 10 bills and two budget amendments that would have imposed more oversight, reporting requirements and restrictions on charter schools. One bill called for charter schools to be banned.

Detroit is a heavily Democratic city that has strong support for unions.

Only six of the 302 charter schools in Michigan have unionized.

Gary Naeyaert, the executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, said it is a legitimate fear that whatever rises from the ashes of the old DPS would be hostile to school choice. He said the fear is the local Detroiters in power would just replicate another Detroit Public Schools — or as Naeyaert called it, “DPS 2.0.”

“We would expect the members of the Detroit Education Commission as well as the politically appointed education CEO to be heavily influenced by local forces that are anti-choice, anti-parent and pro-union,” Naeyaert said.

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See also:

Detroit Public Schools Debt Increases by $1 Million Every School Day

Two-Thirds of Detroit Students 'Chronically Absent'

'Not Doing the Job?' Top Researchers Say Charters in Detroit Should Serve as Models of Success

Gov. Snyder's Plan for Detroit Public Schools Meets Legislative Skepticism