Saturday, September 09, 2017

Charter

"Charter proponents will point out, correctly, that you could work up a similar indictment of any number of public schools in struggling cities like Detroit. But in theory, at least, public-school districts have superintendents tasked with evaluating teachers and facilities. Carver, on the other hand, is accountable to more ambiguous entities — like, for example, Oak Ridge Financial, the Minnesota-based financial-services firm that sent a team of former educators to visit the school. They had come not in service of the children but on behalf of shareholders expecting a thorough vetting of a long-term investment: Brown was in negotiations with Oak Ridge about refinancing the school’s debt in order to make much-needed repairs, and the firm was performing the sort of oversight normally handled by a school district. Michigan schools remaining in the bottom fifth percentile for three years running must close, which, in the case of Carver, would leave Oak Ridge on the hook for a 13-year loan.

The crisis at Carver Academy was not unfolding in isolation. Michigan’s aggressively free-market approach to schools has resulted in one of the most deregulated educational environments in the country, a laboratory in which consumer choice and a shifting landscape of supply and demand (and profit motive, in the case of many charters) were pitched as ways to improve life in the classroom for the state’s 1.5 million public-school students. But a Brookings Institution analysis done this year of national test scores ranked Michigan last among all states when it came to improvements in student proficiency. And a 2016 analysis by the Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan education policy and research organization, found that 70 percent of Michigan charters were in the bottom half of the state’s rankings. Michigan has the most for-profit charter schools in the country and some of the least state oversight. Even staunch charter advocates have blanched at the Michigan model.

The story of Carver is the story of Michigan’s grand educational experiment writ small. It spans more than two decades, three governors and, now, the United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, whose relentless advocacy for unchecked “school choice” in her home state might soon, her critics fear, be going national. But it’s important to understand that what happened to Michigan’s schools isn’t solely, or even primarily, an education story: It’s a business story. Today in Michigan, hundreds of nonprofit public charters have become potential financial assets to outside entities, inevitably complicating their broader social missions. In the case of Carver, interested parties have included a for-profit educational management organization, or E.M.O., in Georgia; an Indian tribe in a remote section of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; and a financial firm in Minnesota. “That’s all it is now — it’s moneymaking,” Darrel Redrick, a charter-school proponent and an administrator at Carver at the time I visited, told me."
-Mark Binelli, "Michigan Gambled on Charter Schools. Its Children Lost"

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