The Education Crisis in Detroit

Statement of Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management

January 2015

“Our whole life is but one great school; from the cradle to the grave we are all learners; nor will our education be finished until we die.” – Ann Plato (born 1820)

The Governor’s recent appointment of yet another Emergency Manager for Detroit Public Schools (DPS), hours before the elected school board would have voted to end outside rule, is such a morally outrageous assault on the citizens and children of Detroit as to compel an outcry. D-REM hereby condemns this ongoing exploitation of Detroit’s school children. We point out that there have been no positive outcomes whatsoever as a result of the imposition of Emergency Managers by Governor Snyder. On the contrary, EM policies, implemented by one “new” set of “educational reformers” after another, have undermined the entire public education system in Detroit.[i]

Emergency management has led to wide-scale looting of the DPS financial resources, criminal neglect of the children’s educational needs and overcrowding of classrooms, demoralization of teachers and students, disenfranchisement of the democratically elected school board, and a total destabilization and collapse of the system as we once knew it. Emergency management in Detroit has left the public school system, once upheld as an essential social institution of American democracy, in shambles. As a result, thousands of our children are being uprooted, and made to go back and forth to school buildings where no educational process is occurring. Having experienced this neglect over years, they have been deprived of the learning and skills necessary for life in the 21st Century.

The emergency management policies that have sapped the creative potential of two generations of Detroit school children cannot be attributed to misguided pedagogy, ineffective curriculum design or inept administration. The wrecking of the DPS by emergency managers has been deliberate and intentional. The privatized, white supremacist, test-driven schooling being forced on Detroit’s children was never intended to provide the education they require in order to be self-determining, creative, productive human beings. On the contrary, emergency management policies are abusing our children for profit and social control. Predators supported by Governor Snyder, the state Legislature and the foundations are extracting for their own private agendas the financial resources that would support an effective school system — and they have no intention of changing their ways. Their children go to school elsewhere.

A wealth of data demonstrate conclusively that “reforms” under policies such as “No Child Left Behind” and the “Race to the Top” have nothing to do with education of our children, but with institutional shifts that permit the wealthy to exploit students and taxpayers for private interests. In such systems, and in Detroit’s current racist program, the Education Achievement Authority, students are trampled. Such programs find their logical extreme in the shameful persistence of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” which warehouses poor students of color during the very years they would be preparing for fruitful adult lives.

The recent report, “A New Majority,” by the Southern Education Foundation,[ii] points out: “No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low income students simply a matter of fairness…Their success or failure in the public schools will determine the entire body of human capital and educational potential that the nation will possess in the future. Without improving the educational support that the nation provides its low income students – students with the largest needs and usually with the least support — the trends of the last decade will be prologue for a nation not at risk, but a nation in decline….”

The education of all our children is a sacred, public responsibility. Our children deserve the opportunity to develop their minds, hearts and hands to their fullest capabilities. They must have opportunities to learn about themselves, their community and their world as they engage with one another to enrich community life. Indeed, education – properly understood as the essential aspect of all life that Ann Plato saw two centuries ago – holds the promise of helping to resolve the crises of our city. It offers the only real hope for the City’s “revitalization” and renewal.

We should recognize that today’s young people want to be part of the redevelopment and redesign of our City. They have ideas and dreams about their future and the future of their hometown. They can learn about their world in the process of changing it. They have demonstrated their audacious courage in demanding that “Black Lives Matter” in the face of white supremacist police brutality and in protest against the school-to-prison pipeline.

Our children deserve an education that fosters critical thinking, rather than narrow and manipulative indoctrination. Critical thinking requires opportunities for reflection, creativity, questioning and dialog between students and teachers who both learn from the educational process and apply its lessons. Education must be relevant to the student’s life and community. It should stress flexible, creative means of engaging students in solving the problems of our collective, public life, as well as exploring their own talents and concerns. Learning is a life-long activity and the basis for further development of the individual and society.

Given the utter ruin of our school system by emergency managers, and in light of our recognition of the urgency of this crisis, Detroit citizens must now take the initiative, and work to ensure essential educational experiences for our children. By urging the steps outlined below, D-REM seeks to shift our collective orientation from a futile tug of war with Governor Snyder’s racist, exploitative so-called educational “reformers” to focus our energies on community building for self-determination. Such investment in the immediate educational needs of our children and communities will yield the resistance required to demand real change.

We urge the following steps be taken towards a City-wide mobilization:

  • Parents and other concerned citizens begin immediately to establish alternative programs, Saturday schools, and freedom schools to respond to the children’s urgent academic needs.
  • Retired teachers and others give their time on a regular basis to educational services such as tutoring in neighborhood and church venues.
  • The elected school board discover its potential for a new kind of leadership by beginning immediately to convene regular forums in every Detroit district, where parents and other concerned citizens may present themselves as allies, come together to analyze school system problems, and make decisions in the best interests of our children.
  • Community organizers, cultural workers and artists seek neighborhood venues where they can mentor students in activities that will engage them in assessing neighborhood problems and helping to solve them, as well as developing their special creative talents.
  • Church ministers, religious organizations, cultural groups, and other community institutions arrange to open their facilities immediately so that there will be an adequate number of venues where parents and other concerned citizens may organize essential learning activities.
  • Concerned citizens increase our support – financial and otherwise – to independent schools that have already begun to develop alternative, effective educational approaches for Detroit’s children.

We are Detroiters! We can do this!

[i] Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann recently summarized the last 15 years of sordid educational “reform” in Detroit: http://www.d-rem.org/fifty-years-later-in-detroit-the-end-of-brown-separate-and-unequal/The Detroit Public Schools are being dismantled by design and effectively looted. Though Detroiters and the elected school board are consistently blamed for their demise, for twelve of the last fifteen years DPS has been under state control. … Though many are celebrating the bankruptcy, its structural adjustment, the give-aways of land and buildings and assets, the development dollars flowing, and the lucrative contracts to be had…this is a dark time for Detroit’s children, poor and black. They are being pushed down, pushed out, and pipelined toward prison.”

Regarding the latest so-called reform campaign by these same historically predatory characters, ACLU reporter Curt Guyette summarizes the latest ‘meet the new boss/same as the old boss’ intervention well: “Since its founding in 2010, the nonprofit group Excellent Schools Detroit has been pushing for the creation of what’s known as a “portfolio district” that would oversee all publicly financed Detroit schools. The Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children — a committee of more than 30 clergy, business people, civic leaders, and educators — has been formed and is currently meeting with the intent to provide recommendations for a path forward to Gov. Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and legislators.

“The portfolio district model rests on a metaphor in which district managers are expected to monitor school performance much like investors manage assets in an investment portfolio,” write [Mary L. Mason and David Arsen – two Michigan State University Education professors who released a paper titled “Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority and the Future of Public Education in Detroit: The Challenge of Aligning Policy Design and Policy Goals.”]. The portfolio may consist of a diverse mix of schools (for-profit and nonprofit contract schools, charter schools, or autonomous traditional district schools). District managers are expected to intervene regularly to weed out below-average performing schools and to actively recruit new providers and then hold them accountable for student performance.”

As for what lies ahead, the report by Mason and Arsen says there are important questions still unaddressed: “The specific character of a portfolio district is not predetermined, but turns rather on countless features of policy design and implementation,” it reads. “Those choices will determine whether any new educational regime better serves the interests of so many Detroit families who have long endured poverty, segregation, and discrimination. How will the new regime assure that Detroit families, like their counterparts in more affluent Michigan communities, can lodge their preferences regarding their neighborhood schools as citizens, not just consumers? How will it promote the professionalism of teaching in Detroit schools, such that it becomes an attractive career choice for talented and committed teachers? How will it make the most of an historic opportunity to promote racial and social class integration in the schools of the nation’s most segregated city?”

http://www.metrotimes.com/detroit/the-eaa-past-present-and-future/Content?oid=2291518

[ii] http://www.southerneducation.org/Our-Strategies/Research-and-Publications/New-Majority-Diverse-Majority-Report-Series/A-New-Majority-2015-Update-Low-Income-Students-Now

Download this statement in pamphlet form here: Detroit Education Crisis pamphlet

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