This school reform industry initiative got some attention last week.
According to the Detroit News, a secret work group that includes top aides to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has been working to come up with a model for so-called “value schools.”
Other records distributed to group members indicate they want to explore using fewer teachers and more instruction through long-distance video conferencing. Each “value school” student would receive a “Michigan Education Card” to pay for their “tuition” — similar to the electronic benefits transfer used to distribute food stamps and cash assistance for the poor. Students could use leftover money on the “EduCard” for high school Advanced Placement courses, music lessons, sport team fees, remedial education or cyber courses, according to an outline of the advisory team’s agenda.
You see, Michigan’s boldest innovators understand that in order to produce the kind of out-of-the-box boldness that their state’s stifled students so desperately need, they must be free of the shackles of oversight, regulation, public reporting requirements and the state constitution, which prohibits exactly the kind of voucher program that operation Skunk Works is clearly intended to be.
Also totally not needed in this bold experiment: teachers and other so-called educational experts who are incapable of outside-of-the-box thinking because they are literally inside of their box-shaped classrooms.
But who will operate the boldly innovative schools of the future with their “fewer teachers and more instruction through long-distance video conferencing”?
Reader: I give you Richard McLellan. Head of the Oxford Foundation, former lawyer on the Citizen’s United case, advancer of liberty and opportunity, devotee of all things voucher-like, McLellan understands that since Michigan’s public and its constitution do not appear ready for a boldly innovative school voucher system, it is best to begin planning for that system away from the public eye.
The teacher they invited quit when he realized the group was working on a privatization plan. Good for him:
The group had one educator, Paul Galbenski, an Oakland Schools business teacher and Michigan’s 2011 Educator of the Year, but he left the group.”It really kind of looked like for me that they were discussing a special kind of school being created outside of the Michigan public school system,” Galbenski said. “That’s when I started questioning my involvement.”
In January, participants were instructed in a memo to use “alternative” email accounts. Records show Behen, Davenport and two other Department of Technology, Management and Budget employees have since used private email addresses to correspond.
Here’s a tip for those public employees in Michigan who stuck around. When someone instructs you not to use your state email account while supposedly conducting public business, your “transparency” and “accountability” radar should be pinging. If it’s not, you should do the right thing, stop play-acting, and go work directly for the private party. Sometimes ethical dilemmas are very simple, although admittedly never easy:
Behen said he and the other four state employees are mostly working after-hours on the project with Friday evening and Saturday meetings “Why are we using private email addresses? Because it’s just easier,” Behen said. “There’s nothing secret or anything about this.”
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has backed off the secret planning group and is now babbling about “efficiency” to put more money “back into schools”, but he seemed genuinely surprised that anyone would object to the state joining with think tank lawyers and private interests to craft education policy behind closed doors. I actually understand why he’s looked like a deer in the headlights all week, why he’s confused by the uproar. 80% of Michigan’s charter schools are for-profit entities, already. They’re mostly national chains run by appointed boards. This entire district in Michigan has no traditional public school system left at all. It’s gone, replaced by a national charter chain and an appointed board. Snyder didn’t anticipate the blowback to the Value Voucher Plan because no one has raised any questions about public school privatization initiatives before, as long as privatization is put in under the magic word, “reform.” Snyder probably doesn’t see much difference between this state-level group of reformers and the reformers in Detroit or Muskegon Heights or Flint, and why would he? Private donors, a lack of transparency and appointed (not elected) boards are business as usual in reform circles.
What Snyder didn’t realize is that while it’s (apparently!) A-OK for reform industry leaders to privatize and “reform” schools in places like Detroit or Flint, reformers are not necessarily going to be greeted as liberators in suburban and rural public school districts state-wide. You’ll recall that reform industry leaders and media sold “market-based reform” as a cheap fix for Our Failed and Failing Schools. No one in the reform industry mentioned that they’d be “scaling up” once they got a foot in the door of the K-12 market, and taking their privatization mantra into those public school districts that aren’t failing at all. They probably should have been straight with the public about that.
The growing popular pushback to school reform industry initiatives, in my opinion and based on my observation over the last two years, coincides with school reform industry iniatives spreading outside urban districts and into suburban and rural districts. The resistance should surprise no one in the reform industry or their parrots in media because they sold deregulation and market-based reform dishonestly.