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Choice In Detroit: Spending Less and Getting Same Results = “Better Productivity”

June 19, 2017

Diane Ravitch’s links yesterday included one to a Detroit Free Press article written by Nancy Kaffer titled “The Broken Promises of School Choice”. In the article, Ms. Kaffer describes the problems charter schools encounter in that city, problems that mirror those faced by public schools, and problems that stem from the same source: underfunding. In her article, Ms. Kaffer describes the scene in a charter school classroom  comprised of 37 first-graders who were “doubled up” due to the lack of substitutes, something that happens, “…three or four times a month” according to the teacher interviewed for this article:

At storytime, (the teacher) had to lean against the wall, warning the kids they wouldn’t all be able to see the pictures. Kids don’t get time in the school’s computer lab, necessary to learn how to use the machines they’ll take standardized tests on — the high-stakes assessments that determine whether their school will remain open — and the math workbooks teachers were required to use in a school year that started in September, didn’t arrive until March.

As Ms. Kaffer notes, these conditions would presumably disappear once the magic of the marketplace was put into effect. But in Detroit, even charter schools are drastically underfunded:

The state delivers a per-pupil allowance to each school district; when students leave for a charter, the traditional public school loses those funds. Because student departures are spread out across the district — it’s not like an entire third-grade class decamps — those enrollment losses don’t allow the district to make big cuts that would lead to operational savings. Instead, the money dwindles away in dribs and drabs, forcing traditional public school districts to do more with less.

The city’s charter schools educate as many children as its traditional public school district, with nearly identical results — another departure from the rhetoric of charter advocates. Michigan taxpayers hand over $1 billion a year to charter school operators on the premise they’d deliver superior results.

But wait! Before we declare this initiative as a failure, we should look at the operation of schools through the eyes of business. In the business world getting similar results for less money equates to higher productivity and greater profits! Therefore, if we want schools to “operate like a business” we should not be characterizing these newly created for-profit enterprises as “Failures”. We should be hailing them as “Successful” for their improved productivity! For those voters who believe that government is the problem and that “starving the beast” will reduce their taxes without compromising “quality”, Detroit’s charter are not a problem at all. Particularly if those voters reside in the leafy suburbs outside of the city.

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