The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Detroit Public Schools:
Gutting the District

May 18, 2009

Detroit Public Schools (DPS) “emergency financial manager” Robert Bobb announced drastic school cuts and rearrangements last week.

Twenty-eight buildings will be closed. Forty others will be “restructured.” Thirty-three principals will be let go, and 37 will be reassigned to different schools. In all, one out of every four schools will be affected.

Just like all the other so-called “reformers” that have come before him, in the name of “improvement,” Bobb is doing the very thing that will make things worse.

Two excuses are given for these moves. One is money: the DPS has been losing students and tax money in recent years, and they are running a deficit. So what kind of solution is it to close even more neighborhood schools, forcing more students to travel long distances to go to school? This practically guarantees that the district will lose even more students to other districts and to charter schools – some of which will open in the very same school buildings the DPS will close!

The other excuse is performance: Bobb states that the 40 schools to be restructured are “miserably failing” the students. This includes a number of schools that have not met “Adequate Yearly Progress” as set by the notorious “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) law, according to a set of narrow tests. NCLB puts everything backward: if a school underperforms according to a set of narrow requirements, its budget is CUT, virtually guaranteeing that things at that school will get worse.

We can see what BS this talk is: The principals losing their jobs, supposedly for poor job performance, are eligible to apply for positions at the 10 schools labeled the most underperforming in the district!

Not only that, but oftentimes the promise of a stable school community is the only thing bringing students back on a day-to-day level. That stability can create achievements that go way beyond narrow tests: high attendance and graduation rates; active participation in teams, clubs and other extracurriculars; and just a solid rapport between the staff, students and parents. Completely throwing those schools into turmoil by gutting them of their administrators and teachers will only guarantee that conditions will get worse, not better.

Some school communities have reacted with anger. Parents and students at Western International High School, for example, immediately protested the firing of its principal, Rebecca Luna, whom they credit with improving academics and keeping gangs out of the school.

Everybody in the city knows that the main problem with the schools is economic. With so much poverty in the city, the DPS needs more money, not less, to stand a chance of offering a decent education to its students: money to rebuild school buildings that are falling apart; to supply textbooks, computers and even basic supplies to students who could not possibly afford to pay for them; and to ensure a low teacher to student ratio.

If Bobb truly wanted to transform the district, he would not close buildings or cut services at all, but fight to retain and expand them. He would demand a HUGE influx of money and resources from both the state and the federal government – not just beg for a few token handouts. And he would organize all the parents of Detroit to make that demand. That’s a fight people in Detroit can be ready to make – people who’ve seen funding of their schools deteriorate as the state’s money goes to the big banks and corporations and the many behind them. And that kind of fight could make the Granholm and Obama administrations cough up that money, whether they want to or not.

But Robert Bobb doesn’t do that. He’s just another vulture, picking at Detroit’s bones.