The Spark

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

Bobb’s Give-Away to Charters

Mar 21, 2011

The Emergency Financial Manager of the Detroit Public Schools Robert Bobb’s latest plan to “save” the Detroit Public Schools is actually a plan to hand almost one third of the district to charter operators.

Detroit already has 36% of its students attending charter schools. This plan would push that to 47% – almost half of all Detroit public school students would be attending charter schools.

Several months ago, Bobb announced that the school district was in so much debt that the only way to save it was to close half the schools and stuff 60-plus students into each remaining classroom. (Never mind the fact that the debt has nearly doubled since Bobb took over the DPS!)

But now, Bobb has come back and said he has a new idea, one that will keep these schools open while saving the district money:

Bobb’s plan calls for the district to turn 41 of the district’s schools into charter schools, run by private charter operators.

What hogwash! All studies have clearly shown that private charters COST districts money, not save money. Which means this isn’t about saving money at all. And it means that his earlier proposal was nothing more than a battering ram – to try and soften people up to accept this new plan.

Bobb paints this plan as a way to ensure that the students and teachers in these schools wouldn’t have to move, as they would if the schools simply closed. All of the students in those schools could transfer directly into the charters that will be in the same building.

In the past, the introduction of charters into the district was presented as a way to give choice to parents – and with all the hype about charter schools, many parents believed that this would be a better choice for their children. But then it became increasingly clear that charters were no choice at all, often providing an education worse than the public schools that students had transferred from. Now that the truth is out about charter schools, the hype no longer works to attract parents to them.

So now Bobb’s plan takes away even the pretense of choice, sticking students with a charter school whether they or their parents like it or not. Oh yes, they could transfer into another school – if they can find one that will take them!

DPS and Detroit Federation of Teachers officials say that the schools will be under the ultimate control of the DPS, and that the teachers will still be under the DFT contract with the DPS. But charter school operators have made it clear that their real interest is in complete “autonomy”: the ability to make all their own decisions about what to teach, and how, and who to hire at what wages. And now that the governor has passed a new law allowing Emergency Financial Managers to wipe out all union contracts, we can bet that what the charter operators want is what Bobb will give them – no matter what the current contracts might say.

By law, charter schools aren’t held to even the minimal standards for building quality and student achievement that public schools are held to. Charter schools also don’t have to hire certified teachers. They don’t even have to hire teachers with a college degree! We can bet that for-profit charter schools will hire the lowest qualified teachers for the lowest possible wages they can get away with, and allow the buildings to crumble even more than they already are.

In the past, Bobb and the school board have closed schools, which then were allowed to reopen as charters. Now, they’re going a more direct route: handing schools directly over to the charters, not even caring to make a pretense of choice or increasing quality. It’s just an out-and-out gift to for-profit charter operators.