Gov.'s Man says Public Education Like the Tobacco Industry, Hurting Consumers for Money

Governor Snyder's attorney Peter Ruddell likens public education in Michigan to the tobacco industry, willing to hurt its "consumers" for continued financial gain.

Well over 250 citizens braved some nasty driving weather to fill a banquet room at the Lansing Center today for The Center for Michigan's first (of three scheduled) meetings on School Reform (see program below).

The meetings follow The Center's release of a survey that showed most citizens are in favor of investing in early childhood education, supporting and training teachers in a more effective way, and holding teachers accountable. Very few, however, are in favor of more "choice" or "online" education, the centerpieces of Governor Snyder's plan to reform schools.

What to do, what to do, what to do.

To their political credit, some of the Governor's men showed up to listen to at least part of this "citizenry" that seems so deeply skeptical of their reform plan.

Peter Ruddell, co-architect of the finished but still  forthcoming rewrite of the school aid act, stole the show in the final minutes when -- after two or three critical comments from the audience -- gave into a bit of pique and said, "You [I think meaning educators or public education in general] are like the tobacco industry that refused to admit that what you are producing is hazardous."

Given that the dialogue had been civil throughout the comment drew a loud and disbelieving groan.

Does he, many whispered, realize he just said all involved in public education who resist his model of reform are as hazardous as the tobacco industry and in a kind of massive denial to protect their own business interests?


In another moment that left jaws gaping, Ruddell explained that public education is already a private business because schools buy computers from Apple.

One really doesn't know how to respond to this sort of logic when this is the person crafting public education financing in your state.

Bill Rustem, the Governor's chief strategist had no interest in engaging in such intellectual abstractions about the relationship between public and private. Indeed, he began the session frustrated with all the "misinformation" put out about HB6004 last term, the bill designed to turn the EAA -- an interlocal agreement between Detroit and EMU -- into a state wide School District capable of gobbling up property in Oakland County and elsewhere. He just couldn't understand the fuss: The EAA is only interested in 15 schools in the bottom 5% and no more than 50 schools -- EVER.

One always admires chutzpah.

All 250 people in the room knew that the limited EAA bill Rustem described was  not the one that drew protest. Rustem described the EAA bill recrafted AFTER enormous political protest during lame duck had transformed the loaded EAA bill that popped out of the Lisa Posthumous Lyons's House Education Committee. 

Quite simply, Rustem wanted to pretend that transformation of the EAA Bill didn't happen, that the spectacular over reach on the part of Lyons and others was a figment of the imagination -- a figment forever lodged as a PDF.

To spit in one's eye and tell them its raining is one thing. It is quite another to glare at them and then say, "why are you all wet?"

But for those willing to work  to stop this reform movement there was, perhaps, a positive in this unnecessarily aggressive, clumsy gesture by the Governor's right hand man. If you listen to Rustem, the revised EAA is all the Governor now wants, the only part of school reform he is willing to send his top men to seek.

Once Rustem made his EAA point, he had to excuse himself and left representation of the Governor's office in the hands of a youngish aid. Alas, I had trouble making out anything he had to say beyond "EAA."

One hopes the Governor looks at this tape (call it on line learning) and has a few moments to think things through. Does he, for example, agree with Peter Ruddell about public educators in the state of Michigan?

I am prepared to say the PEFA draft never happened just like the EAA state wide District never happened. The whole "Districts" don't really exist like we have always thought they existed thing? We just move on??

What do you say, Governor? Come back to the land of reason and all may be well yet.

Snyder has done well in signing on Dean Deborah Ball, from the U. of Michigan College of Education. Her panel discussed reforming teacher preparation and she reminded the audience that teachers make up the largest labor force in the country -- over 3 million. Labor, labor, labor, can't live with em...

 Republicans and Democrats alike should give Roger Kahn (R-Saginaw) a medal for fighting for more funding for early childhood education, the topic of the early morning session where common sense and consensus and reason seemed to flow effortlessly together. Everyone agreed early childhood funding was good. Everyone agreed Snyder's plan for more social workers in at risk elementary schools was good.

And nobody felt compelled to use the words "market," "choice," or "competition."

The school social workers in at risk schools are not yet being challenged to "race to the top."

Smoke em if you got em.


Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013
7:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. (includes breakfast & lunch)
Lansing Center, 333 E. Michigan Ave. (Click for map)


7:30 a.m. – Breakfast
8:10 a.m. – Introduction
8:30-9:40 a.m. – Panel 1
9:50-11 a.m. – Panel 2
11:10-12:20 p.m. – Panel 3
12:20-1 p.m. – Working Lunch (Q&A and networking)


Panel 1 – The Case for Early Childhood Education

  • Sen. Roger Kahn - R-Saginaw Township
  • Paul Hillegonds – Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, DTE Energy
  • Scott Menzel – Superintendent, Washtenaw Intermediate School District
  • Susan Broman – Director, Office of Great Start, Michigan Department of Education
  • Veronica Wolf – parent of Great Start Readiness Program participant

Moderator: Paula Cunningham

Panel 2 – Teacher Preparation, Support & Accountability

  • Deborah Ball – Dean, University of Michigan School of Education; Chair, Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness
  • Amber Arellano – Executive Director, Education Trust-Midwest
  • David Hecker – President, American Federation of Teachers – Michigan
  • Venessa A. Keesler - Director, Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Evaluation, Strategic Research, and Accountability
  • Brit Satchwell – Former President, Ann Arbor Education Association

Moderator: Michelle Herbon Richard, Public Sector Consultants

Panel 3 – Current Issues & Skepticism

  • John Austin – President, State Board of Education
  • Peter Ruddell – Attorney at Wiener Associates, PLC
  • Jamey Fitzpatrick – President and CEO, Michigan Virtual University
  • Bill Rustem - Director of Strategy, State of Michigan
  • Vickie Markavitch - Superintendent, Oakland Schools

Moderator: Peter Pratt, Public Sector Consultants

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mike Reno January 30, 2013 at 01:32 PM
Are you really incapable of understanding the point Ruddell was trying to make, or are instead simply pretending to be obtuse in an effort to spin his words? “The establishment” – Public Ed, Inc – resists EVERY SINGLE EFFORT to improve education. What sort of conversation do you expect to have when most of the “conversation” from the status quo folks takes the form of nasty insults and condescending rhetoric; just like what we see sprinkled all throughout this essay. Sure, expanded early childhood ed is popular, as long as it comes with a big pot of money. Ironically, one of the wild objections by the status quo folks to the current proposed reforms is that they claim to only want to support “proven best practices”, yet ignore results data on early childhood education: http://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/18207 The status quo folks are tone deaf to any call for improvements, and have provided an effective blockade against ideas. Yet (hypocritically) they’re now incensed at the notion that their concerns – some of them legitimate – are being ignored. Reformers have been trying for decades to move public ed out of its 1960’s model, and if the status quo folks had been open to compromise and experimentation over the years – and not so opposed to ANY change – then they probably could’ve accepted some meaningful, incremental change, instead of facing what they seem to perceive as a Defcon 5 status.
Marcia Robovitsky January 30, 2013 at 05:32 PM
This is "National School Choice Week" Jan. 27- Feb. 3 http://www.schoolchoiceweek.com/about From that website page: "National School Choice Week believes that parents should be empowered to choose the best educational environments for their children and supports a variety of school choice options -- from encouraging increased access to great public schools, to public charter schools, magnet schools, virtual schools, private schools, homeschooling and more." Meanwhile, in Michigan, the 500 or so attendees in Lansing.... did they rally for schools of choice at their seminar? Did some attendees request a substitute to take over their classroom duties so they could attend this seminar? Ken wrote above: "The meetings follow The Center's release of a survey that showed ....... Very few, however, are in favor of more "choice" or "online" education, the centerpieces of Governor Snyder's plan to reform schools." What the survey also showed ( in my words) was they wanted better teachers, that are trained better, supported better, and held accountable for student success. They also want early childhood education. (That should start with the parents..continued in the schools). Survey "reading between the lines" says: Many are concerned about the quality of education these days...and want to be able to CHOOSE... the best available. What to do? Be that teacher, school or school district or expect parents to choose somewhere else. Competition is good.
Elizabeth 123 January 30, 2013 at 08:33 PM
Marcia, There were some teachers at the meeting, but the vast majority were not. Your question as to whether they requested substitutes implies that the teachers who did attend were shirking their responsibilities. As a former teacher I think you would agree that it is important to have teachers at the table when discussing education. As for early education, there are many families with two wage earners or who are single parent households. For many families it is difficult to find good, nurturing, affordable daycare and Pre-K. As one of the presenters said at yesterday's meeting, we have to look at early childhood education as an investment. If we care about the future of the State and its children, I think investing in early childhood education is worthwhile. One of the most important points that came out of this meeting, at least for me, was that improving educational achievement and reducing the gap between students of different races, ethnicities and income levels is complicated. This was stated by a number of presenters in all three sessions. Education requires investment in early childhood education and in teachers and in determining an accountability standard that is fair to all. I have no problem with that kind of investment. I have stated before, but it bears repeating, choice in and of itself will not solve the issue of low achievement or achievement gaps. Some students will benefit with additional choices, but it won't solve everything.
Marcia Robovitsky January 30, 2013 at 09:38 PM
3 out of 4 of the main concerns the citizens had in the survey were about teachers. Therefore, what I think seems very important is to hear from the state board of education and colleges as to how to make changes in their programs that will result in better trained teachers. I'd want to hear from school district administrators as to what plans they have in place that supports and mentors new teachers and those struggling with their assigned classrooms. Are the schools working as a unified unit supporting each other...or complaining about so and so. Children know when the staff is not happy. The third was accountability. New systems have recently been put in place to evaluate teachers and effectiveness. Those evaluations need to be honest. A well liked fun-loving person that the kids love...but consistently have the students educational growth as nil ... needs to be removed from the teaching profession. The education system needs to look at themselves first. It seems the citizens have already taken that look and want better. Many want another choice. Therefore, choice can make a difference IF the change results in the TEACHER and the SCHOOL and the DISTRICT offering the educational experiences and abilities the parents seek for their children. The fourth concern was early childhood learning. The two wage earner homes with children may not qualify. The investment starts with the parents....at birth and continues a lifetime. I support early education for ALL.
Peter Ruddell January 31, 2013 at 02:47 AM
This article is not accurate. The quotes attributed to me are not correct. Please read the Crain's Detroit story for the correct quotes and sequence of events. As the person responsible for the Dr. Ron Davis Smokefree Air Law, I did compare the arguments made by the tobacco industry to those being made the education establishment today, "the status quo is fine." Unfortunately, you did not think about the hyperbole I used and consider the arguments made by the education establishment for the status quo are probably not the best. As for the comments regarding for-profit businesses, I can't believe you heard anything I said since I was booed within seconds of speaking.
Mike Reno January 31, 2013 at 05:55 AM
Mr. Ruddell, thank you for your efforts. The Patch audience is heavily skewed. In my day-to-day experience, there is little opposition to your efforts, and in fact most seem supportive of the concept, if not the details. Thos opposed are generally misinformed with the sort of "destroy" rhetoric you'll read here, and when they are able to discuss and understand, the opposition usually fades. The die-hard opposition seems to be primarily found in those who are directly tied to education, either as employees, spouses of employees, etc. As I mentioned to Donna H at MRG... You just need to get your story out more. Thanks again.
Jenny Greenwell January 31, 2013 at 03:10 PM
As a society, we need to keep our "eye on the ball," and the "ball" is intellectual development and academic achievement of our students. Here in BH, the employees-only "Wellness Clinic" is back on the table, and every day, I receive email announcements from BH PR-staff about another sporting event or fundraiser. It's pretty obvious that our collective "eyes" are off the "ball." Yet, public ed is more costly and unresponsive to the needs of our society than ever. Why is GM flying in qualified engineers from China? Why is our state considering salaries of $100K+ for qualifiied math teachers? It's because we aren't producing enough of what a competitive society needs. Should a good, well-qualified math teacher be a rare commodity? Not in a society that demands accountability on the parts of educators and students. We don't need a Wellness Clinic. We need good schools, and we need school board Trustees who know that their obligation is to provide financial oversight for taxpayers.
Ken Jackson February 01, 2013 at 01:48 PM
Mr. Ruddell, You quite clearly compared all public education to the tobacco industry. Everyone in the room heard you. You weren't booed. There was a loud guffaw if anything. I was listening quite intently to what you had to say, as were many others. You had to be prodded at one point to respond. I do, again, admire your willingness to talk to a room that size that was not fully in sync with your "draft." Elected legislators pushing the issue dodged the opportunity, as Mr. Powers wrote.
Mike Reno February 01, 2013 at 06:51 PM
You need to read what he wrote. He said, "I did compare the arguments made by the tobacco industry to those being made the education establishment today, "the status quo is fine." Unfortunately, you did not think about the hyperbole I used"


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