Hey Teacher! (and Mom and Dad)...Leave Those Kids Alone!

Governor Snyder's group wants you to believe that we can better educate "the kids" by taking teachers and parents out of the equation.

Govenor  Snyder’s Oxford Foundation is currently trying to frame this fall’s discussion about school funding in a fantastically bizarre way.

In their view, the top Oakland County  “Districts” that parents work and sacrifice to get their kids into – Troy, Birmingham, Bloomfield, etc. – stand opposed to the “rights” of parents and the interests of kids’ themselves.

I am not kidding.

Here is their language “interpreting” Article VIII, §2 of the Michigan Constitution of 1963 guaranteeing public education:

"The legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. Every school district shall provide for the education of its pupils without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin.

The issue is significant in light of Governor Snyder’s approach to improving public education in that it contemplates an “unbundling” of public education.

In summary, there seem to be two inconsistent views:

  • School District Control. Under this approach, admission to the public school is limited to pupils who enroll in and are controlled by the school district, i.e., “its pupils.” While every Michigan resident has the right to attend a free public elementary or secondary school, the student must attend a school is a single school district for all of his or her education in order to eligible for the “free” education.
  • Pupil/Parent Rights. An alternative view is that the “free public elementary and secondary schools” are to be established for the benefit of the pupils of the state and the legislature, in maintaining and supporting a “system,” has created a system whereby the pupil and his parents may select either a complete package of education from the district of the pupil’s residence or select to receive only part of his or her experience from a particular school."


Read the “two inconsistent views” again. You are being told that your rights are somehow being compromised by the top rated Districts your child attends.


That is the framework of the argument you will hear again and again over the next couple of weeks. You can hear this in other simplified forms these days at local school board races: “I am for the kids, not high priced administrators” or “let’s get back to education for the kids" or "school is for the kids not adults" -- as if one could somehow separate the adults who parent and teach from the kids that go to school.

That is indeed an "alternative" notion of education.

Every time you hear someone say they are doing something “for the kids” in Oakland County – but they aren’t a parent or teacher or an administrator directly involved with kids in K-12 – duck.

Furthermore, The Oxford Foundation would like to create a new school aid act that opens the districts so wide that the very idea of the district will be obsolete. If you think your property values are in any way tied to your school district....

The motivation here is open for interpretation.

One can argue persuasively that the pragmatic Governor is legitimately trying to find ways to help failing districts by limiting their control.

But those in top districts should understand this is also a perfect opportunity for both opponents of public education and those hostile to supposedly  “rich” districts to change everything you thought you had going for you. And they are going to do it, of course, “for the kids.”

And you haven’t been told anything about it by the Oakland County press or your local representatives.

These reforms will damage top districts so much that public education across the board will be damaged. There will be a greater demand for private schools (jacking up those tuitions and changing the character of those schools), and a cry for charter schools.

Always worthwhile to ask: who might benefit from a proliferation of “charter” schools or enhancements to private schools other than “the kids”? What markets are opened up here -- "for the kids"?

As a parent of two in BHSD, I trust my current school administrators, teachers, and fellow parents to educate my kids more than I trust the Oxford Foundation that is trying to pit me against the people teaching my kids.

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 November 12, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Ken, I’m not sure that those of us who advocate for an improved education system view this in terms of “rights”. Perhaps phrase it instead as a question of whether we want publicly financed education (which, as a forward thinking society, we should), or whether we want a public education system. The idea is to free children and parents to find the best education setting for their unique learning needs. And it’s not just for the so-called failing schools. The current public school system simply cannot be all things to all children. Relative to other Michigan public schools, Bloomfield, Birmingham, Troy, Rochester… all do a fine job for most kids. But kids at the “tails” of the bell curve… those at the low end, and those at the top end, oftentimes do not get the sort of fine-tuned education they might find elsewhere. I honestly do not know why anyone would want to stand in the way of an effort to let them find a better environment.
Elizabeth 123 November 12, 2012 at 08:23 PM
How would a parent know if the alternative is actually better? If for example, a parent were to decide to send their child to a private school by using the "publicly financed education" as you put it (which I believe you to mean some derivation of a voucher), there would be no way to truly know if it were actually better. First subject the private schools to the mandatory testing required of all public schools, then let’s talk. If however, a parent were to want to used some of their "publically financed education" dollars to allow their child to take advanced courses at another public school or public university, that is another animal. For what it is worth, the information at the beginning of the blog regarding the Michigan Constitution and School District Control - Pupil/Parent Rights is from the Oxford Foundation's website in a document titled "Who is Entitled to a Free Education?" It was posted on November 9, 2012. http://oxfordfoundationmi.com/2012/11/09/who-is-entitled-to-a-free-public-education
Mac November 12, 2012 at 08:33 PM
In my experience, those at the "tails" have significantly stronger services in the good public districts. Private schools don't need to deal with kids who need academic or behavioral support. If I had a child who wasn't reading in 1st grade, for example, I'd want them in the formal 1-on-1 Reading Recovery program in the local elementary school. If I had an Asperger child, I would want them in the public school with strong professional staff and an IEP. In both cases, the private schools (and charters) could, and frequently would, just send them home. In my limited experience, I wasn't impressed with what private schools offered on the high end, either. I found that the public school kids were demonstrably ahead of their private school peers, and the private was no more able to provide individualized instruction. In fact, they frequently had less opportunity to do so. Some great (and expensive) private schools may offer the "fine-tuned" educational experiences you're thinking of. It is not true that they all do, or that being private or charter in itself makes them better able to.
Mike Reno November 12, 2012 at 08:50 PM
I’m not sure how you measure that sort of thing… which is “better”. Standardized assessments are just one datapoint. We can say overall, for example, that District “A” outperforms District “B” on Secondary Math. But maybe “B” does better on ELA, as well as elementary math. There really is no “better”. It’s like trying to “prove” that your kid is better than my kid. Having said that, you can probably make the point that mine is a better athlete, while yours is a better musician. Schools are similar, and I tend to look at it like some schools are “better for” certain children than others. Detroit Country Day has a highly academic and competitive culture that is ideal for some kids. But it is an environment that is not ideal for ALL children. Likewise, Brother Rice, with a strong emphasis on sports, creates an environment that works will for some boys… but not ALL boys. Public schools are no different. So is DCD better than Andover or Adams? For some kids, yes. For others, no. For some kids, Andover or Adams are perfect. So why would there be objection to allowing me to take the money allocated for my children, and apply it to a school that is a better fit?
Mac November 12, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Mr. Reno, Then I think you need to hold all schools accountable for all the testing, mandates, transportation, special ed support, etc. to which public schools are held accountable. Then your system of having the money follow the child might be fair enough, and we might find that the public schools are remarkable values. Standardized tests may be one datapoint, but they are the datapoint the government very much imposes on public schools, and every indication is that the Oxford Foundation strategies will only increase the emphasis on testing. I would not be comfortable sending public money to schools that are not held accountable in any way. It would be interesting to see whether private schools would even want public money if it meant they had to adhere to the same restrictions and measurements as public schools.
Mac November 12, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Thinking about this more...Mr. Reno, I agree that it is hard to measure "performance" in schools. Would you eliminate performance measures for all schools then? And send public money to schools that were not accountable in any way? That seems perpendicular to most of the trends I thought you would endorse.
Mike Reno November 12, 2012 at 09:30 PM
MAC... I don't disagree about accountability, and was not trying to imply that. I believe by accountability -- we mean that there is some minimum standard to which all children are expected to achieve. Yes, we need that. But the other equally important question is whether we are helping children be all that they can be. To create opportunity for them to excel. I'm not talking about earning all A's... I'm talking about expanding their learning at their own (faster) pace... in subjects that are relevant (I know, I know, relevant to WHO? Topic for another blog!) As far as whether the state truly holds schools accountable... well, the state might have a lot of bark, but they have very little bite. But the bigger point we should discuss is the idea that you need to make private schools responsible for all of the same things as public schools. Can you see how that might become a straightjacket for privates... in the same way it has for publics? Public schools are largely full of people who do care about kids, and want to make them successful. But their very mission -- to be there for ALL children -- is unachievable. You can't be all things to all people. It's the 'ole "Jack of all trades, master of none" conundrum. This Oxford thing evolve into something that improves the educational experience of everyone, which teachers and schools being allowed to become more specialized. It could help kids, as well as enhance the work environment of teachers. Win / Win.
Mac November 12, 2012 at 09:38 PM
So if I have a particularly difficult kid, and I think Cranbrook is the right fit, is Cranbrook required to take her? Or do you imagine charter schools specially tailored for kids with behavioral, special need, or academic problems? Would those schools accept everyone? And educate them for the same price as any other kid? If parents can choose the best fit for their child, do all schools lose their option to choose their students? Who chooses to educate the most difficult children in your system? What is their incentive, since these students are probably more expensive to educate?
Mike Reno November 12, 2012 at 09:42 PM
MAC said, "Would you eliminate performance measures for all schools then? And send public money to schools that were not accountable in any way?" No... performance data quite helpful. But it depends on how it is used. I am reluctant to offer analogies, because someone always feels the need to argue some petty aspect of the analogy, but we seem to be having a nice discussion... so here is food for thought: Some people buy a car based on data. They might want to know the warranty... or the horsepower... or mileage... or headroom... or residual value. There is no "best" car... only the car that is best for you. Performance data could be used in the same sort of way. For example, a school might not have great achievement data when compared to other schools. But they might have great acceleration... they are able to move a below-grade-level reader ahead faster than other schools. So if I have a kid who is really struggling, the indicator for me might be acceleration data, not necessarily achievement data. But if my child is an advanced learner... I am going to look for a school that has better pacing. Right now at most we have one silly measurement produced by the state, which is a moving target at best, and up until the change in cut scores, has been largely meaningless for high-performing districts like Bloomfield, Troy, Birmingham, Forest, Rochester, etc.
Mike Reno November 12, 2012 at 09:49 PM
Let's look at this another way... If Cranbrook has a highly successful program, based in part on a disciplined classroom, SHOULD they be REQUIRED to take this child, especially if that child is unlikely to be successful in that classroom... and will likely disrupt the learning environment for others? If a child is really causing problems in school... then I would rather see the school find an environment that fits the child, rather than trying to force the square peg into the round hole.
Mac November 12, 2012 at 10:26 PM
But, again, which school is that? Who sets up the school for the difficult to educate kids? What is education like for the kids there? Does your system allow all schools (including public) to choose their students, with one "school of last resort" full of the difficult kids? Are there different "schools of last resort" for the remedial kids, the behavioral problems, the special needs students, the ones with broken families, the ones in extreme poverty? Or do you throw them all in together? How do you measure the success of that school or set of schools? Won't they get decreasing funding as their "results" go downhill? Will the best teachers be there for the toughest students, or will they flea to the schools that just take easy kids?
Mac November 12, 2012 at 10:39 PM
If BHSD has a highly successful program, based in part on a disciplined classroom, SHOULD they be REQUIRED to take this child, especially if that child is unlikely to be successful in that classroom? Yes. They are. Should they be?
Mike Reno November 12, 2012 at 10:57 PM
"Who sets up the school for the difficult to educate kids? What is education like for the kids there?" We kinda have that now, don't we... the school of last resort? Trouble is that we dump 80% to 90% of our kids in them. I guess maybe we should explore a philosophy that says we will accept a lower standard of education for your child or mine, simply to accommodate one disruptive child. Of course, one is an unrealistic answer. So what is the number? 10? 100? And is that what is driving all of this resistance to choice? That we are supposed to accept less for our children in the name of the "greater good"? I'm certainly not trying to scoff at charitable intentions, so please don't go there. But I think we need to be clear about why there is this resistance. Is it because we should be willing to accept less for our children in order to THEORETICALLY improve the CHANCES for others?
Elizabeth 123 November 12, 2012 at 11:00 PM
Hmm....ok, I give that as a private school, Cranbrook wouldn't have to accept a particularly undisciplined student. I also agree that they don’t have to submit to the straightjacket of testing UNTIL public dollars get sent their way even if it is a highly disciplined, motivated and achieving student. Once public dollars are paid to a private school, then they should be held accountable for student achievement of all their students, just like the public schools. Like I think you said in a comment on another blog....if they are good schools, why should they be worried? What happens if the high achieving student is also undisciplined? What I find intriguing is that you seem to be supporting separate kinds of schools for different kinds of children. The high achievers to one school, maybe those who excel in the arts to another, an average school for the average students, etc. What happens to the average student who benefits by having high achieving students around them or by having a school that can support a good music or sports program? Who teaches the undisciplined child? Honestly this idea unnerves me and I fear that the undisciplined child might end up in the school of low achievers. Back when I went to school, our public school took all kids just like they do today...even those with waist length hair who were ushered out of the private schools. I am not kidding. I do agree with you that testing is like a straightjacket.
Mike Reno November 12, 2012 at 11:15 PM
Elizabeth says, "What happens to the average student who benefits by having high achieving students around them" The flip of that... "how much does the high achieving student lose so that the average student can benefit?" Again... it's not a simple matter of lack of compassion, or a failure to understand that as a civilized society we need to stick together. But I think it's a fair question to wonder to what extent we should knowingly handicap our children. And I would also wonder if the "average student" (if there is such a thing) would not also benefit from being part of a similarly matched cluster of learners. Let me add that this desire for choice is not myopically driven by some desire to simply be rid of public education. It is instead because of public education's inability to re-invent itself to accommodate more self-paced learning, etc. If public ed would simply emulate some of the customer/student-centric models of charters and cyber-schools, I think you'd have a lot less frustration with the system, and a much more subdued interest in looking for other options.
Mike Reno November 12, 2012 at 11:19 PM
When you say "public school kids were demonstrably ahead of their private school peers"... can you share the "demonstrably"? Are you talking about ACT scores? Or college acceptance data? Or any college matriculation data, for that matter (remedial coursework required, # of years needed to obtain a degree)? And as far a behavioral problems... public schools have developed some wonderful alternative high schools... institutions that parents and students alike say have literally "changed or saved their lives". In fact, these are great examples of how creating more appropriate schools for different groups can be highly effective. The International Academy is another example. While nobody likes to look at it like a charter... that is exactly what it is. You gain admittance through a lottery, and your share of the public education dollars follow you to that school. So why are public ed alternative high schools OK... and the International Academy is OK... but public charter school is not? (And please... can we save the whole "profit" argument for another blog, and focus instead on the academics? That is really what this is about, isn't it? Trying to find effective learning environments?)
Mac November 12, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Sorry, Mr. Reno, you lost me. Which "80-90%" of kids are dumped in schools of last resort? Are you saying that the kids in the BHSD have been "dumped" in a "school of last resort"? I know I didn't dump my child there, and don't know anyone else who views it that way. I chose the public school, both with my house purchase and by ending our experience at a private school that was providing a lesser education. I'm not so much resistant to choice as I genuinely don't see the logical consistency of it. If there is choice, then all the schools should be on an even playing field in terms of reporting results, meeting standards, providing services. If they all have the option to choose their students, how do you know there is a place for every student? Who does the hard work, if schools have the option to only do the easy work? If the money can go anywhere, why would any school take the money that is hard to earn? In a pure choice system, there is no "public" or "private" school, so you can no longer assume the public schools will pick up the slack. If money follows the student, why would anyone provide transportation, special ed services, support for disciplinary problems, support for slower learners, or take in kids who live in unstable situations? There's no money in that.
Elizabeth 123 November 12, 2012 at 11:37 PM
And what about the consumer who can't get to a cyber or charter school because they don't have the transportation or access to a computer? The idea of consumer driven schools, which I suspect aren't always student driven, gives me pause. It means that the consumer, the student/parent, will need to be an informed consumer. I anticipate that what is being outlined by the Oxford Foundaton, supported by the legislature in hopes of achieving the Governor's vision will continue to leave the most vulnerable behind.
Mac November 12, 2012 at 11:39 PM
My public school kid was at 99% percentile on a grade level test, coming out of public school. The private school kids were at 52%. I took that as demonstrable, and it was a datapoint in deciding the suitability of that school for my child. But alternative schools are a perfect illustration for discussion. Why would any rational agent choose to open or run an alternative school? They are expensive, carry high risks, require specialized personnel, and are unlikely to generate high test scores. In a pure choice system, who would offer that? Remember, the "public" school system has basically been eliminated, as all schools take public money now. So nobody has to provide that service. And I was actually thinking of more minor behavioral problems, at an earlier age. Should every kid who struggles to get along in 1st grade be shunted into an alternative system? Right now, the public schools have a mandatory scaffolding of social workers, remedial teachers, academic support, etc. to keep those kids on their feet. Most kids can get it together and have a productive educational experience. Private schools can have a hair trigger at eliminating those kids. In a choice system, can all those kids be eliminated from every school? And I agree: IA is basically a charter school. I think charter/private works great for the kids who are pretty much guaranteed to excel. Those kids are likely to do quite well at Lahser, too.
Mike Reno November 12, 2012 at 11:50 PM
"Dumped" was an inflammatory and unnecessary choice of words on my part. Sorry about that. And yes, if you want to setup all schools to be completely equal, then you are basically maintaining the one-size-fits-all system that we have now. There would be no difference between schools, and I can clearly see why choice would not make sense to you. I see it differently, and have pasted thoughts below under a different thread.
Mike Reno November 12, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Continuing from my respond to MAC... I see it differently. I picture a public education system that would still educate a vast majority of our children, much in the same way they do now. But I see the education landscape enhanced by other entities... whether they are charters, privates, cyber-schools... that provide different pacing and different opportunities. I see parents who recognize that their child needs something else... maybe something different, maybe something more. I see those parents looking at performance data, and selecting the school that best fits their child's needs. I see some schools attempting to attract students based on skills... academic, artistic, athletic, whatever. Much like colleges do now. As an involved parent, I will be capable of reviewing performance data, and making an informed decisions. I will use my network of friends, and listen to their feedback and research. And of course, my choice might very well be to keep my child in the local public school. Or maybe keep one in the neighborhood school, and one goes to a more specialized cluster school. If some school fudges the data, or changes philosophies, then we'll move on, much like you might leave one church for another. I will recognize that "school hopping" is not healthy for my child, so I will exercise great care when choosing. I will recognize that by making a choice... I will be responsible for my own transportation.
Mike Reno November 12, 2012 at 11:57 PM
MAC says, "Remember, the "public" school system has basically been eliminated," I just don't see that. Maybe you can help me to understand why you see it in such a binary way? I cannot EVER see traditional public schools going away.
Mac November 13, 2012 at 12:54 AM
When I say public schools have basically been eliminated under a choice system, I mean that what we think of as a "public school" now wouldn't exist any more. At least I don't understand how it would. If money follows the student, every school and no school is a "public school". They all get public money, right? So what is a "public school"? Why would any school exist that has to take every student, provide transportation, provide free lunch, support special needs, accept fast and slow learners, teach state mandated curriculum, and be judged by standardized test results...when nobody else has to do that? Why would anybody offer that? What's the incentive? It seems like the answer is there would have to be some sort of government run "school of last resort" whose resources are devoted to all those support, remedial and disciplinary services, with students who are unplaceable elsewhere. I guess that would be a "public school", but certainly not in the terms we understand it now.
Mac November 13, 2012 at 01:33 AM
Mr. Reno, I think we might agree in entirety on your last two posts, which are quite eloquently presented. I see the potential benefits to my child, and others, of having a variety of educational options. I would be happy to find a more perfect fit for my child. So in theory, and in an ideal reality, I understand the goal. My hesitation, which is very strong, is to how such a reality would be realized, and whether it would be as we hoped. I hear people acting on the assumption that all private schools are high quality, all charter schools are innovative, the drive for profit yields better education, and all public schools are failures. What I see in reality is that schools that can pick their students are more likely to have all good students, that being a private/charter school is no insurance against bad management or bad teaching, that the profit motive is not conducive to education, and that if you askpublic schools to compete on an uneven playing field, they are sure to lose. My concern with the Oxford Foundation effort is they seem to embrace all the bad assumptions, and I'm not confident they understand the system they are trying to revisit. It appears to me they are on the road to introducing "competition" while tying the hands of districts like BHSD behind their backs. Can BHSD raise outside funds? Can I pay additional tuition? Do they have to follow goofy curriculum mandates? Once everyone has competed for the "easy" students, who teaches the rest?
Mac November 13, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Thank you for a fine discussion.
Elizabeth 123 November 13, 2012 at 02:06 AM
Thank you Mac for outlining my thoughts so beautifully. I have but one more to add about who teaches the rest, the students with no options, the vulnerable, the ones who most likely need the best, brightest and most creative of teachers. It will end up being the State of Michigan through the Education Achievement Authority.


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