The Daily wrote an editorial on Wednesday (A plan worth following, 09/14/05) altering its precedent on charter schools in light of the dire situation that the Detroit Public Schools is facing. Although the Daily supported the charter school proposal – which calls for the opening of 15 charter high schools in Detroit – with reservations, there is never a justification for changing opinions when it comes to charter schools. Charter schools will only cause more problems for Detroit than they will temporarily fix. Despite the utmost urgency to medicate the diseased education system in Detroit, we cannot give in to the temptation of charter schools.
The Daily supported the new schools under the condition that they were supervised by former Detroit Pistons player Dave Bing, a credible businessman who wants only to help the children of Detroit. However, what went missing from the argument was the mention of the operation’s vanguard. Enter Robert Thompson, a cunning millionaire whose initial proposal to open charter schools in 2003 was thrown away due to pressure from the Detroit Federation of Teachers. Thompson is back with the same $200 million, but now he has come equipped with a nice face and name to put on the project: Detroit hero Dave Bing. Despite continued opposition from the DFT, Thompson’s proposal has won support because of his partnership with Bing. And although it cannot be assumed that opening 15 schools is Detroit is all about profit, Thompson has declined to work with the Detroit schools. Instead of offering to lend his money to public schools to support athletic, art and after-school programs, he has made the executive decision to construct his own schools. This suggests a certain conclusion: he’s in it for the profits.
Thompson’s other partner in the operation, The Skillman Foundation, claims it hopes to create a model with these new schools from which the Detroit Public Schools can borrow. Skillman President Carol Goss said, “I hope everyone understands this is all about the children.” But if this were true, charter schools would not be on Thompson, Bing and Skillman’s plates. Aside from the teachers, administrators and parents who lose in charter schools, studies have shown that charter schools do no more for students than public schools. In the book “The Charter School Dust Up,” it was shown that students in charter schools “have the same or lower scores than other public school students in nearly every demographic category.” More surprising is “that the test scores of low-income black students in charter schools are lower than in the public schools in both math and reading.” Special education and English as a Second Language programs are also virtually eliminated in charter schools.
Charter schools, by definition, are free from most of the regulations imposed by state boards of education or legislatures. Also, parents could be left out of the whole equation when it comes to their children’s schooling because the people with the money might make final administrative decisions. As the Daily stated in an earlier editorial, “Contributing to this dearth of accountability, a generous donor will perhaps have a greater influence on the school than the community because private donors are essential to the sustenance of these schools.” (Off the charts, 7/12/2004). Schools funded in this way do not err on the side of students. Rather, they focus on moneymaking and the interests of the private investors.
Detroit cannot wait indefinitely for a revival of it public school system, and there is simply no time to be spared when it comes to the education of children in the poorest city in America. However, one-step solutions, such as using Robert Thompson’s checkbook and Dave Bing’s face, are not adequate – even if they are only temporary. The charter schools Thompson wants to create, regardless of whether they are designed with profits in mind, do not encourage reform or improve the quality of the public school system. They will only hinder the public schools system by taking away teachers, students and money. With school funding already scant in Detroit, the district will be forced to make more cuts, creating a “slippery slope” and leading to even more rich businessmen’s pet projects.
Theresa Kennelly is an LSA sophomore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.