Michigan Gambled on Charter Schools. Its Children Lost.

Jul 25, 2018 by

Free-market boosters, including Betsy DeVos, promised that a radical expansion of charter schools would fix the stark inequalities in the state’s education system. The results in the classrooms are far more complicated.<

Toss a dart at a map of Detroit, and the bull’s-eye, more or less, would be a tiny city called Highland Park. Only three square miles, Highland Park is surrounded by Detroit on nearly all sides, but it remains its own sovereign municipality thanks largely to Henry Ford, who started building Model Ts there in 1910. Ford didn’t care for the idea of paying Detroit taxes, so he pressured Highland Park to resist annexation by the larger city. By the end of the decade, his Albert Kahn-designed factory had revolutionized mass production. Five years later, Walter Chrysler started his own car company a few blocks away.

Sylvia Brown lives in the suburbs now, but she still proudly calls herself a Parker, the local term for a Highland Park native. When Brown was a kid, she’d tell people she lived in the capital of Detroit. Her father worked for the city, and her mother taught at the public elementary school. In high school, Brown played on the volleyball and tennis teams and won a scholarship her junior year to study abroad in Japan. She fretted about traveling such a long distance — she never expected the judges to pick a black girl from Highland Park — but her guidance counselor encouraged her not to be afraid to cross 8 Mile Road, the famous divide between city and suburbs.

So when the offer came last summer to take a job as the superintendent of George Washington Carver Academy, a pre-K-8 charter school in Highland Park, Brown thrilled at the chance to come home. She also had no illusions about what she was signing up for. In 1992, Brown’s sophomore year at Highland Park High, Chrysler’s corporate headquarters decamped to exurban Auburn Hills, a departure that cost Highland Park a quarter of its tax base and 50 percent of its annual budget. Today the city is staring down the same problems as much of Detroit: crime, abandonment, disinvestment. (A local pastor once described Highland Park to me as “Detroit writ small.”) The public library closed in 2002. In 2011, the local power utility dug up two-thirds of the city’s streetlights in response to $4 million of unpaid bills; the mayor-elect advised citizens to leave on their porch lights instead.

Source: Michigan Gambled on Charter Schools. Its Children Lost. – The New York Times

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