Betsy DeVos and Michigan Republicans have relentlessly pushed a baseless theory that private schools governed by free market competition, instead of governmental oversight, would magically lead to better outcomes.
Now, less than a month into the school year, 200 Michigan students have been exposed to a vivid example of why private charter schools governed by free market principles doesn’t work. The school these 200 students were attending, presumably for at least this full year, abruptly shut down, leaving the students and their families scrambling to find another school to attend.
Less than a month into the school year, a Detroit charter school is shutting its doors — leaving nearly 200 students and their parents in the lurch.
Saturday is supposed to be the school’s homecoming. It’s unclear whether it’ll still happen, said King, who is upset because she believes the school should have given parents a heads-up that this might happen.
Why did the school shut down? Because not enough students enrolled, and because the the lower than expected enrollment would mean the free market motive of profit would not be realized:
The board had adopted a budget that counted on an enrollment of 265 students. Far fewer — 203 — were enrolled. And even fewer — 180 — were showing up on a daily basis, he said.
“They weren’t certain they were going to be able to be financially viable throughout the year,” Rizzo said.
Schools should not be governed simply by short-term profit motives. Schools provide a long-term societal benefit. Our children deserve better than this. Our society deserves better than this. And it isn’t just this one example. Years of evidence has shown that this theory of free market competition for schools leading to better outcomes has simply not been supported by reality.
The lack of regulation had the desired effect: Michigan became a boom state for a growing new education sector. By 2000, Michigan had 184 charter schools, by Miron’s count, more than any state but Arizona and California. In a 2002 book that Miron wrote with Christopher Nelson called “What’s Public About Charter Schools?” the authors consider two different charter models deployed by states: competitive and collaborative. While the collaborative approach encouraged the public and private sectors to “share innovations,” Michigan favored the other approach: “Engler wanted to lift public schools,” Miron told me, “but he believed in getting as much competition as quickly as possible. It became the Wild West state: Push, push, push.” While other states — Miron cited Ohio, Texas and Arizona — also emerged as exemplars of the “competitive” model, most have since reintroduced some regulation. “Michigan is still an outlier,” Miron said. “No state comes near us when it comes to privatization.”
It hasn’t worked. From that same 2017 article:
Michigan’s K-12 system is among the weakest in the country and getting worse. In little more than a decade, Michigan has gone from being a fairly average state in elementary reading and math achievement to the bottom 10 states. It’s a devastating fall. Indeed, new national assessment data suggest Michigan is witnessing systemic decline across the K-12 spectrum. White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income — it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live. …
And in 2018, results for students are continuing to get worse:
August 29, 2018 – Just 44 percent of the students in grades 3-8 who took the English language arts portion of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) passed the exam.
That’s down from nearly 48 percent in 2015 — the first year the M-STEP was given — and marks the fourth year in a row more than half of the students weren’t proficient.
The news across the board wasn’t pretty:
- In math, 37.4 percent of the students in grades 3-8 were proficient, up from 37 percent in 2015.
- In social studies, 23.8 percent of students in grades 3-8 were proficient, down from 26 percent in 2015.
- On the SAT — the college entrance exam taken by 11th graders — 36.9 percent of students met the benchmark for being considered college- and career-ready in math, while 57.8 percent met that standard in reading and writing. That compares to 2016, where the numbers were 36.8 percent in math and 60.1 percent in reading and writing.
- The total average SAT score was 1000.1, out of a possible score of 1600. In 2016, the first year the SAT became part of the high school exam, the total average score was 1000.8.
- On a separate high school social studies exam, the percentage of students who were proficient was 48.5 percent, up from 43.9 percent.
The sooner we rid our country of these school choice and for-profit charter school advocates, and their lies about free-market competition, the better.