DETROIT - Double teachers' salaries, hold teachers in high esteem as other leading industrial nations do and insure quality pre-school education for all. Those were some of the high-sounding suggestions U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made during a meeting with the staff and students of the Brenda Scott Academy in Detroit.
Only one big problem: there is a Grand Canyon-size disconnect between those suggestions to improve education and what is happening on the ground in Michigan.
Respect teachers? The Republican-dominated Michigan legislature has done the exact opposite. It views teachers, their unions and the collective bargaining process as the primary reason for poor student performance. It has responded with a slew of bills to cuts wages, benefits, and union dues deduction and push private, for-profit schools that rely on online teachers, not teachers in the classroom.
The Brenda Scott Academy is part of Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), a state-created school district that has taken 15 "underperforming" Detroit public schools and placed them under state control. Republicans in the state legislature now plan to expand the EAA into a statewide district, eliminating collective bargaining and seniority in the process. Educators rightfully view it as a dismantling of public education.
Secretary Duncan acknowledged that only three out of every 10 children have access to quality pre-school education and far too many children come into to kindergarten already one to two years behind their peers. That initial disadvantage follows them a lifetime, he said.
Sixteen-year former Michigan State Board of Education member Marianne McGuire said Duncan's comments reveal "the problem is poverty, not teachers."
Kids coming from well-to-do homes where there are magazines and books, and where children are read nightly, start school a "step ahead," McGuire said. While Duncan and Snyder might recognize the problem, "they don't put money into it," she noted.
A case in point is the fact that state House Republicans will soon vote on a plan diverting $800 million from schools each year to pay for road repairs and construction.
if you want to do something to help schools don't take $800 million away, McGuire said. Use that money to have "smaller class sizes, new equipment, and fixing up crumbling buildings," she said.
She also countered Duncan's claim that the EAA is the "right direction" to go in.
"If we feel the schools are in bad shape, we should be doing something to fix the schools, not set up a whole new district," she said.
Also worrying educators was the "secret" plan to get education on the cheap being discussed by Snyder, people associated with information technology companies and the Mackinac Center, a right-wing think tank based in Michigan. The plan, recently exposed by the Detroit News, entailed using vouchers to pay for schools with a heavy emphasis on using online courses.
Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook criticized the project as "a scheme that takes funding from kids to divert more taxpayer dollars into the pockets of rich CEOs."
McGuire noted that those leading the so-called school reform movement are "not educators and have never been in a classroom."
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