Tag Archives: Rick Snyder

Why Flint’s Water Crisis May Be a Boon for #EdReform

Let me start with some background information.

My home state of Michigan has a law that allows an Emergency Manager to be put in place. This  Emergency Manager has dictatorial control. Decisions that were previously made by a democratically elected city council or school board are given over to an appointee of the governor.

If you are a citizen of a country that purports itself to be a democracy, you may have some obvious concerns about this.

If you are a fan of human rights, there are even more.

One of the decisions that the Emergency Manager of Flint has made is to end its contract with Detroit Water and Sewage Department and instead pump water from the local and polluted Flint River for its residents. The good news is that it saves some money. The bad news is that this move is poisoning the residents of Flint.

According to the Detroit Free Press“Mona Hanna-Attisha, a researcher at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, analyzed blood-lead level information collected as part of a routine screening process, and found that the percentage of Flint children with elevated blood-lead levels has increased significantly since the city started pumping water from the Flint River in April 2014. In some ZIP codes — those considered most at-risk — the percentage of kids affected by lead has doubled.”

And how much lead is safe in children?

“The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that there is no safe blood-lead level for children. Lead poisoning causes a host of developmental and behavioral problems in exposed children. It is irreversible.” (Emphasis added)

Which, to me, calls forward a seemingly obvious question: What is more important, economic efficiency or human lives?

I guess we know where the Flint Emergency Manager and Michigan governor stand, because they don’t quite seem to be accepting the data.

“Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Angela Minicuci told the Free Press on Thursday that the increase was ‘seasonal and not related to the water supply.'”

However,

Despite the state’s efforts to discredit the Hurley data, the state’s own data show that there are a higher percentage of kids in Flint with elevated lead levels in their blood after the switch.” (Emphasis added)

So, any level of lead in the blood of a human is unsafe, and yet, the state is arguing that the increase in lead in the bodies of children in Flint is seasonal, as if:

1. Such an increase can be rationalized.

2. The state and its governor can wash its hands of this particular situation.

detroit-water-shut-off-400x240 (1)

And what does all of this have to do with education reform?

Remember, the way that our current crop of top down, data driven education reformers imagine education is via the vehicle of wishful thinking that assumes that teachers and students are alienated individuals who work in isolation from social systems. This logic thus suggests these teachers and students are responsible for their own success and failure. The way to reform is then to reward the successes of these individuals, and to punish their failures. Failure leads to school closures, which leads to privatization (and its corollary of profit-making for some) often in the form of quasi-public, directly for-profit charters. Distractions offered by the social context that they work within, such as poverty or the poisoning of their water sources, are irrelevant because responsibility for success and failure lies completely within the control of the students and teachers involved.

So, forgive my simplification, but the formula goes; low test scores leads to profit for some.

Now, if an entirely evil person were to develop a plan that would ensure low test scores, thereby ripening the potential for profit, what might this person do? Maybe slip something into the children’s water source to  decrease their cognitive ability? This would ensure low test scores, create “school failure,” and allow for all of the profit-making such school failure leads to. (Because of the underlying assumptions explained above, it would also wonderfully and magically point all blame to the victims themselves.)

Can you spell F…l…i…n…t?

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that Governor Snyder is an evil person with an evil plan. I do not pretend to know his intentions.

However, his intentions are irrelevant to the people who are suffering under his policies. What is relevant is the effect that his policies are having on communities. What is relevant is how his policies actually function. And the effect of his policies is exactly what is spelled out above. If his intentions include  helping and supporting people, then it seems  that he would begin to take responsibility for the damage his polices are having.

It seems he would take responsibility for the imposing autocratic decision-making processes where once there was the accountability offered by democracy.

It seems he would take responsibility for the dismantling of  our schools, and for the poisoning of our children.

Meanwhile, the rest of us need to see the connections between water and schooling- between the suffering of our children and the “failure” of our schools. We have to stop seeing poverty, ecological health, mental health and education as separate categories and start to understand that there is truly one issue that works across categories:  Exploitation for the sake of profit.

This is what we must resist in all of the forms we find it.

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The Shock Doctrine- Alive and Well in Michigan

Symptomatic of what is occurring in education across the nation, Detroit Public Schools are deep in debt.

Detroit, though, is somewhat unique in that they have in place an autocratic and unilateral leader appointed by the Governor of Michigan.  They have an Emergency Manager, a person appointed at the governor’s behest to alleviate a financial situation that has been deemed by such governor to be an “emergency.”

DPS Financial HistoryIn Detroit Public Schools, this has led to the marginalization of a perfectly capable and democratically elected school board.  It has promoted the market fundamentalists’ premier value of economic efficiency over democracy, and it has done so at the expense of the economic health of the district, the academics of the students affected, and the community’s agency as expressed via the accountability of a democratically elected school board. It is no small thing to again point out the irony of the fact that Emergency Management has been installed at the expense of  the district’s financial viability.  (For more on this sordid history, please read Bill Wylie-Kellerman’s excellent account.)

So what is the governor going to do now with this mess he has exacerbated? According to The Detroit News, “Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration is exploring ways to link a change in governance of public education in Detroit with ‘financial relief’ for the debt-ridden and cash-strapped Detroit Public Schools.

Hmm..little mention of here of the structural conditions that led to such a situation.

No mention of the damning, incomplete, and false narrative of “failing schools.”

Although there are some hints if you read between the lines.

Since DPS is managed by its fourth emergency manager in six years, the issue of giving the district some financial breathing room looms large as the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren tries to craft a new school reform plan for Snyder to pursue in the Legislature.

See, it seems that there is a glimmer of understanding that an Emergency Manager- the fourth in six years- has simply not worked.  The solution? “…a new school reform plan for Snyder to pursue in the Legislature.”

Again, if you read between the lines you will note who is not able to pursue anything in the legislature -the people of Detroit whose children are affected. You see, their voices have been silenced.

More hints of what might be to come?

Snyder wants the plan before spring so he can pursue potential legislative changes before the next school year, Walsh said.

Walsh, a Livonia Republican, was term-limited from the House last year and joined Snyder’s staff in January. He since has worked closely on Detroit and urban education reform issues with Paul Pastorek, a former Louisiana schools chief credited with turning around the New Orleans school system after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Last summer, the Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which has invested heavily in the EAA schools, sent Pastorek to Michigan to assist Snyder’s office in studying education reform in Detroit.

The 36-member coalition is exploring reforms that include common enrollment and the creation of a new commission that could have governance power over all DPS…

So what is this really about?  In order to learn, we need to follow the bread crumb trail ( in this particular nightmare that means “money”) to New Orleans.  The Broad Foundation, whose marketing brand reads, “Entrepreneurship for the public good in education,” a sentence whose inherent contradiction is mind-boggling, has funded Paul Pastorek as an advisor to the Michigan Governor as he looks for a system that he can use to, “ pursue potential legislative changes before the next school year.” 

As the governor wrings his hands about the debt DPS is incurring.

Sound familiar?

Let’s see- the creation of massive financial insecurity that allows for radical structural changes which will then allow for corporate profit at the expense of democracy and local communities? Yes, the Shock Doctrine!

To those familiar with the history of public schooling in New Orleans it will sound all too familiar.  (Thank you Paul Pastorek.)

And for those not familiar, please rapidly learn about the NOLA history, as it’s coming to a school near you.

As a public service I offer the video below.  (From New Orleans Education Equity.)

And as a succinct encouragement to view, I offer this quote from the video:

A lot of money has come into New Orleans to open up new schools. That actually incentivizes school failure. The more schools fail, the more money certain organizations get to open new schools….closing schools simply gets the money changing hands again.” 

It’s easy to predict that a lot more money will be soon be changing hands again in Michigan.

Please watch.

Before Accepting the Portfolio Model, Shouldn’t We Check to See if It Works?

It is commonly expected that Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, will be announcing that some version of the “portfolio model” will be put in place somewhere in Michigan.  It likely that this model will be imposed on our most marginalized communities, because that’s essentially how colonialism tends to spread.

Before accepting this model, it would have been really nice if Snyder and friends would check into the evidence that shows whether or not the portfolio model does indeed work.

Part of this assumes, of course, that we know what we mean by saying something “works.” And within this assumed understanding are obscured questions: How does a system function?  Who does the system benefit? Who is hurt? Who are the winners? And who are the losers?

In this particular case, when determining whether or not it works, the question becomes, how does the portfolio model function as a system?

And, if we look at the portfolio model in this way, we find that it does work!

It works to dispossess communities from their commonly held social capital.  It works to provide much profit for those that own charters, publishing companies and those that produce educational software.  It works to benefit those who already hold power and are looking to extend that power.  So yes, it works.

However, there is little to no evidence that it works to benefit the students it purportedly is designed to benefit.

How does it dispossess communities from what has been commonly held and then is used to profit others?  Let me point you to the important writing of Kristen Buras, who has studied in-depth  the way that the portfolio model has functioned in New Orleans:

“Educational reforms in New Orleans are not designed to respond to oppressed communities or to enhance public school performance, even if they are often couched in such language. Rather, this is a feeding frenzy, a revivified Reconstruction-era blueprint for how to capitalize on public education and line the pockets of entrepreneurs (and their black allies) who care less about working-class schoolchildren and their grandmothers and much more about obtaining public and private monies and an array of lucrative contracts...These reforms are a form of accumulation by dispossession, which David Harvey defines as process in which assets previously belonging to one group are put in circulation as capital for another group. In New Orleans, this has included the appropriation and commodification of black children, black schools and black communities for white exploitation and profit.” (Emphasis added)

It seems a bit ironic that Governor Snyder has been palling around with former Louisiana Schools Chief Paul Pastorek (paid for by the Broad Foundation- kind of like some weird escort service) and receiving his advice through the Fall of 2014. So, although we have already experienced the dispossession brought on by the establishment of Michigan’s own state-wide Educational Achievement Authority, it is clear, and shocking, that the lessons available through the continued failure of the EAA have not been learned.

While this dispossession is bound to continue, there is little evidence that students have benefited as much as from the portfolio model system as others have.  The National Education Policy Center has put out a report written by Elizabeth DeBray of the University of Georgia, and Huriya Jabbar of the University of California, Berkeley, entitled, Review of Two Presentations on the Portfolio School Model.  This report is important, because it actually looks at the evidence behind the so-called “New Orleans Miracle.”

The report aligns with Buras’s findings. As DeBray and Jabbar write, “Professor Lance Hill of Tulane, for example, described the perceptions of some local residents who believe they have lost democratic control of the schools. He wrote in a local blog in 2011:

The corporate education forces that advocate a free-market business model have developed a ‘beachhead’ strategy in New Orleans. Taking advantage of the evacuation of 90% of the population after Katrina, they set in motion educational changes that bypassed the elected school board and destroyed virtually all local democracy and accountability.” (Emphasis added)

For those who follow the EAA, this may sound familiar.

DeBray and Jabbar start their report by restating the positive claims of the New Orleans Recovery School District and the Achievement School District of Memphis, Tennessee. It then provides the context of teaching in New Orleans during the time leading up to their study (a crucial step that “no excuses” reformers refuse to consider- the “social context” that reforms occur within) and then continues on to evaluate the claims made by the two school districts.

Portfolio Model 2

On the purported student gains:

“The presentation makes several claims about student achievement in New Orleans, including the assertion that RSD schools outpace the state, displaying a graph with impressive growth from 2007 to 2013, and that New Orleans is closing the achievement gap. A greater percentage of African American students in New Orleans are proficient on state high-stakes tests than their peers across the state. However, whether these reported gains are due to the portfolio model or to demographic changes in the city overall is unclear. Researchers such as Gumus-Dawes et al. contend that the modest performance seen in the New Orleans community may be the result of student selection. Therefore, while the audience is led to assume that the improvements are due to the portfolio related educational reforms post-Katrina, it is not possible to make causal claims with these data.” (Emphasis added)

In other, words, though it is true that “modest gains” have occurred, it remains unclear what caused the gains, and the suggestion is that the gains may be due to the students who were selected for attendance in the new model.  (Hmm…) As the writers state, it is “not possible to make causal claims with these data,” though, in spite of this impossibility, the Recovery District has done so.

On school closures and accountability:

“The RSD has acted to close or transform low-performing charters. Since 2005, 11 charters have been shut down and two have changed governance.30 Therefore, this essential piece of the portfolio mechanism—closing failing schools—has indeed been accomplished. Yet the problem of reconstitutions and closures is a great deal more complex than these slides portray.
The ‘shifting the bell curve’ slide raises a larger question about the sustainability of continuous reconstitution by the RSD. Any district that accepts the portfolio/reconstitution and closure model must deal with the questions of where students go when schools are shut down and whether the educational quality will be higher. As Jennifer King Rice and Betty Malen wrote in their review of the literature on school reconstitution:

Reconstitution may enhance the stock of human and cultural capital in schools, but the evidence we reviewed does not establish that reconstitution is a dependable or effective mechanism for attracting and retaining large pools of highly qualified educators in low-performing schools or for enhancing social capital in those settings. Indeed, some studies reveal that reconstitution may deplete those critical resources.  School closures in 2012–2013 have been especially contentious and some reports by investigative journalists have reported that students are ending up in similarly failing
schools. (Emphasis added)

Again, this “reconstitution” of so-called “failing schools” will sound familiar to those following the EAA.  Though there is no evidence that this “reconstitution” does anything positive, (in fact, the evidence suggests that it has a negative impact on the all important and already frayed social capital) the portfolio model continues to “reconstitute.”

On improving “human capital.”  (I think “improving ‘human capital'” is code for making better teachers.  Because we know that “failing schools” are full of “failed teachers.” Please.):

“The presenters do not define what they mean by ‘improving human capital,’ and it is thus a questionable claim. Given what we know about post-Katrina human capital shifts, and a greater reliance on programs such as The New Teacher Project and TFA, it is unclear whether these teachers are all qualified to work well with students and whether they have had any significant impact on student learning in New Orleans. In fact, there is no system wide reporting of exactly who teaches in New Orleans, their background and qualifications, or their teaching practices, let alone impact studies. Furthermore, while programs like TFA bring college students with degrees from prestigious institutions, the research on their effectiveness is mixed, typically with small effects in either direction.” (Emphasis added)

Does anyone else think that it’s strange that this education reform movement, which has been so dependent on a  twisted sense of accountability, goes to great lengths to avoid accountability?

It actually works to destroy the locally held accountability of democracy by extracting schools from their community, and replace it with….what?

Power?

Money?

I’m left wondering.

The evidence suggests that it certainly doesn’t have to do with forgotten kids.

I don’t do DeBray and Jabbar’s report credence.  Please be sure to read the whole thing here:  http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/ttr-portfoliorecovery.pdf

No More Surprises

Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder is about to make an announcement that will move him to the prominent fore in the education reform movement not only statewide, but nationally as well.  Snyder has done much already to shape the education conversation in Michigan and nationally (more on that later) and, as the former CEO of a company on the forefront of casino capitalism, he clearly has the background to weigh heavily in this particular discussion.

Snyder will most likely announce some version of “portfolio districts” as the way forward.  The name “portfolio” is another misappropriated title taken from the business world.  A “business portfolio” is a collection of products and services offered by a company.  As applied to the education field, a district using this model would, as described by Kenneth Saltman,  “…build portfolios of schools that encompass a variety of educational approaches offered by different vendors…”

Saltman has written an important report on the portfolio model, Urban School Decentralization and the Growth of “Portfolio Districts”  (http://greatlakescenter.org/docs/Policy_Briefs/Saltman_PortfolioDistricts.pdf.)  In this brief, Saltman outlines four characteristics of portfolio districts:  “The portfolio district approach merges four strategies: 1) decentralization; 2) charter school expansion; 3) reconstituting/closing “failing” schools; and 4) test-based accountability.”

Elements of a portfolio districtFor those who are familiar with the current education reform movement, there are no surprises here.  And as a pro business market fundamentalist, it is predictable that Governor Snyder would promote a portfolio model.

At the same time, it is crucial to recognize the history that Snyder has created in order to fertilize the ground for this move.

Skunk Works and the Disconnecting Schools from Local Community

In the Spring of 2013, it was revealed that Snyder had put together a secret group in order to design a plan that  “lets parents use tax dollars to choose between private and public schools—something prohibited by the state Constitution.”   This group was headed by Richard McLellan, a pro-voucher, pro school choice advocate.  The intention of this group was to create a model that dismantled local districts in favor of a system that would allow students the choice to take their state funding to any school in the state, including virtual schools.  This was what Snyder called the “anytime, anywhere, any pace” model, a techno utopian dream, and one that, as I have written before, hugely misunderstands the  importance of the teacher.

And a crucial element in this plan was the disconnection of schools from the democratic accountability of local communities.  Essentially, this model imagines humans as abstracted from the relationships and accountability that local community provides.  This cannot be overstated.

In his important book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block writes, “The essential work is to create social fabric, both for its own sake and to enable chosen accountability among citizens.  When citizens care for each other, they become accountable to each other.  Care and accountability create a healthy community.” It is important to understand that the portfolio model is based on a way of imagining humans as alienated from the relationships, context, and accountability that can only be provided by a community where people are known.  As traditional conservatism understands, local community is significant, thus the need to “conserve” community and the values it represents. Traditional conservatives understand that as part of the fabric of their communities, local school districts actually matter in people’s lives.  Snyder and other current Republicans are too often misnamed as conservatives when they in fact, like many current members of the Democrat party, are representatives of neoliberal market fundamentalism, which views everything from the one-dimensional value of money, and as a result, rips apart the social fabric.

When the Skunk Works group was outed, it was disassembled, reconstituted under a different name, and put under the control of the state superintendent. Little of this particular group has been heard from since, though iterations of its plan continue with its DNA clearly seen in the “district portfolio” plan.  (For more on  the history of Skunk Works, see Things Are Getting Stinky.)

The EAA and the Rise of Charters

I and others have written extensively about Michigan’s Educational Achievement Authority.  (See herehere and here.) For the sake of this article, simply note that the EAA has taken schools out of the Detroit Public School system and put them into a “state-wide” district of the lowest performing 5%.  For a variety of reasons, those schools are all Detroit schools.  (See Mary Mason and David Arsen’s important report on the establishment of the EAA. It is linked at the bottom of this piece.)  It then instituted the techno utopian dream of a computer driven, “personalized” curriculum that sees little need for qualified teachers and has proved a colossal failure.  Again, the EAA’s elements of misunderstanding the role of the teacher, of a techno utopian vision, and the underestimation of the importance of community  are all replicated in the portfolio model.

While the EAA was on the rise, so were for profit charters in the state of Michigan.  Legislation was passed that allowed for the expansion of charters in the state.  Eighty percent these charters are now run for profit and Michigan has the dubious honor of leading the nation in the number of for profit charters.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press has done an important expose on the effectiveness of Michigan’s charters.  (Read with some wariness.)

Funding and Emergency Management

Throughout his term as governor, Snyder has pushed for broader establishment of Emergency Management, which assumes that local democratically elected institutions are fundamentally unable to handle their finances.  It then allows an Emergency Manager to be appointed, and gives this manager autocratic control over virtually every aspect of these formerly democratic institutions.  The laws that allow for this were developed and promulgated by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, and in Michigan, by the right-wing think tank , The Mackinac Center for Public Policy. (Read more here.)

In his current history of Detroit Public Schools, Bill Wylie-Kellerman writes,

“Though Public Act 436, which allegedly authorizes emergency management, allows that elected bodies taken over and supplanted may vote after 18 months to put out an EM, the courts have ruled that this means the Governor simply has to install a new and different EM. Emergency Management is a permanent feature of black cities in Michigan.

The elected and unpaid school board, though constantly tarred in the media with corruption or incompetence or simply ignored, has continued to function ‘in exile’ as a body conscientiously accountable to parents, students, and citizens, consistently resisting takeover. (Would that our city council had an ounce of such vision or fiber!) Believe it or not, the State Attorney General sued the district representatives on the board for being elected. Since they were duly seated and sworn in, the maneuver failed. Now a foundation-funded and nonprofit-orchestrated campaign seeks oust them altogether for a structure of ‘mayoral control’…Emergency management has been the blunt instrument of privatization.”

At the same time that Emergency Management has been on the rise, the financial conditions necessary for instituting it have also been on the rise.  Mere coincidence? Hmm…

Since taking over as governor, Snyder has slashed business taxes to the ‘tune of 1.6 billion dollars a year…leaving a huge hole in the School Aid Fund.”

Let me quote more from Chris Savage, at Eclectablog:

“Gov. Snyder also took the unprecedented step of diverting a portion of the School Aid Fund to pay partially offset huge cuts he had made to higher education which he claims to value so much. Before Rick Snyder came into office, this had never happened before. How much of a hit did the School Aid Fund take from this diversion of money to higher ed?

$400,000,000 a year.

So, let’s do the math here:

   $600,000,000.00
+ $400,000,000.00 
 $1,000,000,000.00  

Yup, that’s a billion dollars, kids. Actually it’s a bit more because the hit the Student Aid Fund took from the business tax cut is MORE than $600,000,000.”

That’s a lot of money that schools aren’t getting.

And the result?

Fifty seven school districts in the state of Michigan are now operating under a deficit.

Surprised?

To put it another way, fifty-seven school districts are now ripe for being taken over by emergency management.

Or, remembering Wylie-Kellerman’s frame, fifty-seven school districts are now ripe for privatization.

Follow the logic.

Connect the dots.

Next?

So this is the current context for Snyder’s upcoming announcement.  This is the groundwork that has been laid, some transparently, some not so much.

But with this in mind, it’s at least clear that a pattern has been established so there should be no more surprises.

Be sure to read Mary L. Mason and David Arsen’s report, Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority and the Future of Public Education in Detroit: The Challenge of Aligning Policy Design and Policy Goals: http://www.greatlakescenter.org/docs/Policy_Briefs/Saltman_PortfolioDistricts.pdf

The Benevolent Arrogance of Self-Insulated Power in Educational Policy

I just came home from the annual conference of the North Dakota Study Group, which was incredible in a number of ways. I hope to delineate some of this in future posts, but for now, I want to focus on the fresh way this conference helped me see the extension of power, and I’ll focus specifically on the power currently being extended through the tool of educational policy.

In a nutshell, current educational policy sustains and extends the power and privilege of those who currently benefit from our economic system and insulates them from the damage created by this policy. As Michelle Fine has written, “The dispossession of those living in poverty, communities of color and immigrants is intimately linked to the elite accumulation of capital, real estate, opportunities and bright futures for the young.”

Ideally, any policy is enacted in order to meet the goals of those who are affected by it. The general process in this ideal is that all of those affected are gathered, they dialogue, argue and eventually agree on goals and ways of enacting those goals for the benefit of all. In education policy, if this ideal were to be followed, that would mean community members, students, teachers, administrators all of those involved in an education system, would be included in the development of the policy and the carrying out of the policy.

Not so. In the strange world of neo-liberalism, which continues its ugly ascension, the primary purpose of education is to provide access to economic benefit. (I hope you can accept this assumption, if not, read more here.) Because this economic benefit is the primary value, who better to create economic policy than those who benefit most from the economic system? So representatives of power in this system get to write policy that will sustain and increase their power. Check out the background of any current educational policy and see who was involved. Rarely, if ever, will you see teachers or community members, particularly those members of underprivileged communities. Instead, you will see the tycoons of business and politicians. These outsiders arrogantly impose their policy on members of a community who are thus victims of that policy because their voices were not included in the creation of it. Worse, they become “accountable” to that policy. (See my previous post covering the process of deprofessionalizing teachers.) The resulting policy creates a rigged game, with test score measures that questionably determine future success, but without question measure socio-economic status, and are used to ‘rate’ schools and teachers. The scores are used to then blame and demonize those teachers, particularly in underprivileged communities, and then to destabilize schools, and thus their communities, which can then be further demonized because of their further destabilization. (See Paul Thomas’s analysis of this “no-excuses” approach to education reform, and the “culture of shame” it creates.)

As a quick example, parent trigger laws ostensibly are enacted to empower parents and protect them, and their children, from the effect of poor schooling. This language of empowerment hides the fact that the school is “poor” because the neighborhood is poor. It hides the fact that this empowerment of parents allows those with enough capital to move, thus pulling their capital from the community by moving to another school, thus further tearing apart the social capital of the community left behind, leaving it weaker and more vulnerable than before. Of course as a result test scores will slide, we can the further demonize these teachers and students, and the cycle can continue.

As another, somewhat different way in, I bring you the proposal of the Oxford Foundation in Michigan. Its founder, and the prime writer of its policy, is Richard McLellan. McLellan was appointed by billionaire governor Rick Snyder to explore some ways to flesh out the “anytime, anywhere” legislation that the governor hopes to put in place. Allow me point out the context from which both Governor Snyder and McLellan see the world. Both are white. Both are rich. Neither has any experience that I know of from which to see outside of the perspective of being rich, white, powerful business leaders. Both have a background in business and having been highly successful in that world. Snyder sends his children to an exclusive independent school that costs $18,000 a year. (I don’t fault him for this, but it is one more reinforcement of his limited, insulated perspective.) McLellan has been involved in Republican circles as a primary mover behind previous attempts to enact voucher legislation in Michigan, “…a leader in efforts in Michigan to expand school choice for Michigan students…,” and is a founder of the right-wing think tank, the Mackinac Center.

Given these facts, it should not have been hard to predict the kind of legislation the Oxford Foundation would come up with. (For an analysis of the plan, and a link to it, see this. As you read, ask yourself, who will most benefit from this policy? What will the effect be on struggling schools and communities? Who will be hurt? Who are the winners, and who are the losers?) My point here is not the legislation itself, but to critique the difficulty of escaping the self-insulation that power and privilege provide. I do not think that Snyder and McLellan are bad men intending to do harm. I do think they are ignorant men unable to see behind the wall that their perspective creates. I do think their arrogance is benevolent, but that doesn’t make it any less harmful.

These kinds of policies function insulate the policy makers from the effects of the their policy by benefiting them, and by allowing them, and the media, to demonize the victims of their policy. Unfortunately, these are only two examples from a growing plethora of options.