Saturday, August 18, 2012

Contrary to critics' perceptions, Detroit School Board not the problem


When I read Detroit Free Press Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson's extremely misguided attack on me and the Detroit School Board, School Board President Lamar Lemmons and I didn't have much choice but to respond and quick. The text of our letter to the editor is below. If you want to see the Aug. 17, 2012 published version, click here.

While it is difficult for me to overemphasize how far off base Mr. Henderson's comments were, I nevertheless appreciate the willingness of the Free Press to publish our response in a relatively timely manner.

To the Editor:

We read with extreme interest the Detroit Free Press’ August 10 editorial “AG’s school board suit misguided.”  We agree with its statement that Attorney General Bill Schuette should desist from now trying to disenfranchise Detroit voters retroactively by manufacturing a possible path to nullify the Supreme Court’s decision to place the challenge to PA 4 on the November ballot.  This unconstitutional law has disenfranchised every Michigan citizen.   However, we disagree with the editorial’s assertion that Detroit’s interim superintendent and school board are wrong to establish a curriculum that is antidotal to so-called “Ebonics” and other “non-standard” dialectical and syntactical speech patterns.  Like it or not, standard English is the language of the marketplace.  (See A Life on the RUN—Seeking and Safeguarding Social Justice, Harmonie Park Press, 2010, and the published writings of WSU professor Geneva Smitherman and the distinguished Nigeria-born linguist James Ogbu.) 

Further, your editorial itself was misguided in implying that the newly-elected and up-until-now disempowered DPS board is “bad.”  Like the current board, other various DPS boards have also been virtually without power, and this has been the case for eleven of the past thirteen years.  When the state took over DPS in 1999, the district had a $93 million surplus.  DPS test scores most certainly are now in need of vast improvement, but in 1999, the district was scoring near the state midpoint.  No other district at or below the midpoint was taken over, so why us?  PA 10 placed DPS in an ill-fated “reform” experiment that by 2006 had turned the surplus into a $250 million deficit.  Test scores plummeted.  The dropout rate escalated.  At that point, DPS was returned to local governance.  A newly-elected and thus inexperienced board inherited personnel and policies left to them by the agents of the state.  When that board couldn’t return the district to positive footing, the state once again intervened due to the deficit that the state itself had created.  

  Enter EM Robert Bobb, who sold off millions of dollars-worth of DPS assets and increased the deficit to $350 million via reckless spending and blatant cronyism (see white paper by Library Commissioner Russ Bellant).  Then came EM Roy Roberts, who as an agent of the state incidentally authorized and even boasted openly about financing the school board election, which the city clerk and the bureau of elections duly and legally conducted with absolutely zero interference from an attorney general who now wishes to challenge it for clearly partisan political motives.  Mr. Roberts has systematically dismantled DPS by jettisoning our students into charter schools and illegally handing over fifteen of our schools to the bogus state “Educational Achievement” Authority (EAA) which, in a clear conflict of interest, he simultaneously chairs, thus forcing us into court to seek judicial rectification and justice for Detroit’s schoolchildren. 

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