Competition for Detroit public schools?

The teachers unions are getting worried.

Over the past few months in the Detroit area, there has been controversy surrounding the proposal given by multi-millionnaire Bob Thompson to plan, open, and oversee 15 charter schools in Detroit. These schools would offer a choice to the beleaguered Detroit public schools. The teachers unions and most Democrats are up in arms, and the teachers unions even called off classes tomorrow so the teachers and students can protest the charters. Children's education disrupted in the name of politics.

In a Letter to the Editor yesterday in the Detroit Free Press, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, Janna Garrison, weighs in her opinions of the competition charter schools would create.

Here are a few excerpts from Ms. Garrison:

It is indisputable that charter schools take away much needed funds from public schools.

This would be similar to Coca-Cola's CEO explaining that it is indisputable that a new cola on the market would take away 'much needed funds' from Coke, and expecting a collective horrified gasp from consumers. Government hates competition, and feels that any treading on their territory is cause for grave concern. How dare anyone offer alternatives, free-market style?

There are a number of high schools in Detroit that could benefit from Thompson's generosity and concern.

As an alternative to opening private entrepreneurial learning centers, Garrison suggests that Thompson's money would be better spent funneled into government-run schools, where her own unionized teachers' paychecks would benefit. Ms. Garrison then lists several poorly-run and maintained schools, whereas she insists that more funding is the solution, rather than recognize a stagnant and inept leadership that has no incentive to answer to the parents.

America's public school system was created to educate ALL children.

...with a one-size-fits-all academic curriculum dictated by the NEA and the Department of Education, unchallenged by any outside competition. Her added emphasis on the word "all" is telling, in that it drives home her ilk's desire to maintain complete control over the education monopoly.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers encourages citizens to support public dollars going to public school systems.

No need to encourage. Not necessary. The DFT will find ways to seize the money from the citizens, regardless of whether these citizens "support" the schools or not.

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The contribution of any

The contribution of any resource that is intended to develop our children can not be looked upon as competion. This is not a competion for, or about Detroit Public Schools. We are striving to develop proactive individuals that feel responsible for creating and sustaning communities where we all live grow and prosper.

Here is a recent Freep

Here is a recent Freep article about further decline in Detroit Public Schools. The leadership in that city is grossly inept in every way imaginable.


A lot of us wring our hands about the state of public education. Wendy Kopp and Vincent Shelton are doing something about it.

Kopp, 36, is the Princeton University graduate who founded Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that recruits top college graduates and young professionals to teach in some of the nation's most challenged school districts.

Shelton, 43, is one of 34 Teach for America recruits assigned to teach in Detroit Public Schools, one of 21 districts targeted by Kopp's group. A retired U.S. Army sergeant who served in Operation Desert Storm, he has spent the last 1 1/2 years teaching fifth-graders at Carver Elementary School on the city's far-west side.

Shelton, who earns about $28,000 a year, says he came to Detroit because he wanted to work with kids in an urban district like the one he attended in his native Los Angeles.

"There's a shortage of black men doing the right thing in their communities," he says. "I wanted to address that."

Corps is meeting a need
It's hard to imagine a public school district that needs Teach for America more than Detroit's. Less than a third of the district's fourth-graders read at grade level. About half of those who enter ninth grade never graduate.

But now, less than two years after they arrived as Teach for America's first delegation to Detroit, Shelton and his colleagues are anticipating layoff notices, and Kopp has decided to close Teach for America's Detroit office. It's the first time in the organization's 11-year history that it has withdrawn from a school district.

"We really wanted to stay in Detroit," Kopp told me Tuesday from her office in New York. "We persisted and persisted, but it became clear the timing just wasn't right."

About 14,000 college graduates and young professionals in search of a teaching sabbatical apply to join Teach for America each year.

Just 1,600 are chosen to participate in the organization's intensive training and professional development programs, which focus on teaching methods that have proved effective in low-income schools.

The 34 Teach for America corps members in Detroit include graduates of Columbia University in New York, the universities of Michigan and Notre Dame, and Smith and Amherst colleges in Massachusetts. Their average SAT score was 1,310; their average college grade point average was 3.5. Nine in 10 held one or more leadership posts on their campuses.

Kopp says corps members in the 20 other districts her organization serves typically earn their state certification within two years. But Michigan's certification process takes longer, which means that Kopp's youthful idealists will be first in line for layoffs when Detroit eliminates 900 teaching jobs at the end of this school year.

Commitment means little
Shelton says the impending layoffs are particularly disappointing because he and his 33 colleagues all turned down reassignments to other Teach for America school districts last year. Some of the postings they were offered -- in Miami, New Orleans, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., among other cities -- paid as much as $20,000 more than their Detroit jobs. But Shelton and his colleagues decided they'd made a commitment to Detroit, and they voted as a group to stay.

Detroit administrators say no one wants to see Teach for America leave the city, but added that the need to cut expenses and furlough teachers without certification leaves them little flexibility. But other school districts facing fiscal crises and teacher layoffs, including those in Baltimore and the District of Columbia, have found ways to keep their vital relationships with Kopp's organization alive.

Of course, this isn't the first time the Detroit Public Schools has spurned a would-be benefactor. Philanthropist Bob Thompson, who wanted to spend $200 million of his money to build 15 academies in Detroit, also was sent packing.

But Thompson's offer came with strings attached and raised issues of local control. Shelton and his fellow Teach for America corps members don't want to run anything. All they asked for was a desk, a subsistence-level salary and a group of disadvantaged students to serve.

School district administrators may imagine the decision to jettison Kopp's idealistic warriors underlines their commitment to fiscal responsibility and high teaching standards.

But to any Detroit parent with two functioning brain cells, Teach for America's departure sends a more succinct message:


BRIAN DICKERSON's column appears on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. Contact him at 248-351-3697 or