The Rapid Deterioration of the Michigan Public School System

I’m just going to throw it right out there in the title line.

Coming from a public school background, I am constantly astounded by the differences between my own school experience and working at a private arts boarding school. I could talk for days about how surreal it is being here. While some of the students have substantial assistance via financial aid and regularly raise money for tuition, others have parents that have no qualms dishing out $50,000 a year for a high school education. Some of them are entitled little brats, some are the most down-to-earth kids I’ve ever met, and most fall somewhere in the middle.

One of the things I appreciate the most about this school is how much the people here care: everyone from the faculty to the cafeteria workers to the housekeepers to the piano tuners. The arts faculty are ridiculously fantastic and push the kids to incredible heights. The theatre productions here bring me to tears. The singer-songwriters could successfully sell albums. I could see some of these kids playing in top orchestras, or having successful solo careers. On top of that, the academic teachers here are amazing, as well. They’re innovative, expect a lot out of the kids, but they are understanding and spend plenty of time outside of the classroom offering extra help to the students that need it.

Now, explain this to me: why isn’t this kind of education accessible to everyone? We have a public school system, don’t we? And here comes the sad truth: you can get a good education, but only if you can afford it.

(I’m jumping into the territory of generalizations, so please bear with me. I certainly know that not everyone falls into this boat.)

The quality of your public school education is directly related to how “nice” of an area your parents can afford to live in. Going to a public school in a more affluent area often means that parents can often provide funding for particular activities, sports, tutors, and after-school programs. The teachers are likely well-paid in comparison to a smaller, less-affluent school district. Parents are more likely to be involved because they aren’t working multiple minimum wage jobs so their families can afford to survive. Students are able to focus more in class because they aren’t thinking about the fact that they went to bed hungry the previous night. That’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s where the bureaucratic bullshit comes in: due to No Child Left Behind, schools with low-performing students on a standardized test (a snapshot in time meant to be representative of student’s intelligence and school performance) lose funding. This eliminates the ability of a school to provide extra resources for students who need it. Instead, the funding goes to the school that is already providing sufficient resources for student success. It’s like the government is dangling the bone of funding over the struggling public school system, and it’s a foot too tall to reach. It’s another aspect of our society making the rich richer, and the poor poorer.

Oh, and a fun fact? Every teacher I have ever known has spent out-of-pocket money on supplies for their students. Even the ones with solid funding. So, where is the money going? Oh, maybe to pay the administrators that make well over $100,000 a year, making crucial decisions regarding the fate of schools under their leadership without ever stepping foot in them. In the beginning years of my public school education, it was typical for the administrators to have actually been educators in the past. Now, the people being hired as administrators are often hired for financial purposes. Schools are being run as businesses, rather than for the purpose of education.

I suppose I should get around to telling the story that caused me to write this. I recently just found out that my alma mater, Eastern Michigan University, entered into an affiliation with Education Achievement Authority. The EAA is the governing body of the Education Achievement System, a school system developed by the state of Michigan that takes over failing schools. The EAA’s first big task has been to take over the Detroit Public Schools, fire half of the teachers, and replace them with Teach for America recruits. Eastern signed this agreement without ever considering the opinions of the College of Education. (I think it’s safe for me to say that any educator with an ounce of sense realizes that the EAA is a sack of garbage.) Because of this association between EMU and EAA, the Washtenaw County Education Association is boycotting EMU student teachers – they’ve seen the damage the EAA can do, and did to the Ypsilanti Public Schools (now a consolidated district).

This is real to me. I have so many friends in the education program at EMU who are going to be truly great teachers, and they came to Eastern knowing that it had a great reputation for producing fine educators. This association is going to negatively impact my friends in being able to find a quality student teaching placement. On top of the immediate effect it has on students currently attending Eastern, it also sullies the degree I previously obtained there.

To be frank, I’m mad as hell. I’m mad at the administration of EMU making such terrible choices. I’m mad at the state of Michigan for taking over schools and running them into the ground. I’m mad at the country for implementing such outrageous standards for education, for labeling the worth of our children with a test score, for labeling the worth of our teachers with their students’ test scores, for education becoming a commodity that must be paid for and reinforcing poverty and sending kids straight from our nation’s schools into our nation’s prisons.

I am rapidly becoming more and more disillusioned with the state of Michigan and its decisions regarding education. I need to take a breather from all of this rage! I appreciate any thoughtful commentary on what I’ve written. Good day, all.

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One thought on “The Rapid Deterioration of the Michigan Public School System

  1. Pingback: Why are we paying teachers? » Joe For America

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