abandoned-detroit-schoolI am often grateful for the strength of UK public services, however embattled and derided they are by the policy makers of the right. But in a country where there are not the necessary checks and balances on the storming of public services by private enterprise, then the result is truly appalling.

Welcome to Detroit. I have written about this city before, but a report in the New York Times today just shows what the end-game is for those educators when the tigers of the charter school movement get unleashed into a city possibly too poor and too poorly to defend itself; what happens when new educational “projects” and “initiatives” come with every tide, and with every new charter sponsor. Read the article, then read Diane Ravich’s commentary on it:

Detroit schools have long been in decline academically and financially. But over the past five years, divisive politics and educational ideology and a scramble for money have combined to produced a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States.

While the idea was to foster academic competition, the unchecked growth of charters has created a glut of schools competing for some of the nation’s poorest students, enticing them to enroll with cash bonuses, laptops, raffle tickets for iPads and bicycles. Leaders of charter and traditional schools alike say they are being cannibalized, fighting so hard over students and the limited public dollars that follow them that no one thrives.

Detroit now has more students in charters than any American city except New Orleans, which turned almost all its schools into charters after Hurricane Katrina. But half the charters perform only as well, or worse, than Detroit’s traditional public schools.

“The point was to raise all schools,” said Scott Romney, a lawyer and board member of New Detroit, a civic group formed after the 1967 race riots here. “Instead, we’ve had a total and complete collapse of education in this city.”

Why is this important? It is important because in a country that values money and wealth over every other single public good, the opening up of the public service to private competition can only, philosophically, go one way: to a diversified, money-led system where nobody has enough money to run a school. We are not there yet in the UK, and there is a powerful lobby across the academy system for a whole-education-for-every-child movement. The game is not lost, and in fact, in turning the entire school system into an academy, the UK government may both have shot itself royally in the foot, and made it somehow easier for the plutocrats and money-addicts to be identified, isolated and ignored.

The ideology is certainly headed towards a charter-school type system. At present, the government has not had the guts to “go private” in the way that some of its critics say it already has. For that we can thank the strength of elected local government in England, the strength of the unions, the good sense – and role in the education debate – that parents have, and the fact that market forces, no matter what we think of them as drivers, are not quite such tyrants as they appear to be in the US.

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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