30th 2011
Michigan Legislator Attacks Choice, Wants Public Schools to Control Who Attends

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Parents & PPC & School Board & School Choice & State Legislature & Suburban Schools & Urban Schools

From the files of “I’m glad s/he’s not my state legislator,” we turn to the state of Michigan — where lawmakers are considering a plan to give families greater choice through mandatory public school open enrollment. A recent Associated Press story highlights some of the outrageous rhetoric from the opposition:

State Rep. Timothy Bledsoe, a Democrat from Grosse Pointe, said he’s worried that a mandatory schools of choice program would be the “death blow” to local control of schools.

“If your school board cannot control its boundaries and who is allowed to attend your schools, there just isn’t much left that Lansing can’t determine,” Bledsoe said. “The school board is left to hire and fire the superintendent and that’s about it.”

A pretty silly argument all in all. Mandatory open enrollment essentially means no school can keep out students based on where they live, as long as there is a seat open and the school doesn’t have to create a special program or accommodation just for that student. Public school choice leader Colorado has mandatory open enrollment — one of the nation’s strongest open enrollment laws, in fact. In 2010-11, about 66,000 students attended a public school outside their district of residence (roughly 8 percent of the total public school population). And that doesn’t include students enrolled in a school outside their assignment zone but still within the same district.

In spite of all this, someone like Rep. Bledsoe may be surprised to learn that our state still has a strong tradition of “local control.” Or not. The good people at the Mackinac Center who brought my attention to his remarks said it well:

That’s right. Parents’ freedom to choose a better school for their kids is a “death blow” to public schools that can’t “control … who is allowed to attend….”

I wonder if Rep. Bledsoe thinks a child suffers a “death blow,” or perhaps something less severe, when he or she is assigned to a failing school, and the people who run the better public school down the street stand in the schoolhouse door to keep that child out.

My parents teach me to try not to judge people’s motives, but Rep. Bledsoe’s comment comes across as elitist — especially when you consider that he represents a wealthy district bordering the poor and struggling Detroit Public Schools. Many of the adults in the system find expanding choice to be inconvenient, probably because it helps create incentives for public schools to reform and improve their programs to best serve the students who choose to come through their doors. That means more work and that scary word: change.

Who should have more control over a child’s education: families or a bureaucratic system? Here’s hoping that in Michigan, good judgment about what’s best for students wins out over the forces that fear change.


2 Responses to “Michigan Legislator Attacks Choice, Wants Public Schools to Control Who Attends”

  1. Voice of reason on 07 Sep 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    Since you have no clue what you are talking about I thought I woud share with you since i have lived in Detroit, Grosse Pointe, Greeley and Boulder. Here is a smart article. Ed you are a moron. stick with things you know and regions you are familiar with. enjoy the article below!

    Bill Johnson/ The Michigan
    The Michigan Legislature is toying with the idea of allowing all state students to enroll in schools outside of the districts where they live. It is a utopian concept rife with the possibility of unintended consequences.
    Gov. Rick Snyder and state lawmakers should resist forcing the failures of core cities on the suburbs.
    The educational choice issue could be complicated by whether it is voluntary – or mandatory. The current program gives better-performing districts the option to decidewhether they want to participate in the state’s schools of choice system. That should not change. Local control remains the most acceptable standard.
    Cross-district choice dredges up the same fears that cross-district busing did in the 1970s. White flight from Detroit was accelerated by the 1967 riots. Civil rights groups believed black kids incapable of learning without a critical mass of white children in the classroom. The federal district court was petitioned to impose a cross-district plan to bus black students into suburban school districts for the purpose of desegregation.
    The court ultimately found that suburban school districts had not deliberately engaged in a policy of segregation. Detroit wound up with a plan in which black students were transported to the outskirts of the city where most of the white students lived – and vice versa.
    Black parents, it should be noted, were no more receptive to busing their children outside their neighborhoods than whites were to busing their children into the inner city. What court-ordered busing accomplished was to drive all but the poorest white families out of the city. In the end, black children were no better off educationally – and Detroit school officials proved incapable of addressing the district’s administrative deficiencies, operational inefficiencies, or bridging the learning gaps with neighboring districts.
    In the ensuring years, Detroiters moved into near suburbs like Oak Park, Grosse Pointe, Harper Woods, and Southfield. Their arrival was accompanied by a decline in academic achievement in schools where their children were enrolled. The Grosse Pointe school district, for example, opted out of the state schools of choice program. But at Grosse Pointe North High School, black students score significantly lower on MEAP tests than other students.
    It is an unfortunate fact of life that where there is a large influx of low-income residents into middle-class neighborhoods, we soon see neighborhoods in decline. Section 8, a federal housing subsidy that guarantees landlords payment from low-income tenants, is another good example of bad government intervention.
    This social engineering experiment allows low-income residents to move into better neighborhoods where they are expected to magically acquire middle-class values. However, it is destructive to expect a stable neighborhood to continue to thrive after transplanting people into it with an accompanying “underclass behavior.” Why? Middle-class social status is earned – not a designation awarded by government’s manipulation of the social environment.
    This transplanted underclass generally has no experience buying a home, maintaining it, managing a budget, or adjusting to new neighbors with different values. No less is true for trying to force-feed inner-city students who are apt to bring a lot of baggage and few socialization skills to suburban school environments.
    The best chance for long-suffering urban students is through in-district school choice. With local choice, parents would have the power to remove children from dysfunctional schools and introduce creativity into the learning process. Poor schools would be liberated from top-down bureaucratic controls that stifle effective organization, achievement and competition.
    Lansing’s flirtation with education policies to meet the special needs of urban youth does not inspire confidence that it recognizes its limits.
    Equal opportunity and access to good schools should be the objective of educational policy. To that end, local schools of choice and charter public schools offer the best hope of shifting resources, investments and returns from the failed school governance model to students and parents where it belongs.
    Bill Johnson is an award-winning writer, former chief-of-staff for the Wayne County Commission, and a Detroit consultant. Email:

    From The Detroit News:–Choose-local-school-choice#ixzz1XKD2FHQ3

  2. Eddie on 08 Sep 2011 at 10:45 am #

    “Voice of reason,” Way to ingratiate yourself. Had to delete your crude/obscene email address just to post your rude comment. In the future, please try to disagree without name-calling. It makes you look childish and certainly doesn’t help your cause.

    Interesting, but misguided, column. My question: Do you see no substantive difference between forced busing and a program that allows parents to CHOOSE schools across district lines? Widespread (but imperfect) public school choice has not destroyed Denver or the surrounding suburbs. Far from it. It has been the basis for many important changes and reforms.

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