Monday, March 22, 2010

Cui Bono?

When I was in graduate school, I turned in an early draft of a policy paper in an education class (as was required), and got back the comment from the professor,  
"Cui bono?" 
"Who," she wrote, "benefits from this policy? You need to answer that question."


You may, or may not, have been following the saga of the Detroit school district and its emergency "financial" manager, Robert Bobb. He has come in to "clean up" the mess, improve the schools, etc. For the first year, I liked him. Now, I'm not so sure. And his latest idea (the one I really didn't get, when I read about it in the Detroit Free Press), is to get bonds to build new schools, while at the same time closing half of the city's schools. According to his projections, the number of students in the district is going to drop by half within a couple of years. But even if he's right about that, I still don't understand why you would close all these schools and build new. Detroit is already full of abandoned buildings.

In any case, this week I was asking a Detroit community activist about it. "Look," he said. "This is about the privatization and dismantling of the Detroit schools. That's how it's going to end up." I was stunned for a minute, not able to figure out what he meant, and then the proverbial light bulb went off in my head.

In fact, I wrote about it last week. Here. "When you close a school, who are potential buyers? For whom is a building like a school perfectly suited? Why, for another school."


Coincidentally (I know, that's hard to believe), my husband got an email today from a Detroit architect, who noted that the Detroit school district is selling many, many DPS buildings--and maybe they can be repurposed for good community projects.

So--in Detroit we've got tons of school buildings, going for fire sale prices, and although the Detroit architect is correct, it is highly likely that a lot of them will be bought up by. . . charter schools. Unlike the old days that I wrote about last week (pre-1994, pre-Proposal A), now it really matters financially where kids go to school. Students bring their money with them, and all of that moving around can wreck a district because districts don't know until the middle of September what their actual student counts are, and there is less stability in funding and more difficulty in planning. (And that is leaving aside the "small" matter of the state legislature not figuring out until partway through the school year just how much money each district should get per-pupil.)

In 1985, when the Ann Arbor school district reorganized, and a few private schools bought old school buildings, it created a form of indirect competition. It did not directly affect the amount of money the school district had available to it. And now, it does. Now, every student who leaves DPS takes their money with them. So charter schools create direct competition.

Was John Engler's main goal to dismantle the public schools? Is that the goal of Robert Bobb?
[I know that technically charter schools are "public." But they are not public in the same way as our traditional public schools, and some are more public than others. More on that another time.]


Today, I was thinking: Cui bono?

According to this Free Press article, Robert Bobb let go many administrative staff in the DPS schools, and then hired consultants to do the work for more money. Wait--isn't he supposed to save money? So: Cui bono?

Just now, I got a "tweet" that the Ypsilanti school board approved the closing of Chappelle Elementary, and the reconfiguration of grade levels that goes along with that, on a 5-2 vote. Cui bono?

If the Ann Arbor schools privatize maintenance and transportation, cui bono?

If the Dexter schools decide to follow the International Baccalaureate program, cui bono? 

If the state government doesn't raise per-pupil school funding, cui bono?

You get the idea. Follow the money, and see who gets the benefit.
And here is my related question: If somebody benefits, is it always the case that somebody has to lose? And then--who are the losers? The students? The community? The employees?


  1. resource partitioning, bio 101.
    It's the kids that need to cui bono...

  2. Speaking of Who Benefits, Pioneer has just won another award for their music program. I would love to see an expose of this program and who is benefitting. The orchestra is basically a public school forum for private music students. It has nothing to do with the school program that starts in 5th grade and doesn't teach enough for kids to suceed in high school. The teacher simply cherry picks the top students that have been privately studying music since a very young age, devotes all the resources to them, and literally leaves everyone else behind. The kids that can't play at a level well beyond high school are in a basic technique class where they can either accept their 2nd class status or quit. You never hear about them because they don't go anywhere beyond the school auditorium! The whole program is focused on winning and they are not about to let anyone in who can't do that.