Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Remember last spring, when Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Whiston drove up to Saginaw to threaten the local school board? He attended a special board meeting to give something of an ultimatum to the members: Improve your pupils’ test scores, or Governor Rick Snyder might “come in and take over.” Whiston subsequently said he “did not intend his words to be taken as a threat.” But his post hoc remarks really didn’t matter; the threatening message had already been received.
Earlier this month, State School Reform/Redesign Officer Natasha Baker threatened to close several “priority schools” — schools included on the list of the lowest-performing 5% of public schools in the state. Although Baker refused to discuss any details, some initial reports suggested that she might be considering the closure of up to 100 schools around the state. Baker quickly began to backpedal once it was pointed out that her planned actions might not be legal. Then, late last week, Snyder announced that there was “a ‘misperception’ that schools will be closed”; he observed that while shuttering schools remains an option, widespread closure is probably not as imminent as previously indicated.
Now we have learned of a memorandum prepared by Financial Review Commission executive director Ron Rose, in which Rose threatened that the commission could exercise control over academics — as well as finances — in the new Detroit community school district. Once the memo became public, Rose softened his position, telling the Detroit Free Press, “I don’t believe that it’s the [commission’s] intention to make policy decisions that the school district should be making.” Snyder’s press secretary echoed these remarks, asserting that academic decisions should be left to the new Detroit school board. However, as with the threats discussed above, the horse had already left the barn by the time the official backpedalling began.
Threaten, backpedal, and repeat. The faces might be different, but the threats are essentially the same: The Governor and his minions will take over your schools if you don’t shape up.
Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised by these threats of state control. This has been going on for a long time. But the administration needs to be careful. Threats are rarely the best motivation. And people don’t like being threatened; that’s why threats often produce a backlash.
The state government’s job is to help local school districts by giving them the resources they need, not to browbeat and tyrannize them. When did governing by intimidation become standard operating procedure in Lansing?