Wild West: What Education Establishment Calls Parents Choosing Their Kids’ School

Poor performing school districts unused to having competition

Time magazine became the latest national media institution to weigh in on the collapse of Detroit’s public school district.

In a Sept. 6 article about the troubled urban school district, the magazine wrote: “Contributing to Detroit’s problems is a tangled web of a dozen authorizers that determine where charter schools can open or close. Many of those authorizers are public universities and community colleges that often don’t work together to plan comprehensively, which can create chaotic situations in some neighborhoods. According to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s office, 80 percent of Detroit’s public and charter schools have opened or closed in the last seven years.”

The article also quoted an academic who has been critical of charter schools for many years.

“‘It’s the Wild West,’ says David Arsen, an education policy professor at Michigan State University. ‘There’s nothing like it in the country. Charters are giving out computers and sneakers just to get the kid in the door. National advocates for charters are looking at Detroit and saying, 'Don’t do it that way.'’”

ForTheRecord says: “The Wild West” has become the unsubstantiated, clichéd battle cry of anti-charter school interests in Michigan since the state repealed an artificial cap on their number in 2011.

In June 2014, former congressmen and gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer used the term to describe charter schools. In February 2015, the Detroit Free Press used “Wild West” in an editorial critical of the expansion of charters in Detroit. In August 2016, the far-left website Eclectablog used “Wild West” to describe charter schools.

Arsen took a page from this playbook.

But the data doesn’t support the claim.

There are currently 66 charter schools in the city of Detroit. Since 2010, during the seven years covered by the claim from Duggan’s office, 29 new charters opened in the city, and 21 were closed.

More recently, no new charter schools opened in Detroit in 2015. In 2016, just one charter school opened and four closed. A claim of a Wild West-like expansion is just not supported within the past few years, if it ever had validity.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.