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After undermining public education for years, the members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure want to tell us how to fix Public Education

June 17, 2019

The West Michigan Policy Forum recently posted on their Facebook page a link to an opinion piece in Crain’s Detroit Business, with this headline, A road map to restoring Michigan’s school system

The article was co-authored by Michael Jandernoa and Ken Whipple. Jandernoa is one of the wealthiest men in West Michigan, is a member of the West Michigan Policy Forum, is one of the largest political contributors to the GOP in the area, is a CEO Council member of the group Talent 2025 and is one of the key people in the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

Ken Whipple is a former executive of the Ford Motor Company, the former CEO of Consumers Energy, sits on the Detroit Financial Advisory Board and now runs his own consulting firm.

The basis of these two rich, white guys’ opinion piece is a recent report from the group, The Education Trust – Midwest. Their opinion piece provides some talking points on how bad the current education system in Michigan is, along with some recommendations on how to fix it. In reality, Whipple and Jandernoa didn’t write the opinion piece, they just cut and pasted information from the report, which you can download from this link

A few things about the report that should raise red flags for anyone who supports public education. First, there is no real acknowledgement of the root causes of why Michigan schools are failing, with particular omission of funding history and the how this decline has happened during the rise in policy supported Charter Schools. Second, the report talks about supporting teachers, but doesn’t advocate for an increase in teacher salaries or small class rooms. Third, there is no overview or acknowledgement of the attacks on public education from the right, from think tanks and from legislators over the past two decades. Fourth, it is instructive that in Whipple and Jandernoa’s opinion piece, they NEVER use the word public when talking about the failing education system in Michigan, even though the report from The Education Trust makes that explicit.

Both Whipple and Jandernoa also happen to sit on the Leadership Council of The Education Trust – Midwest, which is acknowledged at the end of their opinion piece. However, what is not acknowledged is that The Education Trust is a national entity nor who it is bankrolled by. Some of the largest foundations backing The Education Trust are the Walton Family, Jeff Bezos and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Each of these foundation have a history of undermining public education and supporting Charter Schools or the privatization of education.

According to Mercedes Schneider, author of numerous books that critique so-called education reform and school choice: 

The Gates Foundation clearly states on its website, “We do not make grants outside our funding priorities.” Thus, for Gates to foot the bill for a public-education-influencing organization’s payroll, rent, and utilities must mean that the declared agenda of said organization complements the Gates education agenda, which is top-heavy with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and evaluating teachers using CCSS-related tests- but he is willing to put off evaluating teachers using those CCSS tests- for now.

The Gates Foundation has provided over $50 million to The Education Trust.

In contrast, what seems to be working, in terms of healthy public schools, is reflected in the fabulous book by Eric Blanc, Red State Revolt: The Teacher Strike Waves and Working Class Politics. We need to stop listening to what people like Whipple and Jandernoa, members of the capitalist class, have to say about education and listen to teachers, students and communities around the country that have decided to organize to get what their school districts need. We need to critically access the neo-liberal “education reform” strategies that are being put forth by the Gates Foundation, The Education Trust and Betsy DeVos, and start fight for real improvements to public education across the country and right here in Michigan.

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