Private managers take over Michigan schools

Two high-spending, low-performing Michigan school districts are now under for-profit management, reports Ed Week. Emergency managers hired Mosaica Education to run Muskegon Heights schools and the Leona Group to take over Highland Park, which borders Detroit. Can charter managers turn around failing school districts?

Both districts primarily enroll low-income black students. Both ran up huge budget deficits, while test scores remained very low. In both, schools have been plagued by violence.

In the middle of the first year, attendance was up and fighting was down, Mosaica’s Alena Zachery-Ross told Muskegon Heights parents.

Reading and math scores were up since the fall for 2nd to 7th graders, although many students continued to lag behind where they should be, she said, and many 8th to 12th graders remained far behind where they should be to graduate on time.

. . . According to tests administered at the beginning of the school year, 92 percent of 9th graders scored at least three grade levels below where they should have been in reading, and 82 percent were at least three grade levels below in math.

Teacher turnover has been high. Mosaica uses a structured, prescriptive curriculum and stresses “bell-to-bell instruction.” Some teachers quit as a result. In addition, Mosaica’s base teacher salary in Muskegon Heights is $35,000, with no retirement plan, compared with the former district’s $49,132. The company also cut  administrative positions to save money.

In Highland Park, Leona also pays lower salaries — an average of $39,400 compared with the $54,700 before — and spends less on administrators.

Cutting costs is essential.

The now defunct (Highland Park) school district operated under a $20 million budget in 2011-12. The new charter district is currently operating with a $14.6 million budget.

. . . (In Muskegon Heights) the charter district is operating on a budget of $8.9 million compared with the previous year, when the budget totaled $15.9 million, which does not include debt service.

Can Mosaica and Leona produce significantly better outcomes with significantly less funding? In both districts, the schools are safer. But that’s just the first step.

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    “safer” is probably a good thing. Usually, a government is supposed to be concerned about its citizens’ safety. So, yes, that’s a good thing. It would be a good thing even in a school.
    Even if you’re not going to learn much, it’s probably a good thing if the government does not force you to be in an unsafe place. Soldiers, maybe…. But not school kids.
    Drag you out of your home and make you vulnerable to violence and bullying and robbery. Only in public schools is that considered—naw, it’s not considered.
    Is it a matter of sentence construction or is there supposed to be a connection between “bell to bell” instruction and teachers quitting?
    Before my wife retired, a new principal insisted on bell-to-bell and some teachers griped, but nobody quit on account of it.
    There was a “troubled” district not too far away which had the highest admin cost and board travel cost per pupil in three counties.
    Like to see how Highland Park and Muskegon Heights lined up on that sort of thing.