Former Detroit superintendent praises charter schools

McGriff predicts "many challenges" lie ahead

Former Detroit Schools superintendent Dr. Deborah McGriff tells legislators, "Parents don't want innovation, they want their sons and daughters to learn how to read, write and do arithmetic."

State policy makers gathered April 6 to hear former Detroit Public Schools superintendent Dr. Deborah McGriff discuss charter schools and their impact on public education at a luncheon hosted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

McGriff, now executive vice president of charter development for Edison Schools Inc. in New York, spoke to a crowd of over 35 legislators, legislative aids, school board representatives, and State Department of Education officials at the Parthenon restaurant in Lansing. She served as Detroit superintendent from 1991 to 1993.

According to McGriff, charter schools are transforming public education by giving parents more choices for their children's education. The resulting competition for students is providing traditional public schools with much-needed incentives to improve their own educational curricula, standards, and processes, she said.

"Successful charter schools will ultimately inspire traditional public school districts to change," she told the audience.

McGriff also said that privatization-contracting with private companies to provide public services-is an "excellent" way to improve education. Although public schools have outsourced non-instructional services such as busing and janitorial services for many years, she notes, districts are now considering contracting for instructional services as a way to boost quality and accountability while reducing costs.

"In many ways, charter schools represent fully privatized public schools," she said. Charter schools outsource virtually everything, including instructional services, she said. Most for-profit education management organizations including Edison Schools routinely hire teachers and administrators in the public schools they manage, she noted.

Critics of charter schools charge that the schools do not live up to their billing as "laboratories of innovation" that experiment with new methods of instruction and curricula.

"Parents don't want innovation, they want their sons and daughters to learn how to read, write, and do arithmetic," McGriff said. "They want a safe learning environment, too."

"Since 1992, charter schools have grown from 4 to 1,674," she added. "These numbers are evidence that parents are demanding alternatives to under-performing schools."

McGriff concluded by saying that charter schools face many challenges in the coming years. Among these will be continuing to do more with less money, creeping regulations from federal and state government, competition from public, private, and home schools, and the unionization of teachers, she said.

The Mackinac Center hosts monthly "Issues and Ideas" luncheons in Lansing to discuss current public-policy issues. For more information on upcoming events, please contact Programs Director Catherine Martin at (989) 631-0900.