Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts boldly lies on national television about his “success”

Roy Roberts may be a convincing liar but he is still a liar


Michigan’s experiment with Emergency Managers has begun to catch national attention, thanks largely to the efforts of Rachel Maddow and her staff. One of the things that has become quite clear from the things I have written about here and the terrific reporting by The Rachel Maddow Show is that, despite the fact that our state is relying on budget-cutting Emergency Managers to solve problems that are complex and multi-faceted, they have yet to show that they actually WORK. Simply stated, outside of one tiny village, there has yet to be a city or school district that has emerged out from under and Emergency Financial Manager or an Emergency Manager and remained financially stable.

The Detroit Public Schools has been under the control of an Emergency Manager or Emergency Financial Manager for many years. The first Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, actually left the school district in a bigger financial hole than when he arrived. He was replaced by Governor Snyder by an auto industry marketing and sales guy, Roy Roberts. With Public Act 436 kicking in this past week, the law which thwarts the will of Michigan voters who struck down the previous Emergency Manager Law in last fall’s election, Roberts now has complete control over the school’s academic program once again (he had it for over a year then lost it after the November election.)

Roberts is very proud of his work and went on national television to tell the world that the Detroit Public Schools are back and, not only are they back, they are kicking some serious academic ass, surpassing the state average MEAP scores in a majority of categories. Here he is on NBC’s Education Nation Detroit Summit last week:

ROBERTS: But the key is, the academic side that you talked about, this past year on the state testing MEAP test, every grade in the Detroit Public Schools increased and improved and, in 14 out of 18, did better than the state average. That’s what it’s all about.

HOST: That deserves applause.

Holy cow! This is terrific news! Finally — FINALLY! — an Emergency Manager success story! It’s what we’ve all been waiting for!

Unfortunately, it’s probably best NOT to get excited. Why?

It turns out that it’s complete bullshit. Dr. Thomas Pedroni at the Detroit Data and Democracy Project blog analyzed the test scores for the Detroit Public Schools, both with the EAA schools included and without them. What he found is that, simply put, Roy Roberts is lying. Boldly lying you might say. Detroit Public Schools are not outperforming the state average in 14 out of 18 categories. In fact, by and large, they aren’t even making gains:

Given all the recent bad news in Detroit, Roberts might be forgiven if his facts were a bit off the mark. It turns out, according to the Michigan Department of Education, that DPS did not outshine the state in 14 of 18 MEAP categories. The actual number was somewhat lower —- zero. DPS trailed the Michigan average in proficiency in all 18 categories. And not just by a bit—by more than 10 percentage points in the two science categories, and by 20 or more in the other 16. But it was a happy moment at the summit. No one—not one panelist, not one moderator, not one preselected member of the audience—raised an eyebrow over Roberts’ innovative facts.

Perhaps Roberts had merely stumbled over his own words. Maybe he really meant to say that DPS schools were gaining ground on the Michigan averages -— that yes, DPS was still behind, but was steadfastly narrowing the achievement gap in 14 of the 18 categories.

Unfortunately, that’s not the story the MEAP numbers tell either.

Instead they show that the Detroit Public Schools have fallen even further behind the state average since gaining an Emergency Manager in 2009. The picture the numbers paint is particularly bleak when the 15 schools handed to the EAA just before the fall MEAP administration are factored in. They show that Detroit’s third through eighth graders continue to lose ground in reading and math proficiency in most categories.

The hardest hit have been our youngest test takers—those who have spent most of their school years under emergency management—our third, fourth, and fifth graders. Although Detroit students scored among the worst in the nation in 2009, Detroit’s third graders have since fallen 5.3 percentage points farther behind the state average in reading proficiency. In math, they have fallen another 5.1 percentage points below the state average.

I’m not sure how Roy Roberts gets off making blatantly false statements and then enjoying the applause from the audience as if he somehow deserved it. What’s worse is that our state media is giving him a complete pass on this. Perhaps it’s because they got scooped by a blogger. Dr. Pedroni offered this to the Detroit Free Press but, after many machinations, they turned him down. Here is his description of what happened and I find it shameful:

This column was submitted for consideration to the Detroit Free Press on Monday, March 25. The column was accepted, and slated to run online beginning Tuesday morning. However, on Tuesday afternoon I received a call from the paper’s editorial desk that more time was needed to go over the column. I had already emailed the editorial office links to the Education Nation Detroit Summit video with the times at which the pronouncements by Roberts (at 25:39) and [Chelsea] Clinton (at 43:00) were made. I had also emailed a link to the MDE site where the relevant MEAP data is stored, and shared my Excel Worksheets on which I had done the calculations underlying the analysis. The Free Press staffer and I carefully went over on the phone all the numbers and how they were derived. She thanked me for my time and care. The column was again cleared for publication, this time for Wednesday at noon. Just before noon I received another communication from the Free Press— that if they ran a piece accusing Roberts of lying, then the paper at least needed to check with him on what he intended to say. I pointed out that the column did not accuse Roberts of lying, but merely used data to analyze his claim. Later Wednesday afternoon I received a final email, that based on Roberts’ response, there was too much that would need to be changed in the column, and that I was welcome to take it elsewhere.

It’s bad enough that a state-appointed czar with complete control over the largest school district in the state boldly lies in public about success that he has, in fact, not achieved. It’s even worse when our state media is complicit in the lie by refusing to report on it.

I have been saying for some time that the demise of legitimate journalism in our country is leading the collapse of democracy, a collapse that I would argue is epitomized by Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law. The fact that one of the top media outlets in the state chose to turn a blind eye to the story is the clearest example I have seen yet about how they are failing us and leading to a loss of democracy in Michigan. Make no mistake: we NEED solutions to the problems our failing schools and cities face. What we also need is an honest accounting of whether or not our efforts are working so that, if they are not — and they decidedly ARE NOT at this point — we can make changes and move on to solutions that DO work. I would suggest that newspapers like the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press start asking the hard questions and demanding that our state begin reinvesting in Detroit, its schools, and all of the other cities and districts that are being run by Emergency Managers. Because continuing to do the same things that aren’t working over and over again is not going to produce different results, no matter how much cheerleading they do.

[Caricature by DonkeyHotey from photos by Anne C. Savage for Eclectablog]

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