Never Let A Good Crisis Go To Waste: Michigan Ed Reform Edition


If you’ve seen your teacher friends warning about the dangers of the Covid-19 pandemic providing an opportunity for unscrupulous education reformers, like US Secretary of Education and serial public school defunder, Betsy DeVos, to dismantle our system of public schools and wondered to yourself, “Now how would these people do that?”…here’s how.

In the Utica (MI) Community Schools (UCS), the district superintendent, Dr. Christine Johns, sent the following letter to all UCS parents yesterday–not to the district’s teachers, mind you…just to the parents. I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting some important clues as to what’s really going on in UCS that may not be clear from Dr. Johns’ letter, and will provide a translation below:

July 10, 2020

Dear Parents/Guardians:

Earlier today, you received information regarding the UCS Virtual Academy through the UCS Campus for Connected Learning. The virtual school is one option we are offering parents this fall as we continue our focus on educational excellence and address the health and safety of our students, staff and families.

The virtual academy provides a personalized learning option that engages students across the curriculum and goes beyond what the typical e-learning program offers. Highly qualified UCS teachers will guide learning while academic coaches will provide tutoring support responsive to student needs. More information on this opportunity is available on our website.

In addition to the virtual academy, Utica Community Schools is prepared to open the school year with in-person instruction. We know that regardless of whether you choose the virtual academy or the in-person instruction, your child and family will continue to experience our Back to School traditions this fall.

As we move forward, I encourage you to stay in touch by regularly checking your e-mail, signing up for our text messaging system by texting “Y” to 67587, visiting our website for updated information on the 2020-21 school year and following us on our social media channels. I will use all of these vehicles to share updates with you as more information becomes available and we finalize our plans to welcome back 27,000 students for exemplary teaching and learning.

Thank you for your continued partnership and support.


Christine M. Johns, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

  • “virtual school” = Johns appears to be contracting with a third party for-profit e-learning corporation to provide distance learning services to UCS students
  • “personalized learning” = a euphemism for dumping dozens of students–or more–into online learning modules, usually without direct teacher instruction, in an effort to increase class sizes and eliminate teaching positions. See Peter Greene’s excellent primer on how “personalized learning” has nothing to do with either personalization or learning.
  • “Highly qualified UCS teachers will guide learning” = this is a particularly slick and misleading phrase, intended to deceive the reader into thinking that UCS current instructional staff will be providing the instruction offered through this “UCS virtual Academy”, the operative word here being “guide”. They will not, as acknowledged in the next phrase…
  • “academic coaches” = a euphemism for lowly-paid, uncertified, poorly-qualified online “facilitators”, hired by an outside and as yet unnamed private vendor. These “academic coaches” typically work in cramped cubicles in strip malls and office parks hundreds or even thousands of miles away from where their “students” are located–a far cry from the high-quality, fully-certified professional teachers the children in UCS are used to working with.
  • “I will use all of these vehicles to share updates with you as more information becomes available” = a more accurate translation would read: “I have no intention of letting anyone know that I’m working furiously behind the scenes to sell out your excellent public school system to a for-profit ed tech vendor, and will do my best to delay sharing this information until it’s too late for anyone to do anything about it”.

To recap, the superintendent of the Utica Community Schools, Michigan’s second largest school district, seems to be subcontracting the district’s online learning operations for the coming fall to a third-party, for-profit, e-learning corporation, and using the Covid-19 pandemic as “cover” to redirect millions of public taxpayer dollars to private corporate profits.

Now, you might be asking yourself, “Why would a public school superintendent want to do something like this?”, and the answer requires a bit of sleuthing. See if you can follow the dots here…

  • Christine Johns came to UCS in 2006, two years after “graduating” from the Broad Superintendents Academy, an unaccredited superintendent training program funded by billionaire Eli Broad, a major supporter of school privatization, private and religious school vouchers, and for-profit charter schools. “Broadies,” as they are known in education circles, have a reputation as “disruptors” and advocates of “school reform,” and often leave a trail of destruction and havoc in their wake.
    As Thomas Ultican writes, “No school district trying to improve and provide high quality education should even consider hiring a candidate with Broad training on their resume. Neither the Residency nor the academy are legitimate institutions working to improve public education. Their primary agenda has always been privatizing schools and ending democratic control by local communities. That is why the founding billionaire, Eli Broad, is one of America’s most prolific financers of Charter Schools and organizations like Teach For America. He believes in markets and thinks schools should be privately run businesses.”
    Somehow I doubt that the citizens of Utica knew that’s what they were signing up for when Dr. Johns came to town.
  • Johns was hired in UCS by Carol Klenow, the former president of the UCS school board. Klenow hired the Michigan Leadership Institute, a private education leadership consulting firm run by powerful ed reformer Tim Quinn, to run the search. It was Quinn, then working for the Broad Foundation, who recruited Johns, in 2002, to attend the Broad Superintendents Academy.
    Quinn and Klenow also share an affinity for promoting online learning in Michigan. As the founder of the state’s first virtual school in 1999, Quinn’s “Michigan Virtual Learning School…services high school and junior high home-schooled children.” For her part, Klenow served as “Program Administrator for the tax-payer funded Oakland County Virtual Learning Academy”, which also serviced homeschooled students, and is the owner of Oakridge Consulting Services, an education executive search firm. But wait…there’s more!
  • Quinn also founded the Michigan SUPES Academy, a sort of poor man’s Broad Academy for prospective Michigan school administrators. And you’ll never guess who serves on the board for the SUPES academy as well as being one of their “instructors”…Christine Johns!
    Adding yet another layer of entanglement to this spider’s web of connections, Johns has contracted with Quinn’s Michigan Leadership Institute, for “human resource services such as training and bargaining…at a significant cost to (Utica’s) taxpayers and students.”

As a poster from “Parents Across Utica Community Schools” asked back in 2013:

Why would the Utica Community Schools Board of Education allow Christine Johns to work for the same institute that placed her in Utica Schools?

Why would the UCS school board allow for her to use district time to work for the same private institute that was commissioned to place her in Utica Schools?

Why would the school board allow for Christine Johns to contract that same institute, at the expense of the tax-payers, to conduct human resource services for the district?

Now, 7 years later, we are still asking the same questions, with the same answers staring us in the face. Too many of the people we have entrusted to manage our public schools, and to hire those responsible for running our schools, have found a way to profit from those responsibilities instead of putting the interests of the students, teachers, and citizens of their community first.

UCS taxpayers deserve a full, complete, and immediate explanation of what the district’s plans are for delivering online instruction to their students this fall, including the specifics of any contracts negotiated with private vendors and the implications of those agreements for UCS teachers and students. Time is of the essence. The education of our children hangs in the balance.