Thursday, February 20, 2014

EAA support failing

The Education Achievement Authority suffered a major setback Tuesday as the Michigan
Department of Education moved to end it's exclusive agreement with the takeover district.

Now, the MDE has authority to take control of struggling schools through the State School Reform/Redesign District (SSRRD).  In November of 2011, the state signed an agreement with the EAA which gave the EAA the exclusive authority to operate schools referred to the SSRRD.  Tuesday State Superintendent Mike Flanagan started the process to end that agreement:
Flanagan gave formal notice to EAA Chancellor John Covington in a letter dated Tuesday, saying the state would be dissolving the agreement in one year. The provision to give notice is required under terms of the contract.
"In our need to have options in which to place persistently low-performing schools, in addition to the EAA, we need to end the exclusivity provision of the agreement between the EAA and the state," Flanagan's letter states. [, February 19, 2014.]
Also Tuesday, four members of Michigan's State Board of Education spoke out publically against the EAA.  Vice President Casandra Ulbrich and members Michelle Fecteau, Lupe Ramos-Montigny and Kathleen Straus signed a statement calling on legislators to reject an expansion bill currently pending:
"The basic premise of the EAA teaching model is flawed. Putting mostly new, inexperienced teachers in schools whose students have had difficulty learning is not working. While the use of computers in teaching can be very effective, it is only if the teacher in the classroom is fully engaged with the students. Students learn best when they have positive relationships with their teachers," the board members said. [, February 18, 2014]
Nonetheless, the current legislative majority may push through a vote to expand the EAA.  Stay tuned and contact you legislator to let them know you oppose EAA expansion.

Friday, February 14, 2014

EAA expansion; EAA alternative

House Republicans appear ready to move the EAA expansion bill.  Detroit Free Press, February 12, 2014. We've written about the EAA extensively.  It's terrible policy.  But, there are two good pieces of legislation in the house regarding education.  The first would provide an alternative to the EAA through individualized planning for struggling schools. The second would authorize a study to determine what it means to adequately fund our schools and how we take account of dramatically different needs between schools. 

The first bill, HB 5268, was introduced by public education advocate Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton.  MLive, January 29, 2014.  One of the fatal flaws of the EAA is that it takes control away from local districts and mandates a one-size-fits-all fix.  The alternative takes the opposite approach:
Her bill, House Bill 5286, would require schools submitted to the state reform office to undergo an audit by the local ISD to construct a transformation plan to correct problems identified by the audit. It’s in response to claims that an expanded Education Achievement Authority would institute “one-size-fits-all” changes within a district. The bill is before the House Education Committee. [City Pulse, February 10, 2014.]
The second bill, HB 5269, was introduced by Grand Rapids area  Rep. Brandon Dillon.  The idea behind this bill is that different schools face different needs.  Schools in dense population areas have different transportation needs than rural schools.  Schools with high levels of poverty have different needs than schools in affluent areas.  School with high numbers of immigrants have a larger need to teach English as a second language.  Our current funding scheme is inadequate to address this:
This bill would require that Michigan perform a careful study to determine the true cost of providing the kind of public education we expect from our schools - something several other states have done with success. With that knowledge, we can adjust our school funding system to make intelligent choices.
 [MLive, February 9, 2014.]
The EAA alternative, HB 5268, was developed with the assistance of Michigan Parents for Schools, a grass roots advocacy group much like Okemos Parents for Schools.  House Democrats held a press conference to discuss the EAA as well as the two alternative bills:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Startling revelations about the Education Achievement Authority

There was a major push to expand the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) at the end of last year, and it remains a priority in Lansing. We tried to catch you up on the EAA with a series of posts (here, here, and here). Shortly after, the website Eclectablog released the shocking results of its investigation inside the EAA.  Since that initial report, the floodgates have opened.

Eclectablog spoke with EAA teachers, who all required anonymity, and they told stories about huge class sizes, massive turnover, laws being broken regarding resources for special education students, and even kids being physically abused by staff:
  • “One of the things that really has pushed me to speak out is that I learned from another teacher recently that I’m about to get another ten students in my class which will take me to almost 50 kids,” the teacher said. “Another teacher quit and, instead of hiring someone to replace them, they are just redistributing their students to all the other teachers. So, it’s just me and all these kids with no help, no paraprofessionals. It’s just dangerous. Beyond being able to educate that many kids at once all by myself, I’m not confident I can keep them safe from each other. They don’t fit in the room, there aren’t enough chairs, it’s not okay. I have this knot in my stomach and I’m worried sick and stressed out because of it.”
  • “Another reason why students are struggling is because their our schools are set up to be ‘all-inclusive’ so there are no classrooms in the building that are set up just for students in special ed. They’re all in regular classes with general ed students. These students are never pulled out to be supported in the ways that they should be. So, for example, we have severely autistic, aggressive, emotionally-disabled, cognitively-disabled students within the classroom that I’m responsible for educating and managing behavior-wise with no additional support. In a lot of cases, that is a huge violation of the plan — the IEP — that was laid out for them. Those are serious legal issues in a lot of situations that we’re getting ourselves into.
  • “The problem is that I often don’t even see most of these IEPs. Like last year, I didn’t even know which of my students had IEPs until February. Nothing was given to us.”
  • “I’ve actually seen my discipline coach slap a kid across the face.” [Education Achievement Authority teachers speak out on abuse of students and the failure of the EAA, Eclectablog, January 22, 2014.]
After those revelations, State Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood called for the immediate shutdown of the EAA.  Then, another teacher came forward.  They said, in part:
I was a special education teacher with the EAA. I gave IEPs to all of the teachers I worked with, but I had a caseload that was above the legal limit (it varied, but at one point I had 32 kids on my caseload. Well above the limit.) . . .
. . .  A students with special needs cannot be suspended for more than 10 days. After 10 days, we have a manifestation determination meeting to determine if the behavior that they were suspended for is a manifestation of their disability and make adjustments (a behavior plan, schedule changes, etc.) The federal law is very clear about this. Some administrators didn’t think the federal applied to them. I had administrators suspending my students and not putting it into the system and hiding the paperwork from me, or they would put fewer days into the system than the student was actually suspended for. They also sent kids home to ‘think about it’, but that is a suspension in the eyes of the law and counts toward those 10 days. They had discussions with parents to convince them to take their students to another school.. . .
. . .  I witnessed teachers throwing students to the floor and sitting on them, bending their arms behind them, slamming them into lockers, and pinning them against walls (all illegal according to the Michigan Standards for the Use of Emergency Seclusion and Restraint).  . . .
I left because as a special education teacher, I knew that their special education program was violating the law. The treatment of students was making me sick. For my own professional reputation and mental health, I had to stop working there. I miss the kids. I worry about them. [Another EAA teacher speaks out about student abuse and violations of federal law in the treatment of students, Eclectablog, January 28, 2014.]
Another teacher contacted Eclectablog with a bullet point list of items:
  • Making students remove shoes and clothing items to borrow pencils or other basic supplies.
  • One teacher would knock over desks when she was angry with unruly students and joke about her abuses during staff meetings.
  • Making fun of special needs students’ physical or emotional impairments during staff meetings
  • Duck-taping students’ mouths closed
  • Allowing middle school students to verbally/physically bully special needs students who misbehaved in class.
  • One teacher would let students “fight it out” in class. A male student was assaulted so brutally during this teacher’s reading class that his eye was closed shut and one side of his face was swollen for two weeks. The parent filed a restraining order and this teacher was investigated by the police. Amazingly she is still employed at the school.
  • The EAA requires students to attend mandatory summer school. Two teachers did not want to teach summer school so they told their homeroom students that summer school was optional. Only 10% of their students showed up for summer school and were considered truant for three months. The principal suddenly resigned during the summer months so these teachers were not held accountable for the missing students during the summer months.
  • If teachers found a particular student “challenging” or incorrigible she would just issue an informal suspension until parents were forced to pull students from school.
  • Because first year teachers (and seasoned) had no curricular materials and no training for utilizing the Buzz platform (online curriculum) students were encouraged to color or fill out worksheets
  • Teachers who had no formal training or who held interim teaching certificates had absolutely no understanding of grade-level content require ments, appropriate instructional strategies, assessments or interventions. I actually had several “teachers” who never heard the terms scope and sequence, curriculum and state content standards.
  • I had several special needs students in my classroom, but never received their IEPs or support from the special education teacher in our building. Half of them were placed on part-time schedules by the end of the year. [Yet another teacher speaks out about mistreatment of students in the EAA. Contact me if you’re the next, Eclectablog, January 29, 2014.]
The EAA released a report which concluded there were no problems as described by the teachers.  A teacher quickly responded contradicting the EAA report. Then yet another teacher came forward to speak with Eclectablog, and national education advocate Diane Ravitch picked up the story.

Since these revelations came to light, the push to expand the EAA seems to have slowed.  But, this situation seems unstable, and is likely to break in one direction or the other.

Fact Check: K-12 funding

With Governor Snyder's proposed budget released today, the competing claims that he has increased funding to public schools and slashed funding to public schools are front and center.  Jonathan Oosting from took on this question in and teased out the exaggerations made by both sides.

The takeaway?
State school aid spending is up since Snyder took office, whether or not you count federal funds or retirement payments, but the $660 per-pupil figure doesn't tell the whole story. A large chunk of state spending now is going to retirement costs and doesn't necessarily make it into the classroom. The minimum per-pupil funding allowance is down since Snyder took office, and many schools have fewer students. [Fact check: Did Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder cut $1 billion from education or add $660 per student?,, February 5, 2014.]
So, what does that mean.  The most positive thing that can be said about investment in K-12 education during the Snyder administration is that "State school aid spending is up since Snyder took office."  But, as Oosting points out, that does not mean money going to class rooms:

Overall state spending is up, but that doesn't necessarily mean all of that money is making it into the classroom. The minimum per-pupil foundation allowance -- the money schools automatically get based on enrollment -- has dropped from an effective rate of $7,146 in 2011 to $7,026 in 2014.
As Bean noted in his analysis, "the foundation allowance and 'per pupil' funding are no longer synonymous. Now, instead of just the foundation allowance being sent to schools, people, including the governor's number crunchers, are rolling in spending on things like" MPSERS.
MPSERS is a state retirement plan.  So, while state funds used to go directly to schools, now a large portion of state funds are being taken from schools and put into the retirement plan. Remember that because of Proposal A, districts cannot raise operating revenue locally.  What is "Proposal A," and how does it effect my school?, Okemos Parents for Schools, June 10, 2013.