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.

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