Saturday, April 13, 2013

Informational Update email from March 29, 2013

What's Going On
Gov. Snyder has proposed his budget, and now the Legislature will work from that recommendation to craft a budget. One item in the state's budget is the per pupil allowance.  Remember that because of Proposal A, a major change in the way Michigan schools are funded from 1994, public schools must cover all their operating costs from the per pupil allowance.  Gov. Snyder has said he is proposing an increase in the per pupil allowance, but that claim is disingenuous at best.  The "increase" he is proposing would have to go toward paying off retirement liabilities incurred by the state over decades past.  An update from Godfrey-Lee Public Schools explains in more detail (
What We Are Doing
Okemos parent Angie Wilson recently met with about parents at Chippewa Middle School.  Angie discussed school funding and ongoing legislation.  Three Chippewa parents signed up to receive informational updates.  Welcome!
Spotlight on the EAA - Unproven Experiment
Multiple pieces of legislation were advanced in December 2012 which would have been devastating to Michigan's public schools.  Because the House just passed HB4639, the EAA bill, that piece of the puzzle is worth taking a deeper look at. 
The EAA (Educational Achievement Authority) is not now written into state law, but is only an interlocal agreement with Eastern Michigan University which allows the state to operate 15 schools in Detroit.  As of now, the EAA doesn't have the power to take over more schools against the wishes of parents and local elected school boards.  HB 4639 would change that.
If HB 4639 becomes law, the EAA will expand to take over the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, with a cap of 50 schools.  There would be no geographic limitation, so schools in Lansing would be fair game.  It's worth noting that the chair of the education committee, Lisa Lyons (R), added an amendment to the bill that essentially exempts schools in her area (
Of course, if the EAA were a proven tool which turned around failing schools its expansion would be a good thing.  But, it's not.  The EAA is an experiment.  It resembles the "takeover district" used in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  The EAA also relies heavily on a computer program called "Buzz," which was used in Kansas City. (The EAA's chancellor, John Covington, ran the Kansas City schools before coming to Michigan.  But, Kansas City discontinued use of Buzz as soon as Covington was gone.)  These other experiments have not been successes.
What little we know about the EAA is not good.  The EAA has been either secretive or disingenuous with its measures of student achievement.  Digging into test scores and what they mean is tedious stuff.  But Tom Pedroni, Assoc. Professor of Education, Wayne State Univ., did just that and testified to the House Education Committee before the House voted on the EAA bill.  His testimony is straightforward and worth watching.  But the two takeaways I got are these: (1) the baseline tests the EAA used were administered in such flawed conditions that they drastically underestimated the students starting point (so, a properly administered test the next day would have shown improvement), and (2) the EAA has large amounts of testing data which it refuses to make available to experts like Prof. Pedroni.  Watch his testimony here:
It's not surprising that the EAA is not producing results given its flawed methods. The Ann Arbor Chronicle explored EAA methods in depth last year ( The article is worth reading, but the author gives first person accounts of how the EAA's use of the "Buzz" program amounts to little more than plopping kids in front of a computer instead of personal teaching.  The article also reports 45-student classrooms in the EAA.  An EAA teacher also gave a first person account of the "Buzz" program. Brooke Harris described Buzz as a "one size fits all" purchased curriculum which didn't do much to teach kids.  The picture she paints is pretty much just plopping kids in front of a computer.  (
State Sen. Bert Johnson recently wrote an op-ed discussing his opposition to the EAA (
Although even as proposed the EAA can only take over "failing" schools, it would impact funding in districts neighboring the schools it takes over.  There are also serious transparency concerns and concerns about loss of control with the EAA.  These issues will be discussed in later updates.  We'll keep the information coming.  Here is one Ann Arbor teacher's take on how the pieces of these radical changes fit together (
Other Education Stories
NBC News' Education Nation held a series of discussions in Detroit.  One discussion was a one-on-one with Gov. Snyder.
Other Resources
There is a Facebook group, Save Michigan's Public Schools (, which is worth joining.  Ann Arbor parent Steve Norton moderates the group and he and other parents post.
What More Can We Do?
As always, we want to get information to you, and facilitate you in speaking together to protect Okemos Public Schools and public schools across the state. Please email us with questions about what is going on. We will respond directly and also discuss the topic in an informational update. Please let us know if you want to be involved, and how you want to be involved. If you want to help but aren't sure what you can contribute, we have ideas.

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