Friday, January 3, 2014

What is the EAA? Part 3, widespread opposition

We've already discussed the dubious methods the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) employs as well as the questionable results they have achieved, What is the EAA? Part 1, methods and results, and we have also discussed serious concerns about the EAA's management, What is the EAA? Part 2, management and finances. This post will discuss the widespread opposition to the EAA from virtually everyone involved.

Literally everyone involved with the EAA - teachers in the EAA, teachers across the state, the university faculty ostensibly responsible for the EAA, parents, and even the students in the schools - are voicing opposition to the EAA in unprecedented ways.

The most vocal EAA teacher to speak out about conditions inside the takeover district is Brooke Harris.  The English teacher from Mumford High School spoke to Michigan Radio, and many more teachers confirmed Harris' comments off the record:
“Mass chaos,” Harris says. “My first hour class had 61 kids in it for the first month and a half of school. So I would just pray, every day, that a lot of them were late.”
Harris told me on the record what several other EAA high school teachers told me anonymously—the rollout was a mess. The whole thing seemed rushed and disorganized. They say there are still too few resources, too many overcrowded classrooms and a general sense of chaos.
Chancellor Covington and state officials acknowledge their own learning curve as they roll out the EAA. They also insist it takes time to really change things in such challenging school environments.
But Harris says that’s just not an excuse for what she’s seen.
“Don’t believe the hype,” she tells me. “If you want to know what’s going on in these schools, go into the schools and talk to the students.” [The Education Achievement Authority, Part 2: A tale of two EAA schools, Michigan Radio, April 15, 2013.]
Harris also testified to the Michigan Legislature in explicit detail about the flawed methods employed in the EAA. Letters and Wish Lists, The Ann Arbor Chronicle, December 6, 2012.  Harris was eventually fired from the EAA for voicing her opposition.  EAA retaliates against Brooke Harris, ACLU charges, Michigan Citizen, August 1, 2013.  But Harris is far from the only education professional to speak out about the EAA.

Remember that the EAA is structured like a charter district, and so requires an "interlocal agreement" with an "authorizing institution" to receive state funds.  Eastern Michigan University is the EAA's authorizer.  We've discussed before how authorizing institutions like state universities give charters a feel of credibility, but in practice the authorizer has almost no involvement with the charter.  What are "charter schools?", Okemos Parents for Schools, June 28, 2013.  The EAA's colossal failure and the faculty's complete lack of oversight has proved too much for the EMU faculty to stomach. The faculty are protesting and their efforts have made national news:
Professors at Eastern Michigan University are fighting to end the school’s connection to a highly controversial state school takeover district created by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. The faculty members argue that they had no input in the way the Education Achievement Authority is run and that they oppose the way the [EAA] is being operated.
Opponents have charged that the EAA is a miss. They say, among other things, that the EAA’s governance is secretive; that student and teacher turnover is excessive; that the EAA relies on young and inexperienced teachers, including many from Teach For America; that many teachers taught outside the areas for which they had certification; and that there has been an explosion of disciplinary reports but teachers have been encouraged not to report them. [Faculty fight university’s link to controversial school turnaround district, Washington Post, October 25, 2013.]
The faculty expressed concerns that they had been "excluded from any direct participation in the creation or implementation of its policies, operating procedures, professional development, curricula or pedagogical practices, many of which we find questionable at best." Further, despite offers to pitch in an help, they continue to be excluded while inexperienced Teach for America teachers are brought in.  Because EMU is the authorizer, the EMU faculty fears their individual reputations and that of the university are being damaged by the affiliation. The teachers concluded:
Thus, we find EMU’s participation in the EAA unacceptable. These negative impacts on our reputation, our local relationships, our students and programs, the clear effect on enrollments and thus revenue to the university are a repudiation of EMU’s legacy as a champion of public education and a leader in the preparation of educational professionals. We implore you to remedy this situation as quickly as possible by unanimously voting to withdraw from the contract creating the EAA. [Id.]
Shortly thereafter, the EMU education dean left her post on the EAA board.  EMU education dean leaving EAA board, Detroit News, December 3, 2013.  The EMU Board of Regents meeting has seen protests calling for the affiliation to be ended.  People protest EMU’s involvement with EAA, The Eastern Echo, December 4, 2013.

Other Michigan teachers have joined the protest as well.  Teachers in Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti-Lincoln, Whitmore Lake, Chelsea, Manchester, Saline, Milan, Dexter, and Ann Arbor public schools have all boycotted student teachers from EMU until the university ends its affiliation with the EAA.  Ann Arbor teachers union joins boycott of EMU student teachers over EAA,, December 13, 2013.

Maybe most tellingly of all, the students themselves are in open revolt against the EAA - the students Mumford High School issued "Declaration of Independence."  Unsurprisingly, they are not thrilled with a longer school year.  But they also had serious substantive concerns:
The EAA does not treat the students fairly. We have been suspended for dress code, truancy, and even no identification. . . . We lack on teachers, education, and responsibility. . . .
The EAA needs to be stopped; it is a process of confusion. How are seniors going to go to any college without the right amount of credits? We need Detroit Public Schools back. We were cared for when they taught us. Our education was valuable to most DPS teachers. The teachers of the EAA lack showing us that they are interested in our education. . . . We are not treated equally to other public schools.
There should only be one school district and that is DPS. The millions of dollars that were spent on unnecessary things in our school should have been spent on more teachers. We have way too many classes, not many teachers, but most importantly we don’t have enough time in our classes. We have seven classes in a day not including seminar and lunch. We are worn out and tired. Mumford is a public school not a jail. EAA should be put away! [Mumford High School's Social Justice League - The Declaration of Independence, May 18, 2013.]
The Mumford students also created a YouTube channel to record some of their stories.

This is just the headline grabbing opposition.  As we have already discussed in Part 2 of this series, EAA parents are pulling their kids out of the schools in droves.  Parents groups like Okemos Parents for Schools, Michigan Parents for Schools, and others have spoken out against the takeover district. Democratic lawmakers such as Ellen Cogen-Lipton, Theresa Abed, Hoon-Yung Hopgood have been fierce critics of the school.  Even Republican Senator Rick Jones has spoken out against the EAA's expansion. 

In sum, outside the small circle of those politically and financially invested in the EAA, there is almost no one in Michigan advocating for expansion of the EAA.

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