(Guest Viewpoint by Steve Norton, Executive Director, Michigan Parents for Schools, March 13, 2013)
Well, it’s back. Last Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Lisa Lyons introduced the new version of the “EAA bill” – that is, a bill which would make the Educational Achievement Authority a permanent state school district and expand its authority greatly. Rep. Lyons (R-Alto), who also chairs the House Education committee, then scheduled hearings on the bill (HB 4369) for the following day. As a result, those of us who hoped to speak up about the bill had less than 24 hours to read the 60 page document and draft our reactions.
But many of us, including MIPFS, did just that; I was fortunate to be able to actually testify on behalf of parent advocates across the state.
But why should all Michigan parents be concerned about the EAA? After all, it’s only for those “failing” schools, right?
I think there are two important reasons.
- If you think this won’t affect you, think again. Expanding the EAA is a central part of a larger effort to undermine local public schools, as we saw last fall.
- Most importantly, how can any of us stand by while state takeover, untested technology-driven “teaching” methods, and a laser-like focus on test scores are forced onto anybody’s children?
Yes, the bill is much less bad than in its original form: the EAA is limited to taking over 50 schools (including the 15 it currently runs), and its authority to create new charter schools is also limited, though not removed. Strangely, they have insisted on allowing the EAA to charter brand new schools within a 2 mile radius of an EAA takeover school and in a district run by an emergency manager. But just because the proposal is less bad does not make it good law.
While they were more careful this time, and brought out a stripped down bill to expand the EAA, do not be fooled. They gave us a critical look into their strategy last Fall when proposals to create a powerful statewide EAA, many new kinds of charter schools, and an “a la carte” school funding system, were all in play at the same time. All those proposals were originally drafted by the same person: Richard McLellan, a long-time Lansing political operative who was the force behind the failed school voucher proposal in 2000. Those proposals are still there, just not out in the open. In fact, Mr. McLellan wrote a memo to Rep. Lyons asking that she not reintroduce the “new forms of charters” bill, but instead try to accomplish the same aims in a piecemeal fashion. They are not just giving up.
Why do we still oppose the bill?
- There are still many provisions in the bill that have nothing to do with helping struggling schools, but put the EAA in a position to take over more schools and/or create new kinds of charter schools. This stuff doesn’t belong.
- The whole EAA approach is based on the notion that the way to help struggling schools is to take them over and toss out everyone who used to work there. There is no partnership with the local school district (which still has responsibility for other struggling schools), no voice offered to the community, and no role offered to those who have been working in that school and with the children in it. This is not the way to create successful, long term change.
- The EAA’s technology-driven curriculum, which depends on an online system to deliver “leveled” content to each student, is at best an experiment; EAA officials admitted as much during testimony. There are rules for experiments, none of which this bill follows – most importantly, there needs to be a way to tell if the experiment is doing more harm than good and pulling the plug if necessary. This bill does not even contemplate the notion that the EAA might fail. All it would do is subject kids to a never-ending round of restructuring and experiments.
Do you think this is the way to help schools dealing with the corrosive effects of poverty? Would you want your kids put into this experiment? Let your State Representative know that there are better ways to help struggling schools and still have communities run their own school systems. We can do it without state takeovers, and we can do it without undermining community-governed public education.
If you’d like some background on the EAA, please see our articles here:
“How to help struggling schools: Do you believe in magic?”
“MIPFS testimony on EAA legislation, 11/19/12”
“Action alert: Don’t let them take the public out of public ed!”
“MIPFS testimony on revised EAA bill, 11/29/12”