(Crystal A. Proxmire, Dec. 11, 2013)
Michigan legislators are considering bills this week to expand the State’s authority to take over schools and run them as part of a State-controlled school district known as the Education Achievement Authority.
The EAA takes over failing schools and puts them in a state-wide district run by a Governor-appointed Chancellor, monitored by a Governor-appointed board. The EAA has faced criticism due to questionable spending, decreased school enrollment, increased crime and a track record of causing more setbacks than advancements in the schools.
However, State School Superintendent Mike Flanagan recommends the expansion of the EAA, stating “I feel a moral obligation to do so for the sake of the children suffering in a handful of schools where they are not learning…Shame on anyone who insists on maintaining the status quo, to keep kids in this handful of failing schools where I wouldn’t dare send my grandkids.”
Currently the EAA manages 15 schools in Detroit.
State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton and other Michigan Democrats spent the summer touring the state, talking to education experts. She recently spoke about the EAA at a Ferndale Public Schools meeting. “What we’ve found is that most of the time when the state comes in and takes over a school district, not only does the district not improve, but it actually gets worse. And the reason why, we’ve found, is that the fabric of the community is often times ripped apart.”
In addition to the impact on communities and students, the lack of transparency has Lipton worried. Last year she battled for public records to be released. “One of the things we found is an enormous amount of money being paid to private vendors to provide, for example, special education services that are not being provided. So there’s a lot of money that is being spent that doesn’t seem to be making it to the classroom,” she said.
“Rather than requiring a vendor to come before an open meeting and justify what they do to local school boards, it becomes very easy now to basically go through one point of entry,” Lipton said. She presented an alternative plan, titled “School Reform Task Force 2013 Michigan House Democrats Report.”
Steve Norton, Executive Director for Michigan Parents for Schools gave three reasons why his group opposes EAA legislation. “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,” he said. “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,” and “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.”
The vote is expected to take place today or tomorrow. For information on how to contact legislators about this bill, visit http://capwiz.com/miparentsforschools/home/.