Education — January 30, 2014

Head of EAA conducts exhaustive 3-day investigation of student abuse & other allegations, finds everything is just fine

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Nothing to see here. Please move along.

NOTE: An EAA teacher has posted a comprehensive rebuttal to Chancellor Covington’s response to my reporting. You can read it HERE.

My reporting on the Education Achievement Authority involves multiple posts. You can read all of my coverage of the EAA by clicking HERE.

I published my original exposé of student abuse and other failures in Education Achievement Authority schools at just before 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014. This set in motion an intense, 3-day investigation that appears to involve EAA Chancellor John Covington contacting the principals at 12 of the 15 EAA schools, asking them if they were abusing students, if there were deficiencies in their handling of special education students, or if their schools had any security issues, among other things, and then assembling them into a 5-page report. The report was released the Sunday after my post.

You can read that report HERE (pdf).

There are 15 schools in the EAA system:

Elementary/Middle Schools: Murphy (Charter), Trix (Charter), Stewart (Charter), Brenda Scott Academy, Burns, Law Academy, Mary McLeod Bethune, Nolan, Phoenix
High Schools: Central Collegiate Academy, Denby, Ford, Mumford, Peshing, Southeastern

The report from Chancellor Covington gives responses to a series of questions that ostensibly refer to specific items in the original post. The three charter schools were not included and answers to some of the questions seem to leave out some schools entirely for some reason.

Here are some highlights of the report:

Assault of Students by Staff Members
There were a variety of assaults reported none of which involved the type of abuse reported by multiple teachers I have communicated with like slapping students or leaving marks on their skin. Instead, the contact is described as “grabbing a student”, “pushing a student”, “elbowed a student”. There were also reports of teachers “inappropriately” touching students. Investigations are either under way or “inconclusive”.

In contrast to this, I have heard from multiple teachers who report that students had returned from disciplinary meetings with reddened skin, bruises, and other signs that they had been hit, slapped, or had experienced some other sort of corporal punishment. More than one of the teachers indicated that they were actually afraid to send students to disciplinary officers because of this.

Class Size: Exceeding 49
First of all, my reporting did not claim that class sizes “exceeded 49”. Here’s the relevant part of the reporting:

The security problems are exacerbated by ridiculously large classroom sizes, something that’s only getting worse due to teachers leaving in droves. According to one teacher I spoke with, the classroom they teach in is about to go to almost 50 students. This is despite the fact that a quarter of the students have left the EAA system, a dramatic drop that reflects the dissatisfaction of the students’ parents with the education their children are receiving.

“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.”

Alone in a class of nearly 50 students with no student teachers, no paraprofessionals, and little support from school administrators when children act out violently. And many of these teachers are in their early twenties. The ones from Teach for America — roughly a quarter of the teachers in the EAA — had a scant five weeks of training before they were assigned to a classroom full of kids.

Chancellor Covington’s report confirms that there are 10 class sections at EAA high schools that have over 40 students in them with only one teacher. Fortunately for these teachers, they have “access to digital curriculum”. How that is supposed to help a first year teacher control a room full of over 40 students is hard to fathom. In addition to these 10 classrooms of over 40 students with only one teacher, there are five others with two teachers.

And, just so we’re clear, this is a school district set up to rapidly improve abysmal performance of the worst schools in Detroit. To do that, they have students in classrooms with more than 40 students and only one teacher. There is something very, very wrong with that picture from my perspective.

TFA Teacher Training
Chancellor Covington corrects the statement that Teach for America teachers receive only five weeks of training before entering their EAA classrooms. In addition to this, they receive “2 weeks of professional development from the EAA prior to the start of school”. Therefore, I stand corrected: these TFA teachers who have never gone through a teaching program receive SEVEN weeks of training, not five before they are placed into some of the most challenging teaching situations in the country. Apparently, that’s supposed to alleviate our concerns.

Students Assaulting Staff allowed to stay in school without suspension
Here again, we learn that the multiple teachers that I spoke with are liars. Every kid who has assaulted a teacher has been, apparently, suspended and/or expelled according to Chancellor Covington’s report.

In contrast to this, the teachers I spoke to indicate that they not only observed students who had assaulted other teachers remaining in class, but that they were also actually told NOT to report some incidents, likely due to the bad press they were getting about the number of events and the increasing concerns over security in EAA schools. Again from my original reporting:

“The way that they’re treating the students is terrifying,” they said. “We’ve had multiple fights where no security has actually shown up. They’re not suspending students so I’ve been hit by a kid before and nothing has happened. Another teacher has been hit numerous times and nothing has happened to the child who did the hitting even though he was very clearly identified. He is still at school today.

“I’ve never felt this worried about going to school,” they continued. “I’m well aware that most of my kids would protect me and they have before, but they shouldn’t have to. That’s the role of discipline. But, at the same time, I afraid to report a kid because I’ve seen disciplinary officers hit them and I’ve reported it and nothing has happened from the state.

“I’m at my end where I can’t be part of this organization that is abusing children both educationally and physically.”

“This year is just as bad as last year,” one teacher told me. “Safety issues remain for the students and staff. There’s a lot of disrespectful and unruly behavior that’s never taken care of. I have personally had my hair ripped out. I’ve been cursed at. You name it, they’ve said it to me. One student actually threw me down and tried to strangle me and was still not expelled from the building.”

Computers
Chancellor Covington boldly makes this statement: “There is a 1 to 1 deployment of computers in the district.” This is direct contrast to the reports I heard about as many as half of the students in a given classroom not having access to a computer. “I have a class of nearly 40 students and I only have 20 working computers,” one teacher told me.

But Chancellor Covington contradicts his statement about “1 to 1 deployment of computers in the district” in the very next sentence: “However, the older netbooks that were grandfathered in from DPS continue to require maintenance. As a result a number of teachers do not have a sufficient number of computers for all of the students in their classrooms. A bid was received for new mobile devices in early January and approximately 3000 new notebooks will be ordered in the next several weeks which should ensure that all teachers have a sufficient number of working devices.”

So, there may be a “1 to 1 deployment of computers” but there is not a 1 to 1 deployment of FUNCTIONAL computers. In fact, they are lacking so many functional computer that they have had to purchase three thousand more.

IEPs
Despite multiple reports of teachers not receiving the Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) for significant numbers of their special education students, including a report from a former special ed professional themselves, Chancellor Covington reports that “Schools reported that all teachers have access to IEPs and meet with special education teachers.

It’s unsurprising that when asked by the top official in their school district if they were breaking multiple laws, abusing children, and attempting to teach in a substandard fashion that these principals reported that they were not. This is not an investigation. This is akin to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s “investigation” of the George Washington Bridge scandal. A real investigation would have involved one-on-one interviews with multiple teachers at multiple schools with a guarantee of no retribution or repercussions from being truthful. It would involve seeking out some of the more than 200 teachers who have left the EAA over the past year and half and asking them what they saw. It would involve talking to the parents of current and, more importantly, perhaps, former EAA students about their experiences. Hell, they might even want to talk to some actual EAA students themselves.

These are the things that I am doing at Eclectablog and that is what I will continue to do. I have been in contact with other teachers and at least one of them will be on the record with their name, someone who has witnessed the sort of corporal punishment of students that so many others have described.

This story is a long way from over, no matter what Dr. Covington’s shiny report says. Stay tuned.

[Image from 1932 Electrolux ad]

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