EAA Chancellor Covington “supports” Dept of Education ending exclusivity contract – but won’t let them out of it

On Wednesday of this past week, news broke that State Superintendent Mike Flanagan was ending a 15-year exclusivity contract with the Governor Rick Snyder’s failed experiment with Detroit children known as the Education Achievement Authority. The contract specified that the State School Reform/Redesign District (SSRRD) would only place “low performing” schools in the EAA. By ending that part of the contract, Flanagan has other options (like charter schools, privatizing schools, etc.)

Why the contract was written to give the EAA exclusive control over those “failing” schools is unknown but it was clearly a bad idea. So, it’s understandable why Flanagan wanted out of it. Unfortunately, another element of the contract specifies that if a party wants out of any part of the contract, they must give one year’s notice. Superintendent Flanagan approached the head of the EAA, Chancellor John Covington, and asked him to voluntarily allow them out of the exclusivity provision immediately rather than having to wait for a year. He was rebuffed by Covington so the state Department of Education will have to wait until February of 2015 before they can place low-performing schools into programs outside of the EAA.

The day after it was announced that Supt. Flanagan had begun the process of ending the exclusivity contract, John Covington sent a letter to his staff assuring them that all was well and that the EAA is still considered a “critically important part” of turning around our state’s most challenged schools. In fact, according to the letter, he says they “support” the move to give the Department of Education “as many high quality options for students and families in Michigan as possible.”

However, and this is important to keep in mind, Covington has NOT agreed to ending the exclusivity agreement immediately and is forcing the state Department of Education to wait a full year before they have the other “high quality options” that he says he’s “supportive” of. It’s whitewashing hypocrisy in its purest form.

One of the most frightening things to me in this letter is this statement:

[W]e remain vigilant in our efforts to expand in other areas of the State and help even more Michigan students in the future.

Not only should the EAA not be expanded, it should be abandoned and the schools returned to local control with an influx of resources that will allow local teachers and administrators, working together with parents, education experts and other stakeholders, to turn the schools around in a healthy, sustainable way.

It’s also worth noting that Covington assures his staff that the EAA is still fully supported by Governor Snyder. Of course they are. Gov. Snyder has made this such a central component of his approach to education in Michigan that he could hardly distance himself from it now. This largely explains why a plurality of Michiganders think he is failing to support education, students, and educators properly.

Below is the full text the letter. The original can be viewed HERE. It’s worth noting that the letter was not distributed to ALL EAA faculty members, just to a selected few.

February 20, 2014

Dear EAA Team Members:
The purpose of this letter is to provide insight and clarity relative to the letter I received from our State Superintendent of Education, Mike Flanagan, terminating the transfer of functions and responsibilities from the State Reform/Redesign District to the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan (EAA), effective February 18, 2015.

In his letter, Superintendent Flanagan directly cites the need to “end the exclusivity provision of the Agreement between the EAA and the State.” He further referenced the need for the State to “have options in which to place persistently low-achieving schools in addition to the EAA.” Please understand that this does not affect the EAA’s current operations and/or its long-term position as a critically important part of the effort to improve Michigan’s lowest achieving schools.

We support the decision by the Michigan Department of Education to end the exclusive contract with the EAA. Essentially, this agreement rendered the EAA as the ONLY option available to assist in the reform of all priority schools in Michigan. It was never our intent to manage 150 schools, and thus, the cancelation of the agreement will allow the State to exercise more options to reform the many persistently failing schools aggressively. Again, we are supportive of this effort, and like the State, want as many high quality options for students and families in Michigan as possible.

It is also important to note that Mike Flanagan indicated in his February 18 letter that the EAA is a critically important part of the effort to help students who need it the most. He also indicated that EAA schools will continue to be a vital part of that effort now and in the future as we help meet the needs of students in more schools across the State. All of you are a vital part of this process, and Iappreciate your work and your focus on student learning.

The students in the 15 EAA schools in Detroit have made strong academic progress since we began operating those schools in September 2012. Thanks to you, in our first year of operation, 59 percent of students achieved 1.5 or more year’s growth in reading, and 58 percent of students achieved 1.5 or more year’s growth in math.

The EAA will continue to function as we currently are and operate its 15 schools in Detroit under the inter-local agreement between the Detroit Public Schools and Eastern Michigan University. Moreover, we remain vigilant in our efforts to expand in other areas of the State and help even more Michigan students in the future.

As noted above, the contract transferring functions and responsibilities from the State Reform/Redesign District to the EAA will continue until February 18, 2015. As a result, the EAA will continue to manage exclusively the responsibilities for the State School Reform/Redesign District until then. Clearly, we are making a huge positive difference in the lives of children. The strong academic progress our students are making serves as evidence that the EAA model is working. Though early signs of student growth are good, we have lots of work to do. Please do not view the February 18 letter from Mike Flanagan
as an indicator that the EAA is unstable. This is not the case, and we continue to have the support of the
Governor, State Superintendent, our Board, and other stakeholders who believe in the work we are doing.

Again, thank you for your continued service to the EAA and, most importantly, your dedication to providing a quality education for our students.

If you have any additional questions regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to call my office.

Sincerely,
J. Wm. Covington, Ed.D, Ph.D.
Chancellor
The Education Achievement Authority of Michigan

UPDATE: As Mary notes in the comments, a version of this letter also appears on the EAA’s state government website. Therefore I have removed the word “exclusive” from the title even though nobody else seems to be reporting on the rank hypocrisy of John Covington.

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