GUEST POST: EAA forum at EMU a sham – No dialogue, just another “dog and pony show” (UPDATED)

First, I want to reiterate what I said yesterday: there is a very good chance that Republicans are close to having enough votes to to expand the State School Reform/Redesign district (HB 4369) which, for now, is only the EAA. They may vote as early as today if they get enough votes. Two Democrats, John Olumba & Harvey Santana, are rumored to have broken ranks to support this bill. Consider reaching out to them, asking how they will vote and letting them know they should not only not expand this failed experiment with Detroit students, they should be pushing to END it.

UPDATE: I have learned that the Republicans now have enough votes to pass this bill and it will happen today.

Yesterday, the Eastern Michigan University Office of the Provost held a forum on the EAA. Participants included EAA Chancellor John Covington as well as well-coached students, staff, faculty and parents from the district. EMU faculty members from the College of Education have been protesting EMU’s intralocal agreement with the EAA and have been calling upon the EMU Regents to sever the university’s ties with the school district. This forum appears to be an attempt to appease their concerns but, as you’ll soon read, that did not occur. Faculty members who attended the forum describe a well-scripted, controlled event with little to no dialogue with those present. Today we have a guest post from one of those faculty members, Rebecca Martusewicz. She and her husband Gary Schnakenberg collaborated to bring us this report.

Rebecca Martusewicz has been a professor in EMU’s Department of Teacher Education, Social Foundations Program for 26 years. Her work emphasizes the importance of public education for the possibility of democracy. Gary Schnakenberg was a high school social studies teacher for 24 years in New Hampshire. He now teaches and is the undergraduate advisor in Michigan State University’s Geography Department.

Please welcome Rebecca and Gary to Eclectablog for their first guest post.


What is a “Public Forum”? Reflections on EMU’s Forum on the EAA

So what exactly is a “public forum”? We would say it’s an opportunity for people on opposing sides of an issue to get down to business and debate, hear each other’s positions and maybe clarify misconceptions. That means that there is dialogue: a back and forth of statements, questions, responses, and responses to those responses. That’s what a dialogue looks like. That is not what happened at yesterday’s Forum on the EAA hosted by EMU’s Provost Kim Schatzel.

Provost Schatzel informed the EMU community through College of Education Council President Steve Cameron that there would be a 30-minute presentation by the EAA panel and a 30-minute question and answer period during which the community would be able to ask their questions. It should be noted here that Cameron recommended that there be representatives from the opposition on this panel, and that the EMU administration and Regents participate as well. Instead, she asked Steve to poll the faculty for three pressing questions that would be addressed at the outset of the Q & A by Chancellor Covington. That should have been our first clue that this would not be a dialogue. Actually, it was our first clue, but the faculty decided to honor the Provost’s attempt to offer this forum for public discussion about the EAA, especially since we were told that the audience would be able to ask their questions, too. We assumed this meant an open dialogue during which audience members would be able to have an honest back-and-forth about our concerns, pressing the Chancellor to respond to some of the most heinous allegations coming out about the EAA’s treatment of teachers and students, dismal MEAP scores, financial mismanagement, questionable pedagogical strategies, undertrained teachers, etc.

However, we were informed just 10 minutes before the start of the “forum” that all audience questions would be written on index cards and handed to a third party and then read by EMU Vice President for Communications Walter Kraft and read by him, rather than voiced out loud by audience members. The students from SEPE (Students for an Ethical and Participatory Education) and members of People Against the EAA argued strongly that this was not what they had been told would be the format, that they wished to respond to the Chancellor in their own voices, and that this format was a way to shut them down. They were correct.

While we offered our pre-written questions, audience members had no opportunity to respond to or counter the information that Chancellor Covington offered on these or on the three questions from EMU faculty that were sent to him ahead of time. Chancellor Covington dominated the discourse, and told the audience that he was merely reporting “the facts.” This included a complete denial of the analysis of MEAP scores offered in this blog in the last few days by Dr. Tom Pedroni of Wayne State University. In fact, Dr. Covington said that he had no idea where such an analysis could have come from when responding to a question about that analysis. Students in the audience silently held up signs that read “LIAR” and “LIES”.

On the panel were two students who, it must be said, did a terrific job relating their experiences of life in an EAA high school. They were poised and offered clear and positive stories about their education. They should be applauded. And whatever their experiences have been, those experiences are not the issue. We are happy if they are excelling in the ways they reported. What we are concerned about are the students, teachers, administrators and parents who are being mistreated by a system that is fundamentally unaccountable to the public. Chancellor Covington himself made clear the non-democratic nature of the EAA’s governance structure, accountable only to the State’s executive branch—the Governor. This forum was a clear reflection of that unwillingness to be accountable to the public and unfortunately the students and other panelists faced a crowd frustrated and angry by a structure designed to marginalize their concerns.

This was not a public forum with any true dialogue. It was structured to allow the EAA to control the information, with the predictable effect of inciting frustration and anger from the audience. To be fair, Provost Schatzel may not have foreseen that such an attempt at control would cause such a response. The students and several faculty were angry that they were not able to directly ask their questions, or to respond to the information offered. When they did anyway, they were told that they were “out of turn” according to these rules of engagement.

None of this is surprising. This sort of show with hand-picked performers is exactly what Rebecca and others witnessed at the so-called “public comment section” of Lisa Lyons’s House Committee on Education’s legislative session last year on the codification of the EAA.

In other public forums, those organized by EMU faculty and students as well as the Ann Arbor Teachers Association, we have invited Chancellor Covington and Provost Schatzel (who sits as a non-voting member on the EAA board) to represent the EAA position. They have refused to participate. What we need and what we have asked for is for a public conversation among representatives from both sides (including EMU’s administration) who could present their positions, rebut assertions, field questions, and dialogue with interested members of this community about our concerns. That is what democracy looks like. Anything short of that demonstrates a lack of trust and respect for this community on the part of organizers.

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