Education, Guest Post — April 2, 2013 at 12:34 pm

GUEST POST: Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority Follows a Fast-Food Business Model


The following op-ed was written by Chris Hansen, a teacher in Lansing. He is writing about an educational experiment in Michigan called the Education Achievement Authority (EAA.) The EAA started in the Detroit Public Schools as a way to focus attention on the poorest performing schools by grouping them into a district of their own. The Chancellor of the EAA is John Covington. He was a controversial choice since the school district he left in Kansas City lost its accreditation after he left. I have written about the EAA extensively (click HERE for past posts.)

On March 21st, the House narrowly passed legislation that will expand the EAA statewide and will include up to 50 school districts. The vote was 57-53.

Chris Hansen earned a B.A. in Education from Michigan State University and M.A. in School Administration from Central Michigan University. Please welcome him to Eclectablog.

John Covington, Chancellor of the “Education Achievement Authority”, stated in his March 20 guest opinion column that 51% of the teachers in the EAA have 3 years or less experience and 27% are from Teach for America. His “school district” is hardly an “Authority” when most of its teachers are novices. He went on to state they have Bachelor’s degrees but failed to mention that many do not have degrees in Education. None of the teachers from Teach for America have Education.

There is a Michigan teaching certificate called the “Interim Teaching Certificate” that is much easier to obtain than others. All a person has to do to earn this certificate is to have a Bachelor’s degree and pass a subject area test. For example, EAA bill sponsor Lisa Posthumus-Lyons doesn’t have any experience in education and obviously doesn’t have a degree in Education, but if she graduated with at least a 3.0, she could get an interim teaching certificate by presenting her Bachelor’s of Agriculture and Natural Resources Communication degree and passing a written subject area test. This certificate is good for five years and is non-renewable.

A person who earns a Bachelor’s degree in Education with an endorsement in a specific field such as Mathematics spends over 1000 hours in college and classrooms learning to be a math teacher and earns a Provisional Teaching Certificate. Interim teaching certificate holders such as Teach for America associates did not have a college major that taught them how to teach and have only five weeks of “teacher training”. Teach for America associates have admitted that, at times, the five weeks of training included less than 20 hours of teaching.

The reason why more than one in four EAA teachers are Teach For America associates is because they are significantly less expensive thant teachers with degrees in Education. People with degrees in Education can be more selective than those who just graduated from college but can’t find a job in their field. The most you can earn from the EAA as a teacher is $60,000 and you have to pay 40% of your health insurance premiums, all with the threat of being fired as an at-will employee. Public school teachers can earn over $70,000 while paying 20% of health insurance premiums and most receive a one year contract. The EAA doesn’t offer wages, working conditions, or benefits that attract the best teachers.

The EAA business model reminds me of when I worked at Wendy’s restaurant before becoming a teacher. There is one person at the top getting wealthy. In this case it is John Covington who earns $325,000 which is at least $175,000 more than most superintendents of school districts with 15 schools earn. Then there are hundreds of minimally trained employees who are easily expendable and replaceable by the thousands of college graduates with a 3.0 GPA who couldn’t find a job in their field, but are capable of passing a written subject test and teaching in EAA schools despite the fact that they may not even know how to teach. They are working to keep the EAA business highly profitable at a minimum cost even if learning may not occur.

Covington and House Republicans such as Lyons have declared the EAA computer-based learning program “Buzz” a success by using the EAA’s own assessment tools all before the completion of its first year. They want to expand its reach to 50 schools. The EAA is funded through taxpayer money from the School Aid Fund at the rate of about $7,000 per student along with donations from private citizens. If Covington is able to expand the EAA to 50 schools and make an exponential income, he’ll make over $1,000,000 or more than 6 times that of most superintendents. All while children in his schools may suffer and his “teachers” don’t necessarily know how to teach.

Covington’s former school district in Kansas City dumped the computer program “Buzz” when he left. This suggests that it may not be producing the gains he claims. Since it takes 3 years of poor MEAP tests to be labeled a “failing school”, we should at least wait until students in these schools take three years of comparable objective tests like Michigan’s MEAP test to check their progress before expanding the EAA to the entire state. The takeover debacle in Muskegon Heights provides evidence that hasty takeovers make tough situations worse.

If the computer program the EAA uses is as successful as Covington claims, school districts can implement it without a takeover by having people who actually earned degrees in Education use it. If non-education degree “teachers” can help kids learn with it, imagine what people who actually have Education degrees can do. If “Buzz” fizzles out, we’ll avoid making a difficult situation worse.