Education — January 31, 2014 at 6:58 am

Another EAA teacher speaks out, sets the record straight on Chancellor Covington’s rosy assessment


Wait. Maybe there IS something to see here after all.

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

As I reported yesterday, Education Achievement Authority Chancellor John Covington attempted to suggest that everything is just fine in his “school district for misfit schools”. He did this by polling the people who report directly to him — the principals — asking them if they were abusing students, if they had woefully inadequate facilities, if special education students were being neglected, and about the many other allegations in my original exposé. The resounding response, not surprisingly, came back, “Nope! All good here, boss! No problems at MY school! No problems at all, sir!”

Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Since that first piece, I have heard from many other former or current EAA teachers. They all corroborate each other’s stories about corporal punishment being used on students, about the almost absurdly inadequate facilities and resources in a district that’s supposed to be rapidly turning around years of neglect, and about the woeful mistreatment of special needs students, very likely in violation of federal laws that require that they are accommodated in the classroom

Today, another teacher speaks out. This teacher is directly addressing Chancellor Covington’s report (pdf) that came in response to my original exposé just four days later.

Over the weekend I will be interviewing two other EAA teachers. If you or anyone you know would like to add your voice, please reach out to me. There’s a contact form at the top left of the blog or you can email me.

On February 13th, the board of the Educational Achievement Authority will meet and it is widely believed that EAA Chancellor John Covington will simply dismiss these accounts as coming from disgruntled teachers or that they are being made up because they are from anonymous sources. In order to counter this, it would be extremely helpful for former and current teachers and parents of former and current students to testify to the veracity of these claims. If you are willing to go on the record to support the claims made here on my site, please contact me as soon as possible. I would love to give you a voice here at Eclectablog and can put you in contact with people who can ensure that your voice is heard by the EAA board.

One more thing: do not think that the EAA is just something cooked up by John Covington. It’s not. The EAA is a project near and dear to Governor Rick Snyder. He has championed it from day one and continues to pressure legislators to codify it into state law and expand it statewide. There is action afoot in our state legislature RIGHT NOW to move forward the legislation to remove the cap on the number of schools in the EAA and spread it statewide. It’s imperative that this be stopped. Contact your state Representative and Senator and let them know that not only should the EAA not be expanded, this failed experiment should be shut down NOW and either reconfigured into the sort of district that will actually help Detroit’s failing schools or scrapped entirely. Please do it today. It’s critically important.

I am a teacher at Henry Ford in the EAA and I would like to make a few clarifying points regarding Dr. Covington’s document.

1) Teach For America Training: I am very familiar with Teach For America’s programs from the corps members at our school. Dr. Covington claims that TFA teachers are “required to complete a master’s in curriculum and instruction as part of their contract.” This is absolutely, 100% false, and you can verify it with a quick call to TFA-Detroit. First of all, I am not sure what contract he is talking about that stipulates this; it is certainly not the EAA contract. Secondly, it is not required by TFA, either. TFA corps members are required, at minimum, to enroll in a certification programs through U of M or Oakland. The U of M program only meets once or twice a month for two hours at a time. If TFA teachers want, they can enroll in master’s programs, too. It is interesting that Dr. Covington is completely incorrect about the professional requirements of his own staff.

2) Teacher-Student Ratios: Dr. Covington comments that some classrooms have “either 41 or 42 students assigned. They are blended classrooms which include not only a teacher but access to a digital curriculum.” First of all, there is no EAA-provided “curriculum.” Teachers design the curriculum as we go and upload it into Buzz, which is an empty shell other than some videos and tests. In practice, however, the digital curriculum in such large classrooms winds up being students keeping Buzz open in one tab while they watch YouTube videos, go on Facebook and Twitter, check out Instagram, etc. Most of these sites are blocked, but the students have the admin passwords and can access them. The EAA talked up software called Lan School in the summer which would enable teachers to block such sites on computers, but very few classes at Ford have Lan School installed and it’s February. Some classrooms had Lan School installed, and then supposedly the license expired. It is not possible in such large class sizes for teachers to hold students accountable with the whole Internet at their fingertips.

3) Computers: Dr. Covington comments that “the older netbooks that were grandfathered in from DPS continue to require maintenance.” Last year, at Ford, we had our own IT person. This year, however, we do not have our own in-house IT person despite the fact that probably at least a hundred of our computers don’t work, are missing keys, or are literally crumbling apart. Poor security at Ford last year resulted in dozens of laptops being stolen. Additionally, the computers are so terrible that they disrupt the classroom. Teachers are judged partly based on how often students log into and use Buzz, so students are supposed to be on it every day. But this sometimes destroys short, 50 minute classes: students come in, grab computers, and on the extreme side wait up to 10 minutes for computers to even load. Sometimes, once a computer does load, it won’t connect to the Internet. Other times, they finally get into Buzz and try to watch a video lecture, but the sound won’t work. Once, half the Netbook’s monitor simply popped off. Some computers have “FUCK” drawn on the screen. What do students do while they wait for computers to turn on? They watch YouTube, talk to friends, get into screaming matches, or browse blogs and Facebook. Once they finally get into Buzz, some of them panic as they try and figure out how to even navigate through the platform; others declare “I hate Buzz” and go back to Instagram.

4) Staff Retention: We’ll see what happens at the end of this year when second-year TFA teachers finish. All almost any teachers really talk about at Ford is how much they hate working there and can’t wait to leave. Almost every morning on the first and second floors there are groups of teachers talking openly about how messed up the school is and how hopeless it feels. I have never been in a work environment with such low staff morale.

5) Student Suspensions at Ford: In the “investigation” of Ford regarding student assaults of teachers, it is stated that “Ford indicated they had two incidents and both students were suspended, a third incident is still under investigation.” This conclusion is a little black-and-white relative to the true colors of the situation. It is a fact that one teacher was literally shoved in his room by a student, who then called him a “little fuck” and walked out. I watched this teacher struggle for over two weeks to have that student suspended. Yet, for over two weeks, the student was able to roam the hallways of Ford freely and without consequence. I encouraged the teacher to go over the principal’s head, and I believe he did so – e-mailing members of the executive leadership. After around two weeks, this student was suspended. But it hurt me to have to watch my fellow teacher so ignored by the administration as that process unfolded. The very next day, in fact, and for several days after the incident, this student was showing up at the door of this teacher without consequence.

Last year, a TFA math teacher was pinned against the wall by her neck. This was reported to the administration. The next day, the student was back in her classroom. This teacher wound up quitting within a couple months.

7) Discipline and Safety at Henry Ford High School: It is a fact that the executive leadership of the EAA has dozens upon dozens of e-mails from Henry Ford staff outlining the serious problems at Ford. These include details of a complete lack of consistent discipline procedures since the beginning of last year, hallways jam-packed with up to a hundred kids in the middle of various afternoon class periods, and little to no consistent consequences for tardies, absences, etc. I can often look out into the hall during 5th, 6th, or 7th hour and see kids running everywhere however they please. There are no consistent procedures for clearing the hallways or disciplining truant / skipping students – sometimes a random hall sweep, sometimes suspensions, sometimes a brief trip to the office… But no student could tell you what the policy for being late or tardy is. It’s all random.

Discipline problems creep into the classrooms. I am cussed out by students literally every day. I don’t go to administrators much about it anymore because they never did anything about it when I did – the students would get a slap on the wrist and come back to class unpunished or, at the most, chewed out.

Last year, the smell of marijuana would regularly come into the classroom. Kids have openly smoke joints in the hallways. Prostitution, too, was a rampant issue in the school.

The EAA knows about all of this. It has repeatedly sent its executive leadership into our school in response to concerned e-mails from staff that date all the way back to September 2012. They have known of the situation there for over a year. For example, Dr. Esselman came to facilitate the development of a new discipline policy in February 2013 – but then this was not enforced and simply fell apart. Dr. Covington came to the school in December 2013 and had staff fill out a survey about the school, in which staff provided many of the same details I am providing to you. But has nothing happened – the school is still a place of chaos, and the basic lack of structure to anything that happens in terms of discipline and rule of law remains.

Finally, I know teachers at Henry Ford for whom Principal Mayberry allegedly falsified evaluations. These teachers claim that Principal Mayberry submitted classroom observations that he never even actually made. Last year, there were teachers whose classrooms he never visited for more than five minutes. And yet at the end of the year he gave some of these same teachers “minimally effective” ratings. I know of one example where Principal Mayberry did not know what subject a teacher taught – during the end-of-year conference. Many of these teachers have gone to the EAA leadership without any real response.

8) Buzz: The Buzz interface is extremely confusing for teenagers. Students constantly complain, but teachers are required to use it. Many have started to feel that the district’s private partner, Agilix, is trying to sell the product to other districts, and that a profit-motive has crept into everything… hence why teachers are so stringently required to use Buzz. Dr. Esselman brings visitors into the school and is always encouraging them to look at Buzz. It’s the cardinal sin for a teacher to have students who are not fluent in the confusion of the Buzz platform. And yet most of the students hate Buzz and complain about it every day. Shouldn’t we listen?