It’s not “Our way or the highway”, it’s “How about this BETTER way?”
In response to my exposé of mistreatment of students in the Education Achievement Authority, EAA spokesperson Terry Abbott, a former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education and Deputy Commissioner for Communications at the U.S. Social Security Administration in George W. Bush’s administration, attacked my credibility and the credibility of an elected state Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood:
“Abbot said the serious allegations of what amounts to criminal activity has never been reported to administrators. Plus, given the quotes were shared anonymously should cast real credibility questions on the information.”
Abbott said Hopgood has been a long-time political opponent of the EAA and that he is a politician who does not believe in establishing other ways to provide opportunities for success for children who are “trapped in failing schools year after year.”
“Our focus is going to continue to be on the needs of our kids and not worry about the politics of adults,” he said.
That bolded bit, where he accuses an elected official of not believing in “establishing other ways to provide opportunities for success for children who are ‘trapped in failing schools year after year'”, verges on being offensive, particularly coming from an institution that has, time and again, refused to answer even the most basic questions posed to them by state lawmakers.
It’s also patently and demonstrably false.
In September of last year, Michigan House Democrats unveiled a plan for education reform that is in stark contrast to the do-it-on-the-cheap and privatize-anything-not-nailed-down approach favored by Michigan Republicans. The GOP has cut funding to schools, shut down schools which are struggling rather than investing in fixing them, privatized services across the state, and worked to demonize teachers who collectively bargain for good wages and benefits, all in the name of “school reform”.
Democrats have a different approach. They formed the Michigan House Democrats’ School Reform Task Force to develop a plan for reform that involves parents, teachers, administrators, and education experts from all over the state. The plan has three elements:
- Community education action plans formed by teams of educational professionals, parents, community leaders, and other experts to conduct a review of struggling schools and the creation of an aggressive turn-around plan designed to address the specific issues of that school.
- A study to learn what the real costs of educating our children are so that the specific needs of each unique school district are addressed and properly funded. This includes a constitutional amendment to guarantee that School Aid dollars are protected and used only in our K-12 public schools for education.
- Creation of a level playing field where all public schools, whether they are traditional, charter, or virtual, play by the same rules and are held to the same standards of accountability and transparency.
Representative Theresa Abed described their plan this way:
Our alternative to allowing schools to fail so that they can be placed under the Education Achievement Authority is to instead send a team into a struggling school to work with teachers, administrators, parents, and the community on a review which will lead to an aggressive action plan designed for the specific issues and challenges of that particular school… We can’t just tell our schools that they need to change and improve and then leave them to figure it out or face a takeover or shutdown… We cannot afford another Inkster, Buena Vista, or Albion… we need to act proactively.
Representative Brandon Dillon had this to say:
Too many of our schools are struggling but they are not failing. The failure has been at the state level with policy makers who continue to disinvest in our schools leading them to situation they are in now. The administration’s approach to school reform was to meet in secret, behind closed doors, with no input from teachers, researchers, parents, and any other education experts. Their goal was to try to find a way to educate students on the cheap and further cut the investments we make in our kids’ education. I don’t think I can stress this contrast enough with our approach. Our approach was a data-driven, researched effort…that we believe resulted in a better, more sustainable school reform plan… Holding all public schools to the same accountability standards will allow us to know what educational methods work, what educational methods don’t work, and what settings each of them are more effective in… We can’t have transparency if that just means transparency for traditional public schools.
This afternoon, House Democrats’ School Reform Task Force co-chairs Reps. Ellen Cogen Lipton and Brandon Dillon introduced legislation that accomplishes the goals laid out in their report. The two bills establish locally determined transformation processes to improve struggling schools and require a study to determine the specific costs of educating a student in Michigan.
Last night, I spoke with Rep. Lipton about the impending legislation. “I’m really proud of these bills,” she told me. She contrasted the characterization put forth by Mr. Abbott with the truth about what Democrats are doing to solve our education crises around the state. With this legislation, she said, Democrats show that they are serious about education reform and have ideas that involve all of the stakeholders in the education of our children.
“Rather than labeling our schools as failures, as the Republicans and their governor are quick to do, we want to see parents, educators, community leaders and other experts working together to put our schools back on track and successfully educating our students,” said Lipton. “My bill, House Bill 5268, does this by requiring an education transformation process that would result in an aggressive improvement plan for that particular school. The Republicans’ one-size-fits-all Education Achievement Authority is not the answer to improving these schools.”
According to Lipton and Dillon, the school improvement process would look at a variety of factors including curriculum, educational strategies, staffing patterns, parental and community involvement, infrastructure and school safety/security in order to identify and address deficiencies. The bill also calls for parents, community members and educators and others to be involved in the process. This process would be overseen by the new School Reform Office that would replace the current state School Reform/Redesign Office (SSRRO). The SSRRO oversees the worst performing schools in the state which are run by the Education Achievement Authority which come under close scrutiny recently for reported abuses of students, an egregious lack of education resources, and possible violations of federal laws governing accommodations for special needs children.
In addition to Rep. Lipton’s bill, a second bill sponsored by Rep. Dillon, House Bill 5269, requires a costing-out study to determine the true basic cost to educate a student in a Michigan public school classroom.
“We know what the per-pupil grant is that the state sends to every public school, but we don’t actually know if that amount is what a school actually needs to properly educate their students because we’ve never asked that question,” said Dillon. “My bill asks and gets an answer to that question. Then we will know how to best fund our students’ futures and use our education dollars most effectively.”
Dillon says this will help ensure the specific needs of Michigan’s school districts are identified and properly funded. Because no two communities, and so no two school districts, are exactly alike, his the cost study in his legislation will, in part, look at unique school needs such as transportation costs, English as a Second Language services and special education services and what it costs a particular school to offer these and other services, he said.
The House Democrats School Reform Task Force Report can be found at www.HouseDemTaskForces.com/school-reform.