Education — February 19, 2014 at 1:03 pm

EAA Chief & GOP sponsor of expansion bill: “Opponents will stop at nothing to maintain status quo, are ‘criminal’.”


Spin, baby, spin

Yesterday, EAA Chancellor John Covington and Republican Chair of the House Education Committee Rep. Lisa Lyons appeared on the Current State program to discuss the Education Achievement Authority. In clear defensive mode, both of them sought to characterize anyone who opposes the EAA as the only solution to the intractable problems facing the Detroit Public School system as “defending the status quo” and being “outright criminal”.

You can listen to the entire segment using the player below. It starts at the 25:31 mark:

The host asked Rep. Lyons about the opposition that they are getting. Her response was to dismiss anyone who disagrees with them and who sees the EAA as the incorrect response to a problem that needs a serious, effective response, as just people who hate change:

Any time you go into a school, you will find teachers or parents or students that aren’t satisfied with what’s going on. That’s just the nature of how humans operate. And, for every person that you find that has concerns with the EAA, you’ll have students and teachers and parents who totally believe in this transformation they’re seeing in their kids. We had several of them up just last week to talk to lawmakers as to how the EAA has changed their lives, how these kids are now finally starting to learn. So, I take that with a grain of salt to begin with.

When asked about questions regarding transparency and refusing to provide legislators on the House Education Committee with information, Chancellor Covington completely ignored the fact that he had first refused to supply Rep. Ellen Lipton with data she requested. He then neglected to mention the fact that he forced her to pay nearly three thousand dollars to obtain it. And then he finally said it wasn’t a data dump in an attempt to drown Rep. Lipton in paperwork, saying that basically she asked for it.

When the host asked where else the BUZZ computer platform on which the EAA is largely based is used, Covington conceded that the EAA is the only school district using it, essentially making it a beta test with EAA students as the guinea pigs. “Right now I think we’re the only primary district in the country the system,” he said.

Covington described BUZZ as nothing more than a tool for teachers to use to better facilitate/teach in a “blended, student centered environment” and said that students aren’t going to EAA schools and sitting in front of computers all day. This is contradicted by much of what I’ve been hearing from teachers. BUZZ is, in fact, a large part of the EAA experience and is how students’ progress is tracked. Teachers have been told that BUZZ is already populated with curriculum before they are hired. However, this is often not the case at all and the teachers themselves, a large percentage of them first-year teachers or Teach for America teachers with limited training in curriculum development, as expected to populate BUZZ with content.

Rep. Lyons returned to disparaging her critics as doing nothing more than “distractions” who are “defending” something that’s not working:

As you’re seeing, a lot of the criticisms that are being displayed or communicated about the EAA itself and the legislation that we’re working on, many of which are, frankly, just baseless, are really distracting from the issue… The status quo and whatever it is that the critics are defending is not working and it hasn’t been working and it’s leaving the kids behind. That’s why it’s so important.

This next exchange was perhaps the most insulting to those of us who seek a better answer in Detroit’s schools:

HOST: If a fraction of the comments coming from Representative Dillon and Representative Lipton and Senator Hopgood are accurate, they would have us believe that it’s miraculous that we’re having a discussion about expansion at all. I’d go so far as to say that the EAA in its smaller role, in its current role, they would maintain it is worthy of a vigorous review.

LYONS: We have found that there’s no depths that the defenders of the status quo won’t go to stop innovation and change. I think, as you look at the results, actual learning going on in the EAA for those kids, those results are as impressive as they are inspiring. And you can’t make those test results up.

You may not be able to make those results up but you can skew them as we have learned from multiple teachers in my interviews. These teachers describe allowing students to take tests repeatedly until they show improvement.

Covington later chimed in:

COVINGTON: [These students] were failing to make growth year after year after year after year and not to have a alternative in place for these children to have a fair chance at life hinders [sic] on being outright criminal.

HOST: I don’t think even your harshest critics wouldn’t maintain that this isn’t a very challenging landscape. I mean I don’t think that Rep. Lipton, Rep. Dillon, or Sen. Hopgood have maintained anything other than that just to be perfectly clear.

I spoke with Steve Camron, Chair of the COE Council, Graduate Coordinator, and Associate Professor at Eastern Michigan University. He gave me this statement:

Rep. Lyons displayed enormous disdain for professional educators and Detroiters yesterday on WKAR”s Current State radio program by labelling EAA critics as “supporters of the status quo.” Anyone who knows Tom Pedroni from WSU and Detroit activist Helen Moore knows full well that they are also opposed to the status quo, too. They point out the flawed systems in the EAA and ask how its existence can be justified, let alone its expansion. Of course labelling a school as “failed” then justifies all sorts of destructive policies, except the most important of all: doing something about devastating poverty.

The host of the show then asked Lyons why she was rushing this legislation through now, especially with MEAP scores due to be released in the next few weeks:

HOST: You’ve taken more heat here, Lisa, for not waiting for the MEAP scores to come out next month. We’ve got a really important measurement of students’ academic progress coming up next month. Why not wait until those are in to bolster your case?

LYONS: Where I sit, we’ve waited long enough to help these kids that are in failing schools. I’m not willing to wait any longer. These schools that are on the persistently lowest achieving list have demonstrated over and over and over and over again that what they are doing is not working. I will not wait any longer. […]

It’s universally accepted that MEAP scores just don’t adequately reflect student growth whether it’s from the students in the EAA or where my kids go to school … The scores we get this year won’t tell us much because — and I don’t know what the scores will be, but they won’t tell us much because it’s not the same batch of kids, the same students who were tested on the MEAP last year. Those students are now in fourth grade. We’re testing, on the MEAP, a whole new set of students who came from second grade who are now in third grade. So that won’t measure what the students are actually achieving and learning as a result of the EAA education model.

This last bit was particularly telling to me and makes me truly question whether or not Ms. Lyons actually HAS seen the results. I’ve never seen someone go out of their way to discredit the MEAP in this way and surely looks as though she’s trying to cushion the blow of bad news that she knows is about to be released. We’ll know the answer to that question in March.

Wayne State University professor Thomas Pedroni had another take on Lyons’ comments about the MEAP:

What she says shows her total ignorance about the MEAP, an astonishing revelation given that she chairs something called a House Education Committee. If you listen to what she says, you realize that she believes the MEAP is only offered in third grade. It’s not. It’s offered every year from third to ninth grade. She says that the MEAP is meaningless because you test the kids in third grade, and then next year you test different ones. That’s true that in third grade you don’t test the same kids two years in a row. But you test the third graders in fourth grade. And then you test them in fifth grade. So her statement reveals her profound ignorance.

With regard to special needs kids, Covington said that when he came in, upwards of 47-48% of the students in the EAA were labeled as “special education” when the national average is more like 14%. He took bold steps to trim that number significantly:

It’s not rocket science to know that when you have special education figures that high that someone has over-identified children for special education services when they shouldn’t have been. So, as a result of that, my directive – and I stand by this directive and I do not apologize for it – my directive was to look at every single IEP of every single special education child that we have, review that IEP and then, as a result of that review, determine whether or not that child should have been assigned for special education services. And, in many cases, what we were looking for we found; that those children never should have been enrolled in special education and as a result of that, we provided them with a transition plan to move them out.

It’s clear that those who support the legislation that would expand the EAA are in a hot rush to get it passed as quickly as they can. The more teachers’ stories are told, the worse they look.

On top of that, if MEAP scores come back and reflect poorly on the EAA, that may well be the death knell for their effort.

This attempt to demonize those who disagree with them is designed to deflect attention from the reality of what’s happening in the EAA, stories they do not want the public or their legislative colleagues to hear.

This will NOT go away. Tomorrow I will post an interview with a teacher who was chosen as an EAA “Teacher of the Year” and later quit because of how they were treated, how the students were being treated, and because they saw it for the failed model that it is.

Stay tuned.