Education — February 4, 2014 at 8:27 am

EAA goes on the attack against teachers who speak out


Seriously, dude? 38 times?

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

The inestimable Diane Ravitch has been highlighting my reporting on the Education Achievement Authority for the past several days. This national spotlight did not escape the administrators of the EAA who sent out their spokesperson Terry Abbott to leave comments on her site, much as he has done here at Eclectablog and elsewhere in the past.

In one of his comments, he demanded that she post his response on her blog. This morning, she did that.

The response from Abbott is basically a restatement of the report that came out of EAA Chancellor Covington’s exhaustive 3-day investigation where he polled the people who report to him — his principals — and asked them if they were doing anything wrong. Who could have anticipated that they would report that everything was just fine?

In his response, Abbott attempts to discredit my reporting because it is based on reports from teachers who asked to remain anonymous. In fact, he used that word 38 times! At the end of the day, though, he wasn’t attacking me. He was attacking the teachers who have spoken out. Once again, the culture of fear that the EAA has created is in full display.

Here is my response to Mr. Abbott’s whitewash:

You used the word “anonymous” 38 times, Mr. Abbott.

38 times.

Rather than discrediting the brave teachers who have come forward, and there are now many of them, I think with that you have more profoundly proven the point I have been trying to make than I ever could have: the EAA has created a culture of fear and an environment where teachers are afraid to speak out and terrified of retribution. In addition to the multiple teacher interviews I have already published, I have six more lined up. Not all of these are anonymous as some of them have left the program and are no longer in fear of what the EAA can do to them.

The “facts” that you present here are the result of Dr. Covington doing a quick poll of the people who directly report to him — the principals (my original blog came out at 9 p.m. on Jan. 22nd and this report was released the following Sunday.) He asked them whether they are using corporal punishment, whether there are safety issues in EAA schools, and if they are breaking federal law with regard to special needs students constitutes an “investigation”. It can’t possibly surprise you that these administrators didn’t admit to these things. It reminds me of Chris Christie’s laughable “investigation” of his staff over the George Washington Bridge scandal.

A more thorough investigation, one that acknowledges that there may be something to this with so many teachers coming forward now that they have a safe haven from which to speak, would involve giving teachers full protection from retaliation and retribution so that they could speak freely. It would involve interviewing some of the dozens of teachers who have already left the EAA. It would involve speaking to the parents of the students who left last year, fully ONE-QUARTER of the student population after the first year alone.

As more and more teachers step forward, I think we’ll begin to see more of them willing to use their names because, now that the sanitizing light of public awareness has been shown upon this situation, they no longer have to live in fear of an oppressive administration that leaves them feeling powerless. And, without a union to protect them, they ARE powerless.

It’s a shameful way to treat educators, particularly those who doing hard and important work in one of the most difficult teaching environments in America. I can all but guarantee you that, after their two-year mandatory stint in your school is done this summer, you will see an exodus of the Teach for America teachers, adding to those who have already left.

The EAA is a school system based on a platform that relies nearly exclusively on the use of computer instruction. Yet, by your own admission, the schools don’t have adequate numbers of computers to do that. It’s a school system that is intended to rapidly turn around the worst schools in our state yet one half of the teachers have never taught — in ANY school — before they came to the EAA. For these reasons and more, many of us are asking why this system seems designed to fail. Why would you do the exact OPPOSITE of what any rational person would say is the sensible approach to solve this intractable problem in Detroit?

That is the question we would like an answer to. And we would very much like the answer to that question BEFORE the system is codified into our state law and expanded statewide.

I’m not against education reform, Mr. Abbott. I am against THIS “reform” that looks very much like a system designed to fail so that for-profit charter schools can swoop in and save the day, funneling our tax dollars into their bank accounts in the process. If it takes a “political blog” (a phrase you used 18 times, btw) to make that happen, so be it.

One commenter points out that Terry Abbott has lots of experience spinning for schools:

So go ahead and give Terry Abbott his fair hearing but know that he has been training for this role over a long period of time. Here is a clip from a 2007 Susan Ohanian post.

“Houston ISD press secretary Terry Abbott’s advice is in demand among school districts hoping to get more positive coverage from their local media. According to this story in Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind., Abbott visited last month to offer some tips for working with reporters. His trip was coordinated through the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation. That’s the same non-profit school reform group that dubbed Houston ISD the best urban school district in America in 2002, before the rest of the nation learned that HISD has drastically under-reported the number of students who dropped out of its schools.”

I can’t see that this effort of his is going to have the desired result. You’d think after all of these years, he’d be better at his job.

[CC Facepalm image credit: Cesar Astudillo | Flickr]