Education — February 20, 2014 at 9:35 am

Some things you need to know about the Education Achievement Authority as lawmakers consider their votes


As faculty and students at Eastern Michigan University gather at a rally today to urge their Board of Regents to sever their educational institution’s relationship with Governor Snyder’s failed Educational Achievement Authority experiment in Detroit, lawmakers in Lansing are whipping votes to pass legislation that will expand it statewide and codify it into law.

Yesterday’s bombshell news that State Superintendent Mike Flanagan is ending the state’s contract with the EAA that makes them the exclusive “home for misfit schools” under the Statewide School Reform District, it’s important to realize that this is not really much of a victory at all. For one thing, the end of the contract isn’t until February of 2015, one year from now. Yesterday, Rep. Ellen Lipton, a member of the House Education Committee, cut to the chase:

Why did Gov. Rick Snyder allow Superintendent Flanagan to give authority over school reform to an unproven entity – the EAA – managed by an individual with a track record of failure in his previous job in Kansas City? Why did Flanagan agree to give up his department’s authority for 15 years back in 2011? Why won’t Covington relinquish his control back to the state after being asked to do so by Flanagan? And why won’t the governor, through his control over the EAA Board of Directors that hired and can fire Covington, demand Covington to immediately return control to Flanagan or be removed from office?

Covington told the Detroit Free Press yesterday that he wasn’t surprised by the move:

“This decision gives the state superintendent more flexibility to help children who’ve been trapped in low-performing schools year after year,” Covington said.

If the authority, for instance, didn’t have the capacity to take on all of the schools that would be eligible to be placed there, the state would need another option, Covington said.

“We see ourselves as a critically important part of that effort to help students who need it the most,” Covington said.

That’s interesting rhetoric. It’s also bullshit. Superintendent Flanagan asked Covington to end the exclusivity agreement immediately and Covington refused.

The same article quotes a spokesperson for Governor Snyder as saying, “The superintendent should have some flexibility if he believes a particular school can be best helped by a different type of solution, and those solutions can come from an intermediate school district, a chartering group or some other entity.” As my friend Amy Kerr Hardin so deftly points out, the EAA may be out (eventually), but this is a “Hydra, the Beast with Many Heads” and we can expect other experiments with educating students in our most challenged districts on the cheap and for a profit as this moves forward.

Writing about these other options mentioned by the Snyder spokesperson, Amy put it this way:

The only means for the state to acquire said “options” is through GOP authored lawmaking — Trojan Horse legislation that will enable the state superintendent to order a la carte off the menu:

  • Education Achievement Authority
  • ISD control
  • dissolution of larger school districts, not just the small ones
  • chartering
  • privatizing

Covington did an interview this week with Education Committee Chair Lisa Lyons, the author of the EAA expansion bill (which will formally be the State School Reform/Redesign School District (SSRRSD) expansion law in February 2015 since it will no longer be only the EAA.) During that interview, Rep. Lyons made this ill-informed and ridiculous statement:

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.

It’s an interesting statement because students are tested at ALL grades between third and ninth grade as a way to measure student progress. So the chair of the Education Committee is either ignorant about this or intentionally obfuscating the issue to avoid being held accountable for her support of the EAA.

Yesterday afternoon, I spoke with newly-named Director of the Leonard Kaplan Education Center for Critical Urban Studies Tom Pedroni about this. He, along with commenter Steve K here at Eclectablog, pointed out that it is, in fact, the MEAP that determines if a school is “failing” in the first place. So, according to Lyons, the test is adequate for determining if a school goes into the SSRRSD but not whether or not schools are achieving their goals for student progress and achievement AFTER it does.

It’s hypocrisy at its finest.

The move by Supt. Flanagan yesterday appears very much to be a political one designed to bolster Gov. Snyder’s abysmal poll numbers on education. He is facing intense backlash against the EAA experiment he has championed every step of the way. Even as recently as last week he said:

If you talk to teachers and students in these schools, you’ll see there’s real learning going on. And these were schools that had a terrible track record for learning. It’s dramatically improved.

This is delusional thinking and as one education group after another calls for an end to the EAA experiment, Gov. Snyder is now pivoting to support “flexibility” and “other options” to the EAA. By making a big splash about the Department of Education ending its exclusive relationship with what it now a radioactive organization, he and his Republican colleagues in the legislature hope to deflect well-deserved criticism and give themselves some political space to pass this legislation.

The legislation is flawed and should not be passed whether the EAA exists or not. Democrats have a much better plan for our state’s students and they can’t even get a hearing for it in Lisa Lyons’ Education Committee.

Supt. Flanagan told reporters yesterday that ending the contract with the EAA “is not a statement or an indication of a lack of confidence”. It should be, Mr. Flanagan. It really, really should be.

One last thing: whatever plan we move forward with to address the intractable problems in urban schools that are dealing with crushing poverty, decrepit infrastructure, and long-term disinvestment, I propose that for every we school we place into the SSRRSD, whether it’s into the EAA or some other “option”, a school from a wealthy district must also be placed there so that the children in more affluent districts can benefit from the miracles being offered by charters, the EAA, and the corporations that tell us they have a better educational mousetrap.

Let’s see how that changes the conversation.