Education — February 7, 2014 at 7:09 am

Veteran EAA teacher: “This reminds me of the Tuskegee Experiment”


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

One of the questions that I have asked during the course of my reporting on Governor Snyder’s Education Achievement Authority (EAA) is, “Why would you create something that seems designed to fail?” One answer is that they WANT it to fail so that charter schools run by for-profit corporations can come in and sweep up the pieces. A backdoor way to encourage the proliferation of for-profit charters.

Another answer is that this is an experiment, one being watched closely by corporatists across the country who want to see if you can educate students in struggling schools on the cheap and make a profit from it. It’s a system that has low labor costs because they hire mostly inexperienced teachers who are discouraged from working together, much less joining a union. They take over existing buildings so their infrastructure costs are low. They simply buy a bunch of computers and a software program and then put the kids in front of the computers all day. To prove that the kids are “achieving” they test them repeatedly, often giving them the same test more than once until they get the answer that they want.

My interview today was with a veteran teacher who has taught for more than two decades. He joined the EAA because it seemed like an interesting new model for educating kids. However, he quickly realized that the system did not work. He tells a story that echoes that of the other teachers I have spoken with: inadequate resources, punishment of teachers who speak out or push back against the “student centered learning” (SCL) used by the EAA, and environment of fear and intimidation that has teachers afraid at all times, even after they have left the EAA.

I have learned that the state House will likely take up legislation next week that will expand Governor Snyder’s failed takeover district, spreading it across the state. Please contact your legislators and tell them they must NOT expand the EAA. It is a failed experiment on our state’s most vulnerable students and the experiment must end. You can contact your state Representative HERE and your state Senator HERE.

Can you tell me why you’ve reached out to me?

Basically, I just want to say that everything that these other teachers have been saying on your blog, they’re true. Some of the things they were saying about other EAA teachers, that happened to me. Those things are true.

Can you give me some specific examples.?

Yes, I can. For example, the BUZZ program. The BUZZ program does not work. I had 43 students in my classroom the first year…

All by yourself?

By myself. And, with the 43 students, I didn’t have enough computers. Just like other teachers have stated. There were not enough computers. And half the time the computers would freeze up or the internet would crash.

I really feel sorry for the Teach for America teachers because they had been put into an environment that they really were not prepared for. It was like throwing an inexperienced lion trainer into a cage full of lions. But, at the same time, if the EAA really wanted to help students, these so-called disadvantaged students or at-risk students, if they really cared about them, they would have brought in professional veterans like me; teachers who had been proven and in their career for quite a while, who knew what they were doing. That would have made sense.

It’s true that everything is based on the performance series testing, but at the same time how can you give students higher learning, critical thinking skills — they want them to do that — but not teach them the basics? But they wanted us to keep pushing and keep testing them. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work.

I got very frustrated because they kept asking me to use this Student Centered Learning (SCL) model and I knew it wasn’t working. I knew it wasn’t helping the children. So, I did what one of the other teachers in your articles did. I just ignored what the EAA administrators said and started doing the traditional things that I knew from years of experience work for children.

It’s true that they didn’t have any curriculum. No textbooks. A lot of times we didn’t have just basic supplies. So, I would go out of my own pocket and do what knew what I had to do. I had a lot of materials of my own from over the years and I would bring them in and supplement when the EAA was not giving me the materials that I needed. What they wanted me to do was put the kids on the computer and let them teach themselves. And half the time the computer program didn’t even work!

That’s the thing that blows my mind the most, that they designed the whole thing around computers and then didn’t give you guys enough to teach the kids with!

I’m speaking out because I feel for the children. And, you can quote me on this: This reminds me of the Tuskegee Experiment.

I told my wife the same thing the other night. I totally agree. These kids are guinea pigs.

They’re guinea pigs at the expense of businessmen fattening their pockets. I believe our governor has made a deal with the devil! That’s the way I feel as an educator and I think they’re robbing funds from public education. I think this is a conspiracy. Why is this only happening where there are large populations of African Americans or Hispanics? Why is this only happening there?

People who have no political power at all. They are completely powerless to fight it.


Here’s another thing: school systems across the country, they start usually in the fall. I started teaching at the 4th and 5th grade level this past fall. The previous year I had taught a lower grade level. Then they moved me to 4th and 5th grade at the beginning of the school year. Then, after being with these students for four weeks, a month, they moved me to the 6th grade. Then I was with the 6th graders for another five weeks. Then guess what? After five weeks, they moved me back to another set of students. Brand new 4th and 5th graders. This all happened within a three month period So that means that these students had seen three different teachers before Christmas. Are you following me?

You don’t DO that because now these students have to get used to a whole new set of classroom procedures and rules. They have to get acquainted with a new teacher. It causes instability for the students and the learning process. That’s not good. A veteran principal would not have made that kind of mistake. They would know that that would be damaging to the children to have three different teachers in a three month period.

Why would they do that? What was the reason they did that?

I don’t know. That’s a good question. It didn’t make any sense to me. I do know this: the class size was heavy in each class that I had. I had over 40 students in my classroom. It was ridiculous.

Do you think they were having trouble filling these spots so they were taking the veteran teacher and moving him around to where they needed him most and so you were just getting moved around like a chess piece?

Yes. I think they knew because of my experience that I could handle it versus one of the Teach for America teachers. They probably thought because I was a male, “Well, he can handle it. He’s got experience. He can handle it. So the transition was not as great for me compared to a first year teacher or a Teach for America teacher.

But, it doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran or not. Research shows all across the country that a small class size means more academic achievement.

That’s the thing that bothers me the most about this situation. This school district was supposed to be like this military “surge” of new technologies and new teaching techniques to turn these schools around right away. But then they base it on a computer model and don’t give you enough computers. And they staff the schools with people half of whom who have never taught before and, with people like youwho actually have some experience, you’re not allowed to use your experience in any tangible way. They move you around like a chess piece but you can’t teach the kids. It doesn’t seem to me like it was set up to succeed. It seems like it was designed to fail.

One of the other EAA teachers in your articles, they talked about how they began to target you if you’re not on board with what they’re saying. You become a target. That happened to me. When I read these blogs you put out, it was like, “These people are saying the same things that I went through!” They were going through some the same things. And I think it’s crazy.

One of the teachers I spoke with said that if the administrators saw teachers becoming friends or spending a lot of time together, they would do things to prevent that, to kind of break them up. Did you see that? Where they were sort of trying to keep teachers from working together?

I saw that last school year as well as this school year. Maybe you just answered your own question; the one you asked me earlier about why they moved me around so much. Maybe that’s one of the reasons. Because I began to speak out and they knew I was speaking out.

I have a Master of Arts in teaching. It’s easier for people like me to go on, to move on and find another job whereas the Teach for America teachers, they’re locked in.

Because I come from school systems where there was a union, it was hard for me not to be vocal. When I got into this, I thought, “Well here’s a new system. Let me try this and see if it works.” But once I got in, my conscience wouldn’t let me go on. I began to realize that they were doing these kids a disservice. These kids are being used; they’re being treated like pawns. Like I said, it’s an experiment. The software doesn’t work properly, it’s inadequate. Someone in one of your articles mentioned IT. They didn’t even have IT staff in the building. They don’t have one in my building. They did last year but not this year. They left.

So, everything these other teachers have been saying, I just thought, “This is so true. So, let me call this guy and let him know that I’m another teacher who can bear witness to all of that!”

Why won’t you go public even though you’re not working there any more? I’m curious about that. You’re not the first one and I’m not criticizing you for it. I’m just curious about why you’re worried.

It’s like one of the other teachers said, they might go after you, slander you or say this is slander. They might legally come after me. Something like that. They might try to use some kind of retaliation against me in my current job, try to attack my character.

That’s what I’m getting at right there, that they have created a situation where everybody who works there is afraid that they will have retribution exacted upon them if they don’t keep quiet about everything. They’re afraid of that.

I agree with that. I’m tempted to come out. I’m so angry about the disadvantages that these kids are experiencing.

It breaks my heart.

It breaks YOUR heart? How do you think these teachers feel when they see what’s going on? That’s why I had to leave. And not only because of that. My conscience, my moral conscience kept saying, “Why am I here? You’re just as bad as them because you’re remaining here in this mess.” It’s just despicable. It’s asinine. It’s crazy. It’s craziness that these kids are being exposed to.

Here’s another thing: when I got to school in the fall, three teachers had already left. That was just the first month and half of the school year in 2012.

Discipline is out of control. In the EAA schools they don’t know what the heck they are doing. No curriculum. No textbooks. It’s just not working. And that’s why I had to leave. I’m so thankful that I’m back in a traditional school system. My principal loves me, I’m doing great. I’m happy to be back in a traditional school.

I am really glad to hear that. A couple of the teachers from TFA that I spoke to, these are young people, in their 20s. But they really care about these kids and they feel guilty about thinking about leaving at the end of this year. And I told them, I said, “If you stay, you’re just continuing to support this fucked up system that’s actually doing more harm than good for these kids.


And, in the long term, for these kids, the best thing you can do is to tell them to take this job and shove it!

That’s basically what I did. I walked into the principal’s office and I said, “You know, look, here’s your laptop, here’s your iPad, here’s all your toys and bells and whistles. I’m out of here.” I couldn’t take it anymore. I just could not take it any longer.