Education — March 21, 2014 at 9:29 am

EAA bill now goes back to the Senate so our work is not done + impressions on yesterday’s vote


The fight continues

Yesterday’s narrow passage of the legislation that will expand the failed Education Achievement Authority experiment statewide was a blow to those of us who rely on data and facts to inform our decisions. With the help of two supposed progressives from Detroit, Representatives John Olumba and Harvey Santana, the bill passed by only two votes. THEIR votes.

However, the fight is not over. The legislation now goes back to the state Senate where I’m told there’s a good chance they won’t pass with changes since the House significantly altered it from the previously-passed Senate version. This gives opponents more opportunities to shine a light on the colossal failure that the EAA represents, a system run by a man who left Missouri to come to Michigan only to see the Kansas City school district he previously headed up lose its accreditation shortly after his departure.

So we fight on. As Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton put it, “We will not back down. We will not be silenced. We will bear witness. Because we have no other choice. And because the stakes are far too high.”

You can watch her eloquent floor speech yesterday here:

Other Democrats gave equally impressive speeches which I hope will be posted in the coming days. I’m also hoping that Rep. Harvey Santana’s lengthy diatribe is posted so that all of those who fight for Detroit’s children can see how he diminished, denigrated, and insulted them and their work with his remarks. Suggesting that people like warrior activist Helen Moore who has been on the forefront of this battle for years are politically motivated and fighting for the status quo is an astonishing insult that needs to be heard far and wide. Santana could have cast his vote with the Republicans (all but five, that is) and been done with it but, instead, he got up and publicly displayed contempt and disrespect for those who have been champions for real education reform.

The EAA was untested and unproven before it was beta tested on Detroit’s children. Now that the experiment has been underway for a year and a half, the data is clear: it is a failure, not the “exciting” and “innovative” teaching model Rep. Santana characterizes it as. New and different can be better. In this case, the data clearly shows that it is worse.

During the debate on the bill, House Democrats introduced something like a dozen amendments to increase transparency and accountability and to help ensure that expanding the EAA is done in the least harmful way possible. Each time the amendment came up, the acting Speaker said, “The clerk will open the board [for voting]” and then one second later, with no votes cast or recorded, he smacked down his gavel and said, “the amendment is not passed”. It was a disgusting display of raw Republican power to do away with the rules of the House and to deny the constituents of the Democratic House members a voice in their legislature. It’s un-American afront to democracy.

Here are some reactions to yesterday’s vote by various groups and individuals around the state:

State House Representative Gretchen Driskell (MI-52):

The fact that schools struggle doesn’t come solely from who runs them, it comes from lack of resources. We’re not going to see at-risk schools improve until we do something to properly address the funding issue. The EAA has access to public and private dollars, spending on average $17,000 per student, and still has students going backwards in testing results.

There is no accountability to the parents in the schools that will be impacted by this legislation. How unreasonable is it to require monthly school board meetings in the district? Parents and students deserve better.

Given the poor results we’ve seen so far, I think it’s wrong for us to push more schools into this takeover model. We have offered bills that would help turn schools around before they fail, and that’s the legislation we should have discussed today.

I can’t vote for a bill that has no local control or accountability on our students and taxpayers’ behalf. I will support real reforms to make sure Michigan students get the world-class education they need to thrive.

American Federation of Teachers—Michigan President David Hecker:

Today the Republican-led House voted to expand Gov. Snyder’s Education Achievement Authority school district. This is the wrong move for the education of Michigan’s children. In fact, a report published on March 2 by Wayne State University professor Thomas Pedroni, director of the Detroit Data and Democracy Project, shows students may actually be regressing in the EAA.

Why would we want to expand such a massive education reform failure like the EAA, where one quarter of the student population left the district in the first year? The EAA has no proven track record of success, only one shrouded in secrecy and failure.

House Democratic Leader Tim Griemel:

Locally run public schools are the bedrock of Michigan communities. This bill removes this cornerstone and hands schools over to corporations looking to make a quick buck off our kids. Beyond that, it doesn’t solve the underlying problem of funding cuts and has no standards for student performance. This is bad policy, plain and simple.

Detroit House Rep. Thomas Stallworth:

Every other school district in Michigan has a democratically elected board and a superintendent accountable to the public. The EAA has neither. It’s a travesty that those taking over struggling schools insist that they operate behind closed doors. What better indicator of failure is there than refusing to be accountable to the people you claim to help.

Democratic Vice Chair of the House Education Committee member Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton:

This bill has no exit strategy in place and doesn’t solve the underlying problem. Since Republicans took control of state government in 2011, $3 billion has been diverted away from schools. We need to do a better job of stepping in and helping schools before they fail, and we have legislation that would do just that.

Grand Rapids House Rep. Brandon Dillon:

The Republican governor claims to want to operate on data and metrics, but Rep. Lipton and I introduced data-driven solutions to improve education that haven’t gotten so much as a hearing. Meanwhile, his fellow Republicans continue on this failed course. This has never been about turning schools around. This is about handing public schools over to private entities so they can profit off our kids. It’s unconscionable.

East Lansing House Rep. Sam Singh:

Governor Snyder has run this experiment for the past year and the results are very troubling. Nothing so far suggests the EAA should be expanded. The majority of students have failed to make progress towards proficiency, some students even lost ground. Additionally, the 24% decline in student enrollment, reports of teacher turn-over rates and financial instability all point to the need to rein in this experiment. Our schools need to be a place where students receive a quality education. We cannot ignore these alarming test results for the sake of pushing a political agenda.

Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan:

The governor and conservative legislature have once again shown that kids and communities are not their priority. The EAA is a failed experiment by every measure, but the governor and his cronies in the legislature only care about making their wealthy donors happy and destroying the public education system in their push to promote the for-profit education model.

[CC photo credit: Kyle J. Schultz | Flickr]