Education, Michigan Republicans — March 19, 2014 at 11:55 am

Public opinion against EAA expansion grows as Republicans modify bill to gain enough votes


I slipped out of the country for a few days’ vacation in Mexico this past week and was pleased to learn upon my return that the EAA expansion bill has not yet been passed. What I have heard is that the Republicans pushing this legislation are only one vote short or that they may, in fact, now have enough and that a vote on the bill will be held as soon as today.

I have had a look at the latest version of HB 4369 and was pleased to see that it has been modified in positive ways — a direct result of the pressure that has been put on legislators, particularly with regard to the Education Achievement Authority. The EAA itself is not mentioned in the bill. However, since it is the only option for the state school reform/redesign district (SSRRD) until February of next year, it is in the legislation indirectly. Recall that, although EAA chancellor John Covington says he supports there being other options for the SSRRD, he is unwilling to let the state of its contract with the EAA. So we must wait a year for the contract to end.

The bill now offers the right of first refusal to local intermediate school districts (ISDs) to take over struggling schools. This keeps control over these schools at a more local level and, although it was fought against hard by many Republicans, it was a condition some put on the sponsors of the bill for their support.

The latest version also has conditions for schools to leave the SSRRD: they must be off the list of the lowest achieving 5% of schools for four years. If they are, they are removed from the SSRRD and control of the schools returns to the local school boards.

The law also now requires that the body that takes over the school under the SSRRD be a public body subject to the Freedom of Information Act, the Open Meetings Act, and other applicable laws.

Finally, the most current version of the bill requires that decisions made regarding a school district’s status be made based on standardized testing results recognized by the state Department of Education, not some testing data chosen by the school. This, we have come to realize, is essential. The EAA is making claims about achievement improvements based on internal testing that are not supported by MEAP data, for example.

These are definitely improvements to the legislation and all of you who have contacted your state legislator have played a role in that.

Still, there is a groundswell of opposition against expanding the EAA. In the current issue of the Metro Times, the “News Hits” column takes a close look at Wayne State University professor Tom Pedroni’s analysis of EAA students’ MEAP scores and comes to this conclusion:

Even if the authority did have … a magic bullet, the Hits crew continues to mull a question we hope will cross the minds of some lawmakers this week: What’s the point of expanding a supposed reform district that, based on the state’s data, has yet to prove itself? If it’s truly about the students, at this point, we’re left to think otherwise.

An op-ed in the Battle Creek Enquirer also questions the move:

The EAA is not a successful pilot worthy of expansion. Regardless of how its supporters might spin it, the EAA can point to no irrefutable evidence of its effectiveness. Students in state-managed Detroit schools have lost, rather than gained, ground under EAA.

Republicans in the House are close to getting the support needed to send the bill to the Senate and onto Gov. Rick Snyder, who supports the legislation. We urge lawmakers supporting HB 4369 to reconsider and those in opposition to stand firm.

This morning, John Austin, president of the state Board of Education sent out this statement:

Don’t Pass EAA Legislation Without Options, Quality Control

I am very concerned over reports that the Michigan Legislature may vote to approve legislation, even today, around school turnaround strategy. Michigan very much needs a clear strategy that insists on change and intervention in schools that, despite our best efforts to assist them, are still failing young people.

To be effective, however, any school turnaround strategy needs to create a range of options — including traditional school districts, ISDs, effective charter schools, and other non-profit educational organizations; but with clear criteria for who is qualified to be effective at managing school turnaround efforts, set under the direction of the State Board of Education by our State Superintendent of Public Instruction and Michigan Department of Education. Under such criteria, the EAA and other educational entities could earn the ability to manage school turnaround efforts, if they demonstrate a record of performance.

I hope Republicans and Democrats alike will not support this legislation without changes to accomplish these goals, including Democratic Representative Harvey Santana, who rightly wants to vote for something, that insists on meaningful intervention in failing schools in Detroit.

But this legislation as it currently stands is not an effective school turnaround strategy, as it does not include quality assurance in who manages these efforts.

I reiterate the call, made on a bi-partisan basis by the State Board of Education, that legislation should empower a variety of educational entities and options to manage school turnaround efforts — including the Michigan Department of Education; but with clear criteria and performance standards that would have to be met by any entity before it would be eligible to manage a school. We are not there yet.

If you haven’t yet contacted your legislator, please do. Although this legislation is improved, the fact is that the EAA is still the only option for another year and passage of the bill is a de facto expansion of the EAA. The EAA should not only not be expanded, it should be recognized for the failed experiment on Detroit students that it is and dismantled, replaced by something that is proven to work and isn’t yet another way to siphon off tax money into the coffers of corporations who engage in “education for profit” and which destroy our invaluable public school system.

We need REAL solutions, not feel good solutions that don’t help our students and don’t represent true “achievement” on their behalf.

Finally, Ann Arbor high school students created this short video about the value of public education. It’s worth a look. They seem to get what so many of our Michigan legislators do not.