Detroit, Education — January 5, 2015 at 12:39 pm

UPDATE: Education Achievement Authority seeks to expand itself by authorizing new charter schools


This post has been updated below.

Last month, Governor Snyder announced that he was forming a 31-person coalition to present alternatives for education reform in Detroit. The coalition, called the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, is a made up of representatives from public schools, the school reform community (many who are actively working to undermine traditional public schools), education activists, elected officials, teachers unions, and corporations. You can read the full list HERE.

However, before this group has even had its first meeting, the Education Achievement Authority has put out a Request for Proposal for new “turnaround school” and charter school operators to open new schools in the fall. From the RFP:

The Education Achievement Authority of Michigan (EAA) is a school district that is providing a new direction for the education of students. The EAA currently oversees 15 schools in Detroit, including nine elementary/middle schools (three of which are currently charter schools) and six high schools.

The EAA is seeking information from turnaround and new school charter operators interested in taking an active role in providing a new direction for the education of children. The following request for proposal (RFP) provides further details of this request and instructions for providers interested in responding.

1.1 Purpose of request for proposal (RFP)
The EAA is in the process of gathering information from proven charter operators who are interested in serving as turnaround or new school start-up partners. This invitation is intended for individuals, groups, educational service providers (ESPs), and charter management organizations (CMOs) interested in being considered to contract with the EAA to charter a public school academy/academies. For the purpose of this RFP, these groups/individuals will be referred to as “operators” and “public school academies will be referred to as “charters.” The EAA will engage in a process of reviewing proposals submitted by potential operators, engaging community stakeholders, selecting high quality operators and matching those operators with schools in need of a turnaround/start-up strategy.

It’s a puzzling move given that the Coalition being formed is tasked with providing leadership on fixing the intractable problems that have plagued Detroit Public Schools for decades. The EAA has been shown to be a colossal failure with many students actually regressing rather than progressing in critical academic areas.

The tracking of those [EAA] students shows us, convincingly, that the majority of EAA students failed to demonstrate even marginal progress toward proficiency on the State’s MEAP exams in math and reading. Among students testing this year who did not demonstrate proficiency on the MEAP math exam last year, 78.3% showed either no progress toward proficiency (44.1%) or actual declines (34.2%). In reading, 58.5% showed either no progress toward proficiency (27.3%) or actual declines (31.2%).

The portrait is even grimmer for the small number of students who had entered the EAA already demonstrating proficiency on the MEAP.

During the 2013 administration of the MEAP math test, there were a total of only 56 test-takers who had scored proficient the year before. Of those 56 students, only 10 stayed at the same level of proficiency or improved. That means that 46 of those 56 previously proficient students actually declined—became less proficient. 26 of those 56 had what the MDE terms significant declines. Another way of saying this is that of those 2013 test takers who had scored proficient the year before, 82.1% declined in proficiency in just one year with the EAA. Only 7.1% increased in proficiency, while 10.7 percent stayed the same.

In fact, only 19 of the 56 students who tested as proficient in math in 2012 remain proficient now. 37 children — two thirds of those previously proficient — have gone far enough the wrong way on the tested curriculum to no longer be considered proficient. Among the students who entered the EAA already proficient in reading, 37% are now no longer proficient.

This analysis by Wayne State University Professor Thomas Pedroni show that the claims of huge gains by EAA students based on their own internal testing are questionable at best and outright lies at worst.

I have suggested in the past that the EAA is a model that was intentionally designed to fail. Here is what I wrote last January:

When you look at what the EAA should be like and what the reality is, you have to ask yourself why the program seems intentionally designed to fail? Why are proponents so quick to defend something that is failing students? What are their motivations?

It would easy to think that these people are simply misguided and don’t know any better. That, in their sincere desire to make things better, they are grasping at what looks like a good idea without ensuring that it is actually working and actually improving the lives of these students.

A more cynical view, however, is that those pushing this failed educational model actually want it to fail. As outrageous as that sounds, it’s hard not to believe it when otherwise intelligent people defend it so vociferously and want to expand it to even more schools. These are most often the same people who are pushing for more and more charter schools in our state, charter schools that are mostly run by for-profit companies that enrich themselves with tax dollars targeted toward educating our children.

The EAA model essentially assures teachers will not unionize to protect their interests collectively. Services are often privatized and resources like the computer model they use are purchased from for-profit companies. The entire model is, at its core, designed to minimize the role of the teacher — the human factor — and to maximize profit-making opportunities for corporations.

A year later, little has changed. There are still some clamoring for the EAA to be codified in our state constitution and expanded statewide despite its demonstrable failures. Though Republicans in the legislature failed at that attempt last year, the EAA appears to be working to expand its reach anyway by chartering additional schools for 2015.

What’s truly stunning to me is that an organization like the Education Achievement Authority that has failed time and again to prove that it is improving academic outcomes for Detroit students remains on the official state government list of charter school authorizers. Based on the EAA’s failures over the past two and half years, not only should it NOT be authorizing and overseeing new schools, it should be shut down entirely.

One more thing: Last August, State Superintendent Mike Flanagan had included the EAA on his list of 11 charter school authorizers at risk of losing their ability to authorize new charters. However, three weeks ago, he quietly shelved that idea saying he was no longer planning to take action against the 11 authorizers. Therefore, as a state-sanctioned charter school authorizer, even one that is considered “at risk” of losing that designation, the EAA is free to proceed and there appears to be nothing that can be done to stop them.

UPDATE: The Detroit Free Press made inquiries with the EAA to see if they are simply recruiting for new charter school operators for the three charters they currently run or if it is for an expansion. Neither the EAA’s spokesperson nor a member of the EAA board would answer the question:

EAA officials would not say directly Tuesday whether the district is planning to convert some of its non-charters into charters, replace Performance Academies with a new operator or attempt to add brand-new charters.

When asked about the request for proposals, EAA spokesman Mario Morrow noted that the charter contract that allows the three schools to operate expires in June.

“We’ve had a lot of inquiries,” Morrow said. “We put out the RFPs (requests for proposals) to get some competitive operators to show us what they’ve got. … We’re looking for the best operator.”

But Dr. Myrrha Satow, president of Performance Academies, said the company and the EAA have already been negotiating toward the charter renewal. And she said the three K-8 schools that Performance Academies runs — Murphy, Stewart, Trix — have consistently outperformed EAA direct-run schools on internal tests.

Joyce Hayes Giles, chairwoman of the EAA board, told the Free Press Tuesday that the district is “looking for better quality.”

When asked specifically whether the EAA is planning to expand by adding new charter schools, Giles said she couldn’t comment.

Typical EAA “transparency” in action.