Detroit, Teachers — June 9, 2015 at 2:03 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Education Achievement Authority (EAA) teachers hit back against unfair treatment and disrespect


I have two items of interest regarding Gov. Snyder’s failed experiment on Detroit students known as the Education Achievement Authority. The first is (not exclusive) news about EAA teacher Tiffani Eaton who was fired from her job for breaking up a fight using a broom handle last year. Once details of the event came out, including video, the public hue and cry was deafening. Even her boss, Pershing High School principal Gregory King, said, “She should never have been fired.”

Eaton was later offered her position back, an offer she declined.

She is now suing the EAA:

The eight-count federal complaint filed Friday in Detroit says Eaton-Davis was a victim of gender discrimination. Several male teachers who physically broke up fights were never disciplined, it says.

It also alleges that she faced discrimination for being black. A white female teacher once stopped a fight by putting a student in a headlock, and she didn’t get in trouble, the lawsuit says.

Eaton-Davis had been on the job for three months when the fight broke out. She said administrators didn’t warn her when she started about the “unusually high amount of fighting and violence” at Pershing.

“She was never provided an employee handbook and was untrained to handle violent disputes amongst gang members,” the lawsuit reads.

Among the other allegations: the district was too lax when it came to supervising employees and allowed dangerous students in the school against district guidelines.

One of the boys involved in the fight should not have been in school because he had been suspended over another matter, the complaint says. The district didn’t hold a hearing about it and put him back in class without telling Eaton-Davis about his prior misconduct, the lawsuit says.

Eaton-Davis used a walkie-talkie to call security when the fight broke out but said she got no response. She was concerned about the boys’ safety and used the broom as a last resort, the complaint says. Another student also tried to break up the fight before security guards eventually responded.

Godspeed to Ms. Eaton.

In other (exclusive) news, I have received a string of internal emails that show just how disrespected teachers in the EAA are. And how some of them are pushing back.

The chain of emails begins with an email from EAA Associate Chancellor David Donaldson explaining the process by which EAA teachers will be evaluated for the 2014-2015 year. There are five “Domains” under which the teachers are evaluated. Domain 1 is based entirely on student achievement and, according to Mr. Donaldson, “will be calculated centrally based on students’ performance on the Performance Series assessments”.

One teacher responded vigorously to this notification, pointing out that the goalposts had been moved for teachers and that the evaluation system is considerably different than the one laid out by former EAA Chancellor John Covington when he applied for the grant:

Good Afternoon Mr. Donaldson,
I am writing to you in regards to your declaration that “your evaluator will NOT assign you a rating for Domain 1, since that rating will be calculated centrally based on students’ performance on the Performance Series assessments.”

My concern is with the validity of using a single measure to assess student growth (Performance Series) as a opposed to using the multiple measures as laid out by Dr. John Covington in his application to the Department of Education (S374A120048 – Education Achievement Authority of Michigan). In this initial application, the EAA states:

“EAA set up the PEP performance evaluation system based on a teacher’s ability to teach effectively in the multi-facetted instructional environment. As part of the new performance evaluation structure, EAA staff used the SAS-EVASS Value-Added and Growth Models as the basis to develop the initial matrix used to the PEP performance-based system. The result is a new system, where all teachers receive rating in three categories directly as they relate to the seven major components. They include: 1) Student Academic Growth, which is based on student progress on Michigan required tests, chosen standardized tests and teacher-generated assessments.”

Based on your statement, the EAA has decided not to use these multiple measures described in the application to reach a rating in Domain 1. My question is, how valid can a single measure be to assess student growth in a demographic such as ours, with a multi-facetted approach to instruction?

In addition, you state that the Central Office will be responsible for assigning the rating for Domain 1, which indicates that you have also decided not to use the services of the SAS-EVAAS software system that has over 20 years of experience with providing school districts and educators vital information that can be used to make corrective decisions about our instructional policies.

What information can we gain from the use of a single measure like Scantron Performance Series? This single measure method can only evaluate a student’s movement on this very selective test, which is normed for a selective “national” population of students. “Best-practices” in the field of statistics report that multiple measures of quantitative traits can have greater precision and thus statistical power compared to single measure studies. Why then would we settle for this single measure? In my view, an evaluation system should be a catalyst to help teachers uncover, discover, and recover the gaps in student academic growth; it should not be used to name, blame, and shame, teachers who come into this very difficult field to make a positive change in the lives of children.

Finally, our chancellor promised us that change was coming, but that along with that change, we could expect transparency, what happened to that? It is evident that the district has moved in a different direction from that which was laid out for the 2012-2013 school year, but no one has informed the teachers. Again, I am requesting that you will come to the school and provide the feedback that we need to move forward with the district and its courageous mission of “ helping Michigan students who need it the most by disrupting traditional public schooling and creating new, individualized learning opportunities for every child.”

Another of the responses to Mr. Donaldson’s email was from an EAA teacher who asked, “Hope all is well. Question, these ratings have no bearing on last year’s TIF correct? Is it still true the district will disburse those funds on June 11th? Thanks for taking time to clarify.”

TIF stands for “Teacher Incentive Fund”. In 2012, the EAA received a $5.9 million grant to “help the state reform district provide incentives for great teaching and school leadership.”

According to information on the USDE web site, the grant will allow the EAA to institute a performance-based compensation system in its schools. The EAA runs 15 schools that were formerly part of Detroit Public Schools. The reform district is likely to include additional schools from outside DPS for the 2013-14 school year.

EAA Chancellor John Covington described the grant as a “wonderful opportunity” for the district.

“We’re really happy about the outcome and we think our teachers and students will be the beneficiaries of this great opportunity,” he said.

“Whether urban or rural, traditional or charter, successful schools are not possible without great teaching and leadership,” Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, said in a news release today. “Our best teachers and principals are invaluable leaders in changing life outcomes for students. They are desperately needed in our struggling schools, and they deserve to be recognized, rewarded, and given the opportunity to have a greater influence on their colleagues, students and in their communities.

Mr. Donaldson responded to the teacher saying that the TIF awards would NOT be distributed as promised:

That is correct. 13-14 and 14-15 are totally unrelated.

However, there will be no disbursement by June 11th. Please see the message below that I sent out to the TIF council recently:

TIF Council,

Good morning.

For those of you I haven’t had the opportunity to meet, my name is David Donaldson. I serve in a capacity supporting the Chancellor on her strategic priorities. As of last week, I was placed in charge of TIF.

It has been brought to my attention that there was a timeline distributed stating award notifications would be going out this week, and thus an appeals window would begin as well.

It is my understanding that the timeline was projected, and unfortunately we have some additional steps to take before we are able to release award notifications. At this time, I am unable to update the timeline, but will provide information for distribution once it is available.

I apologize for any frustration or confusion you may be experiencing. I look forward to ensuring our teachers feel appreciated and are rewarded for their hard work via TIF.

Please reach out to me with any comments or questions.

Thank you.

Teachers, who have been waiting for this token payout that is supposed to “incentivize” them for working in what is literally one of the most difficult teaching environments in the United States of America, were incensed at Donaldson’s response. One of them shared their “no holds barred” opinion in a response to his email. I am reprinting it here because it is epic.

Thank you for your rapid response.

This is extremely disappointing, especially for the teachers who are trying to remain with the EAA. America does not glorify the teaching profession, especially the urban teacher. We are abused from every angle, yet there is a remnant who continue to answer the call. We press every day toward the mark of the high calling.

This award, at minimal, is exactly as it is titled, an “incentive”. It says I have complied with district mandates to “prove” I teach. We are constantly bombarded with that “burden of proof” and quite honestly this process nurtures a culture of degradation and inferiority.

There are no words to describe how my experience as a math teacher has been negated and replaced with a word wall, pictures, and videos to validate my calling.

My students average over 50% gains, not because of the evidence that I have provided in my portfolio, but because of the God who has called me for such a time as this. And even now, we must again wait for the only tangible expression of gratitude to say we are appreciated.

Good teachers are hard to find, GREAT teachers are even harder to keep, especially in Detroit. We understand the instability of public education in Detroit. We follow the newspapers and watch it unfold on the job on a daily basis. The sad part of this war are the casualties; the students and those who make honest attempts to educate them. Our fate lies in the hands of those who often have no clue what it means to be called a bitch by a child on Monday and then have to love on that same child on Tuesday; for a gang of students to plot to beat you up on Wednesday and later watch God transform that same gang into your own personal security service on Thursday; to instill hope in a child through the power of an algebraic accomplishment on Friday, only for all to be forgotten on Monday. In sum, the way these awards are being handled is a clear indication that you only can NOT identify with what we experience, you clearly have no desire to demonstrate a respect for it.

As I descend from my soapbox, one last thing. Teachers are very aware of the poor implementation and execution issues of the EAA. Teachers are and will be fleeing at an alarming rate and I urge your administration to either do something to stop the bleeding or develop a dignified exit strategy that is truly student-centered.

The disrespect of teachers breaks my heart more than nearly any indignity that we suffer at the hands of our Republican government in Michigan. But the disrespect of teachers in the EAA, teachers who deserve our accolades and to be rewarded handsomely for their sacrifice, is the most heartbreaking of all. It’s a disgrace that they are treated the way they are considering the service to society that they provide.

This teacher has eloquently described the situation in personal, heartfelt words that should enrage us all. Please share them with others.

(NOTE: Neither of the teachers who penned the responses reposted here are the person who provided me with the string of emails that contain them.)