Education Achievement Authority

Michigan Public Education in Shambles

It’s no surprise that money troubles and transparency issues are the result stripping public education of the accountability found in democratically elected school boards. Detroit Public Schools and the Education Achievement Authority both operate under state appointed individuals that shift millions in loans back and forth without disclosure of the transactions.

Democratic Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton paid $2642.05 to file a Freedom of Information Act request for documents that revealed the movement of funds between the two bodies.

The Detroit Free Press reports that cash-strapped DPS have twice loaned the EAA $6 million dollars this school year. EAA Chancellor, John Covington, has been openly begging for money above and beyond the per pupil foundation grants it’s taken from DPS when the EAA was formed out of the 15 lowest performing schools in the district.

Covington is desperate for the Senate to pass legislation to match that passed by the House last month to codify the EAA as an official school district. In his end-of-the-year newsletter he told staff the following:

“…I am fully aware that there is much concern relative to whether there is sufficient support for the Education Achievement Authority and the work we are doing. We were all disappointed that the EAA was not codified as a statewide system of schools during the lame-duck session of the Michigan State Legislature, and the we did not make the final list of awardees for the Race to the Top funding by the United States Department of Education.”

The EAA is troubled by more than funding problems. Lawmakers are concerned about an increase in violence in those schools since they left DPS and are calling for more training of security officers. Sen. Coleman Young II (D) told The Detroit News that “officers have told him they lack basic training in CPR, experience high turnover and get little support from Prudential Protective Service, the company hired to provide security officers at the 15 EAA schools.”

The district produced abominable scores on their MEAPS last Fall, and Sen. Bert Johnson(D) reports that the EAA teachers are ill-trained, student abuse is occuring, and special needs students are being handled improperly:

• Rather than putting experienced teachers in these “under-performing schools,” roughly two-thirds are Teach for America students — who get five weeks of “teacher training” the summer before they are assigned, with no other certification required.

• At Pershing High School, a dozen TFA students walked off the job, and I have received reports of several who have broken down in staff meetings, unable to handle the rigors of teaching. In some cases, athletic department staff are teaching students.

• Reports of student abuse, including a child whose mouth was taped shut for being too talkative.

• Abuse of special needs students, including unilateral changes to Individualized Education Plans without input from parents, therapists and counselors. This is illegal.”

DPS fares little better in meeting special needs requirements.  After all the budget-cutting, school closings, charter conversions, and EAA stripping of funds — the most vulnerable students are being left in dire straights. Special needs students in DPS are becoming a larger and larger portion of the school population. The statewide average is 12 percent, but DPS is struggling to serve 18 percent — that’s 9,000 students – all while under the cruel austerity measures of emergency management. Their class sizes have doubled, yet among the expanded charter schools, only 10 percent serve special needs kids.

Michigan’s kids deserve better than this. Much better.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

Michigan Lawmakers Offer Opposing Opinions on EAA

Michigan Lawmakers Offer Opposing Opinions on EAA

Rep. Lisa Posthumus-Lyons recently editorialized on her qualifications for the position as the chair of the House Education Committee. The 32 year old farmer’s daughter didn’t cite her scant real estate background, nor her degree in agriculture, or even the closest she’s come to “leadership” in public education — her position as point guard on her high school basketball team.

Nope, the one shining skill Lyons boasted she brings to the job is her ability to successfully breed. Lyons postulated that as a mother of four children she has “a great interest in public education and an immense passion for the kids in our schools”. No doubt, she is a fine and loving parent, and most certainly cares deeply about all aspects of her offspring’s well-being — like, say, their dental health, but parental devotion alone does not imbue her with any special insights into orthodontia — nor does it to education policy.

Democracy Tree lauds her ability to replicate — but, not so much her knowledge of public education.

Take her pet project, the Education Achievement Authority, which is little more than a naked power-grab of the poorest performing schools in the state, which by-and-large will continue to be from Detroit Public Schools — a district that has fared poorly under ongoing emergency management with no end in sight. The EAA was the brainchild of the current DPS Emergency Manager, Roy Roberts. The scheme was sold to lawmakers as a compassionate helping-hand for those under-achieving schools. It is not lost on critics of the plan that this is a way to enhance the DPS measured performance, simply by cutting its “dead weight”. These schools are taken-over by force, by an unelected, state-appointed chancellor, who enjoys authority similar to an Emergency Manager, and in spite of Lyons’ mewing protestations that this is not a privatization scheme, claiming the schools will still technically be run by the state, the Chancellor has sweeping powers to privatize each school by component — teachers, staff, food service, transportation, and online learning. It’s like that old joke: here’s the axe that was used to chop down the cherry tree,…of course the handle had to be replaced,…and so did the head…but, intrinsically speaking, it occupies the same space.

The EAA is not yet codified into law, although the Michigan House passed its new 2013 version (HB 4369) last month. Currently there are 15 schools from DPS which have been under the pro tem authority of Chancellor John Covington.  He is discovering that funding issues are at the core of the problems these schools face, and has been begging for money in excess of what the state would allow for comparable schools.

Lyons concluded her defense of the EAA with a declaration of its (relative) success:

“Opponents say that since the EAA has only been operational since September, there isn’t enough data to prove its success and that we should wait. The facts are clear: student attendance and parental involvement have increased dramatically under the EAA.”

Well, actually Lisa, there is some data — but you failed to mention it. The MEAP database for the Education Achievement System – EAS, (the proper name of the “school district”) is scandalous. Sure, it’s early in the process, but it’s certainly not showing even a tiny bit of improvement. Their proficiency levels are as follows:

  • 3rd Grade proficiency in math is o.9 %, and reading 15.5 %
  • 4th Grade math is 2.1%, reading 11.8%, and writing 4.9%
  • 5th Grade math is 5.6%, reading 27.1%, and science 0%
  • 6th Grade math is 0.3%, reading 23.3%, and social studies 0.3%
  • 7th Grade math is 4.3%, reading 17.9%, and writing 7.5%
  • 8th Grade math is 0.5%, reading 21.6%, and science 0%
  • 9th Grade social studies 0.7%

Senator Bert Johnson, who represents the Detroit area, also recently penned an editorial on the EAA. It’s clear he doesn’t want Lyons calling the plays in his district. Unlike the Lyon’s piece, Johnson provides thoughtful content, with four pages of facts and figures. Here’s an excerpt:

“Because several EAA schools are in my district — and all of them are in my hometown — I’ve visited them multiple times and not on sanctioned dog-and-pony shows set up through Gov. Snyder and his appointee, the EAA chancellor. Here’s a brief look at the day-to-day realities of the EAA:

• Rather than putting experienced teachers in these “under-performing schools,” roughly two-thirds are Teach for America students — who get five weeks of “teacher training” the summer before they are assigned, with no other certification required.

• At Pershing High School, a dozen TFA students walked off the job, and I have received reports of several who have broken down in staff meetings, unable to handle the rigors of teaching. In some cases, athletic department staff are teaching students.

• Reports of student abuse, including a child whose mouth was taped shut for being too talkative.

• Abuse of special needs students, including unilateral changes to Individualized Education Plans without input from parents, therapists and counselors. This is illegal.”

In the mean time, the Michigan Senate remains poised to pass their version of the EAA.

What do you think the chances are that Ms. Lyons would consider sending her four children to an EAA school? Not drinkin’ the water….is my guess.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

DPS — The Incredible Shrinking School District

It’s reality check time for Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts. In  a recent correspondence with his staff, he all but admits that the Emergency Management scheme is seriously flawed. Referencing the free-fall in student enrollment as seriously problematic, he tells employees the following:

…the reality remains that if we continue to lose students the district will have no choice but to continue to shrink. I know that this is not what any of us wants to see happen. My goal is for all of us to work together to grow the district.” images[3]

Projections through 2016 predict the loss of over 1000 jobs, a $180 million dollar drop in the per pupil foundation grant, the closing of up to 28 more schools, and the current school population to shrink from 50,000 to 38,400 — less than half of the over 100,000 prior to Emergency Management. This enrollment decline did not occur in a vacuum — it happened under the watch of two unelected Emergency Managers, with unchecked absolute authority, who have run roughshod over the financially stressed district since 2009. They wielded brutal cut-back management fiscal policies, borrowed from the corporate world, leaving the district under-staffed and unable to manage class sizes.

Under the Snyder administration things got worse — much worse. With the governor’s blessing, Roberts launched the Education Achievement Authority so he could cut the academic dead-weight of the district’s 15 lowest achieving schools. The EAA is projected to absorb up to 60 new schools statewide, with many of them coming from DPS.

But, the straw that broke the district’s back is the recent expansion of brick and mortar charter and charter cyber schools — for-profit operations that see students as dollar signs. They have proliferated in the beleaguered Detroit area under the anti-public education policies of the governor. Snyder has systematically dismantled DPS like a true corporate raider.

Is this his idea of success?

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

Michigan Students — Prepare to be Assimilated

DSCF01825-300x266[1]As the Education Achievement Authority awaits its much anticipated legislative knighthood — codifying the institution through protection found in Michigan Compiled Law, they still want more money.

Currently comprised of 15 former Detroit Public Schools, the EAA is already in receipt of an additional $5.8M from the state, atop the $7,190 per pupil foundation grant that followed the 8,824 students. The new, soon to be, statewide district only captured about $6M in Title I funds, leaving the bulk of the $24.7M behind in a one-year deal with DPS. Next year, they’ll take the mother-lode.

They now clamour for another $2M, in the form of an advance on state aid money, to purchase computer equipment for online learning. Which on the surface sounds fine enough — technology is an important part of our lives. Last year, as the Snyder Administration stood poised to roll-out plans for broad expansions of both charter and cyber school programs, my friend Brit Satchwell, President of the Ann Arbor Education Association, explained to me that some online learning was a good thing, but only as a supplement to real classroom instruction.

The EAA plans to grow by leaps and bounds, as revealed in their recent grant application, they are projected to become the largest school district in the state — with a budget to show for it. A cash cow for eager corporate vampires with their well-honed privatization sales pitches and the full approval of Snyder under his “best practices” for schools — urging (insert air-quotes) districts to privatize wherever they can as a condition of receiving state funding.

Rolfe Timmerman, Superintendent of Saugatuck Public Schools, believes that Snyder has cooked the books in evaluating school performance by manipulating college readiness through creative interpretation of ACT scores. Timmerman says “Gov. Snyder and our Legislature have a vision to reinvent public education in Michigan through expansion of the Education Achievement Authority, eliminating the cap on for-profit charter and cyber schools, and the really frightening education finance rewrite project.”

The EAA is ostensibly meant to aid academically under-achieving schools through various innovations — among them, cyber learning. The sales pitch is the flexibility of learning at one’s own pace, the reality is something else entirely.

Too much online learning leads to an increased academic slump, with full-time cyber learning being an educational train wreck.

Dr. Michael Barbour, a recognized cyber school expert testified last year before the Michigan House Education Committee on the topic. He was very clear in expressing his concerns about the deleterious effects of excessive cyber schooling. Barbour said “On average, there is a decrease in the percentage of students achieving proficiency the longer they are enrolled in full-time online learning.”  Cyber schools often make the claim that they enroll more students that lag academically as their excuse for lower scores, but it is apparent that online learning exacerbates the existing problem. Additionally cyber schools do not have the tools to address, one-on-one, individual learning deficiencies.

Barbour cites an extensive and disturbing survey of 10,500 students in Colorado where they found that cyber schools are so bad that they have three times as many drop-outs as they do actual graduates. The study focused on the top cyber schools. Only 27% of cyber students met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Cyber Schools are a virtual, pardon the pun, invitation for corruption. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, where lawmakers opened the door for cyber school expansion, both states experienced a flurry of court cases involving cyber school fraud. The schools where falsifying enrollment reports to receive funding for non-existent students– education tax dollars which went directly into the pockets of the same greedy millionaires that fund cyber school lobbyists and their political action committee, Digital Learning Now, headed by former governor Jeb Bush.

Enter the dragon…

Michael Milken, junk bond dealer, ex-con — you know the guy.  He’s interested in educating our precious children. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say he is interested in profiting off the tax dollars we pay to educate our precious children.

Milken is a primary investor in K12 Inc. an online school, and a very profitable one at that. It is the leading cyber scheme in a growing market of for-profit “schools” preying on state legislatures through heavy lobbying to open up their coffers for corporate pillaging in the name of school choice.

K12 currently has 81,000 students in 27 states, including at least one school in Michigan, with more to come in the works, as his company advertises their wares to unsuspecting families.  K12’s net profits in 2011 alone topped $21.5 million, while it’s CEO, Ron Packard, bagged a cool $5 million in 2010. That’s money going into the pockets of the rich at the expense of our children. Money that formerly went towards actual face-to-face education with real teachers earning on average 1% of Packard’s salary.

It’s not difficult to imagine why these profiteers think this is a real sweet gig.  National estimates of net profit in cyber schools range from $2,000 to $3,000 per child each year. Couple that with the fact that accountability in these corporate-owned schools is nearly non-existent, both in performance evaluation and in the disclosure of operating costs and profit margins.  In fact, we know very little about their budgets, but we do know a thing or two about their legally required student achievement measurements.

Cyber schools would just love to get a foot in the door of the EAA, capitalizing on their “innovation” business model.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

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Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority — NOT Fiscally Responsible

How Michigan’s EAA Chancellor Covington can’t stay on budget:

The double-standard imposed on Detroit Public Schools by the Snyder Administration is the height of hypocrisy.

DPS was taken-over by an Emergency Manager with the claim that their $500 million dollar long-term debt was the result of fiscal irresponsibility of the elected school board and administration. The rationale was that bringing in a strong business leader to shore-up the balance sheet was just the remedy for years of supposed poor leadership. Starting with Robert Bobb in 2009, and now under former GM executive, Roy Roberts, Detroit students daily suffer the consequences of their misguided corporate tactics.

Under their leadership, the district has been subjected to brutal cut-back management practices typically found in the private sector for the purpose of “turning-around” a troubled company — which is code for: parting-it out like an old Buick. First cannibalized by the fire-sale of school assets, and more recently balkanized through the establishment of the Education Achievement Authority under Roberts, Detroit schools continue in a fiscal death spiral with little hope in sight. This new separate district, the EAA, was set-up to better “serve” the unique needs of under-achieving schools in DPS, with the intention of expanding the program statewide to capture the bottom 5 percent of academically stressed schools– along with their meager per pupil foundation grants.

Under Chancellor John Covington, the EAA currently runs 15 schools from DPS, but is under pressure to rapidly expand that number to include 60 schools statewide . A lot of money rides on their ability to grow the EAA to become what is projected to be the largest school district in the state with approximately 46,000 students — under the leadership of one un-elected official using non-union, under-compensated staff, operating day-to-day with shaky job security at best.

What’s the rush? More →

Open Letter to Michigan Governor Snyder

Dear Mr. Snyder,

How dare you? I watched your press conference after the signing of Right to Work for Less legislation the other day. How dare you stand before the cameras and tell such bold faced lies? How dare you claim to be a friend of labor unions? How dare you claim to be pro-worker? How dare you claim that there has been ample discussion on the matter of RTWFL? Your GOP legislators are in the habit of deleting opposing posts on their Facebook pages and banning users who disagree with them. How is that ample discussion? Your GOP legislators frequently refused to see citizens during office hours to discuss RTWFL. How is that ample discussion? Your GOP legislators have had their staff hang up on people who were telephoning to voice their opinions on RTWFL legislation. How is that ample discussion? Your GOP legislators have had people removed bodily from Town Hall meetings for voicing an opposing opinion on RTWFL. How is that ample discussion? Your GOP legislators filled the gallery with members of their staff in order to keep citizens out of the chamber while they were voting on RTWFL. How is that ample discussion? That is not ample discussion – that is called “Cram it down our throats bullying” – and you are as guilty of that as your GOP legislators. That’s all on you – you own that.

Are you vying to be? Congratulations, because I believe you may have actually unseated John Engler for that title when you signed the Right for Work For Less More →