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Action alert: EAA bill suddenly alive again

Senate to ram through EAA bill - speak out now!
When it rains, it pours
MI Senate to push through bill codifying the EAA

Like a bad penny, the "EAA bill" keeps turning up. Fresh from their success in getting two poor pieces of policy approved by the House Education committee (bills to require a passing bubble test score in reading to advance to 4th grade, and to rate schools with letter grades based almost entirely on state test results), the Legislative leadership is now moving to bring HB 4369 on the EAA back to life. After being bottled up in the Senate for several months, we have learned that there will be a huge push to get this bill passed into law.

The Education Achievement Authority, or EAA, is charged with taking over and "improving" struggling schools. It has been operating 15 schools formerly part of Detroit Public Schools for a year and a half. At the moment, it exists solely as a joint venture between the board of Eastern Michigan Univ. and the Emergency Manager of DPS. HB 4369 would change this and make the EAA a permanent part of state government, under the control of the Governor.

As an experiment, the EAA has been pretty disappointing. Staff turnover has been huge. EAA schools lost almost 25% of their enrollment from last year to this. Hundreds of children who had received special education services were suddenly and suspiciously found not to need those (expensive) services. Discipline and student safety have remained hot issues. While EAA officials claim their test scores show huge growth, they use their own tests and no comparative MEAP results are available yet.

If that were not enough, the EAA's annual audit reported continued problems with their internal procedures to track spending. Analysis of documents extracted from the EAA under several FOIA requests show that EAA officials hardly blew their noses without checking first with officials of the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation, the group founded by billionaire Eli Broad to further the "corporate school reform" agenda. Most recently, the Dean of the EMU College of Education resigned from the EAA's board just last week.

But in my mind, the most disturbing thing is the sad comment of a student at EAA's Mumford High School: "I miss having books in our classroom," he said.

But why should all Michigan parents be concerned about the EAA? After all, it's only for those "failing" schools, right?

I think there are two important reasons.

  1. If you think this won't affect you, think again. Expanding the EAA is a central part of a larger effort to undermine local public schools, as we saw one year ago in the frenetic "lame duck" session.
  2. Most importantly, how can any of us stand by while state takeover, untested technology-driven "teaching" methods, and a laser-like focus on test scores are forced onto anybody's children?

Yes, the bill is much less bad than in its original form: the EAA is limited to taking over 50 schools (including the 15 it currently runs), and its authority to create new charter schools is also limited, though not removed. Strangely, they have insisted on allowing the EAA to charter brand new schools within a 2 mile radius of an EAA takeover school and in a district run by an emergency manager. But just because the proposal is less bad does not make it good law.

While they were more careful this time, and brought out a stripped down bill to expand the EAA, do not be fooled. They gave us a critical look into their strategy last year when proposals to create a powerful statewide EAA, many new kinds of charter schools, and an "a la carte" school funding system, were all in play at the same time. All those proposals were originally drafted by the same person: Richard McLellan, a long-time Lansing political operative who was the force behind the failed school voucher proposal in 2000. Those proposals are still there, just not out in the open. In fact, Mr. McLellan wrote a memo to House Education chair Rep. Lisa Lyons asking that she not reintroduce the "new forms of charters" bill, but instead try to accomplish the same aims in a piecemeal fashion. They are not giving up.

Why do we still oppose the bill?

  • There are still many provisions in the bill that have nothing to do with helping struggling schools, but put the EAA in a position to take over more schools and/or create new kinds of charter schools. This stuff doesn't belong.
  • The whole EAA approach is based on the notion that the way to help struggling schools is to take them over and toss out everyone who used to work there. There is no partnership with the local school district (which still has responsibility for other struggling schools), no voice offered to the community, and no role offered to those who have been working in that school and with the children in it. This is not the way to create successful, long term change.
  • The EAA's technology-driven curriculum, which depends on an online system to deliver "leveled" content to each student, is at best an experiment; EAA officials admitted as much during testimony. There are rules for experiments, none of which this bill follows - most importantly, there needs to be a way to tell if the experiment is doing more harm than good and pulling the plug if necessary. This bill does not even contemplate the notion that the EAA might fail. All it would do is subject kids to a never-ending round of restructuring and experiments.

Do you think this is the way to help schools dealing with the corrosive effects of poverty? Would you want your kids put into this experiment? Let your State Senator know that there are better ways to help struggling schools and still have communities run their own school systems. We can do it without state takeovers, and we can do it without undermining community-governed public education.

Speak out today! Enter your zip code below, or click the link in the top left corner to use the MIPFS advocacy system to contact your State Senator.

Steve Norton
Executive Director
Michigan Parents for Schools

For the non-partisan House Fiscal Agency's analysis of the bill, you can find their report here.

If you'd like some background on the EAA, please see our articles here:
"How to help struggling schools: Do you believe in magic?"
"MIPFS testimony on EAA legislation, 11/19/12"
"Action alert: Don't let them take the public out of public ed!"
"MIPFS testimony on revised EAA bill, 11/29/12"

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