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Action alert: EAA bill suddenly alive again

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?

Who has "fact issues"?

Gov. Rick Snyder claims that that he and his administration have been investing in kids, that there has been “no reduction” in state support for K-12 education.

He says that “it’s not about partisanship, let’s just do the right thing.” We agree with those sentiments: support for strong, community-governed public education should not be a partisan issue, and we should definitely “do the right thing.” We’re still waiting for the governor to propose, and the legislature to pass, a budget that does right by the children of Michigan.

Gov. Snyder then goes on to say that people who argue he’s been cutting K-12 education “have fact issues.” But it is the governor’s facts which need a second look.

Bottom line: Gov. Snyder’s budgets took advantage of the depth of the recession to dig the hole even deeper in the first year to accomplish business tax cuts and other changes, allowing the weak recovery in subsequent years to look much better by comparison – but only if you ignore what things were like before or what things might have been like today had different choices been made. Between the end of earmarked school aid revenue from the Michigan Business Tax, and the diversion of funds to pay for colleges and universities, K-12 schools lost over $1.1 billion, or nearly $740 per pupil, each year because of the changes Gov. Snyder pushed through in 2011.

Legislative hearings and testimony available for viewing

To make our legislative process more accessible to parents and concerned citizens, MIPFS is making video of important legislative hearings available online.


Latest: last hearings in House on EAA and committee vote

One obstacle for concerned parents trying to track what’s happening in the Legislature is that the process itself is not accessible to most people. Hearings are generally held during the work week, and access to video of the meetings is spotty at best. Now that the Legislature has ended its contract with Michigan Government TV, committee meetings are televised on a rotating basis and only available for live streaming from the House and Senate television services. Copies of meetings are not available for later viewing or download.

To partly remedy this, MIPFS will be video taping important committee hearings on education issues whenever possible. Details of the meetings and the available video segments will be available on this page.

Departments: 

Lead poisoning: an "out-of-school" factor in student achievement

“[A 2010] report found that of 39,199 DPS students tested as young children, only 23 had no lead in their bodies.”


As parents, we work hard to protect our children from everyday dangers – obvious, and not so obvious. For those of us who were doing home repair or renovation while our children were young, a big concern was making sure that our little ones did not ingest lead that was a standard element of paint sold before 1978. Those who are able can spend considerable amounts testing for lead and then having it carefully removed or encapsulated.

Not all children are so fortunate.

In a new study of children in Detroit Public Schools, students with blood levels of lead historically considered low, but above the new, lower threshold set last year, were 50% more likely to score poorly on the state MEAP tests. Even children with lead levels below the new limit were one third more likely to score poorly on their MEAP exams.

Maybe school reform is not the “civil rights issue of our time.” Perhaps child health – including the right for children to have their brains develop without the effects of poisons – is the civil rights struggle we should be waging today.

Schools are hurting - we need to help

Testimony on the Fiscal 2014 School Aid Executive Budget proposal
Prepared for House Appropriations subcommittee on School Aid, 19 February 2013


Drawing on the data we used in an earlier article about the Governor’s budget proposal – Eleven percent increase in schools since 2009-10? Not so much.MIPFS testified before the Michigan House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid earlier this week. Our purpose was to point out that the executive budget proposal did not represent an increase in funding available for school operations, despite rhetoric to the contrary. Funding levels were actually much lower than in previous periods, especially after taking inflation into account, despite the smaller number of pupils.

MIPFS called for a significant, real investment in preschool through secondary education so that our public schools could do the job we have asked of them.

Eleven percent increase for schools since 2009-10? Not so much.

In his budget presentation to the State Legislature, Gov. Rick Snyder billed the education portion as making an investment in Michigan. He described increased spending on preschool – a good thing – and efforts to limit the costs of the public school employee pension system – the burden of which falls mostly on current and future retirees. But he also claimed that the state government had increased spending on K-12 education by 11% over the last four years, including his new proposal. He even had a slide to “illustrate” the point.

Now, with the Governor’s focus on being a “nerd,” and the budget materials all identifying him as a Certified Public Accountant as well as Governor, you might think that all these numbers pretty much reflect reality. But as we have learned over the last decade, to our cost, financial numbers can be “massaged” to tell different stories depending on the audience.

Gov. Snyder, CPA, was engaged in a litte bit of what they call “earnings management.” A closer look at K-12 spending shows a different, and more accurate, picture. We need to keep the true picture in mind as we discuss the performance of our public schools.

Special sections: 

What do we want from our schools?

At a meeting in Lansing last Tuesday morning, staffers from the Center for Michigan presented the results of their year-long series of “community conversations” about education, held all around the state.

Three panels of experts, officials and education policy specialists met to talk about the key questions facing public education in Michigan. Among the take-aways:

From the community conversations –

  • Michigan residents gave public schools a mixed review, though they were significantly more positive about their own schools than about Michigan public schools as a whole.
  • The public is willing to pay more for public education, if the money will be used in a concrete way to improve our schools.
  • Many key reform initiatives, like increasing educational “choice,” are not so high on the list of public priorities.

From the panels –

  • There’s broad agreement that preschool available to every child is an important goal – but the way to pay for it is less clear.
  • There’s agreement that it’s important for teachers get the schooling, job training, and job feedback they need to constantly improve, and that this task is harder than is often acknowledged.
  • There are serious and deep disagreements about what kinds of policy measures are needed to improve public schools and how much they should cost.

But most noticeable, perhaps, was the extent to which political operatives representing the current policy direction were out of step with the concerns expressed by Michigan citizens.

"A la carte" school funding plan ignores basic purpose of public ed

MIPFS reaction to the Oxford Foundation school funding proposal, 14 December 2012

Earlier this year, Gov. Snyder asked Lansing attorney and longtime political operative Richard McLellan to lead an effort to re-write the School Aid Act, the basic law that spells out how K-12 education is funded in Michigan. The approach that emerged was a radical change in direction, one that put the focus on students acquiring bits of knowledge from multiple “providers” rather than helping communities build and govern their local schools. More information on the proposal can be found at the Oxford Foundation web site. We’ll cover this proposal in more detail in an upcoming article.

Public comment was requested on the proposal. Our conclusion was that the proposed legislation would take Michigan in precisely the opposite direction of where we need to go.

Testimony on EAA legislation (Round 2)

Michigan Parents for Schools views on HB 6004 (H-1)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

While we appreciate that several concerns have been addressed in the H-1 substitute for HB 6004, sadly our main objections remain.

The bill assumes that the EAA will be successful. While there are provisions for a school “graduating” from the EAA, there are no provisions for handling a school that fails to improve under EAA control. Instead of calling the EAA into question, such schools are likely to be subjected to an endless round of restructurings and turnarounds – devastating the school, its students, and the local community.

Is this EAA “solution” so promising and certain that it’s worth stripping away community control? Better to implement a solution that can be done with the community, rather than to it.

Departments: 

How to help struggling schools: Do you believe in magic?

“Education is not complicated,” say some lawmakers. Really?

We keep hearing the same confident claim in Lansing: the way to fix struggling schools is to get rid of the adults keeping the kids back – the school administrators, the teachers’ unions, the incompetent or corrupt school boards. Sweep them aside, replace them with business-like management and inexperienced but enthusiastic teachers, mix in a little technology, and you will see a miracle. If only it were so. But it is not.

The same blind beliefs are behind the bills to expand the Education Achievement Authority statewide after only three months. Not only that, but the changes were forced on the local community rather than being built with them. We cannot rely on management magic or quick fixes to help kids. We need solid strategies, with good track records, and the resources to implement them for the long term. When will we finally have that conversation in Michigan?

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  • House Sch Aid Approps: MDE partnership model
    21 February 2017 - 10:30am
    Room 352, House Appropriations, State Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
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In the news

MIPFS also contributed considerable background to this article, raising serious questions about the strategy of closing schools.


MIPFS presents to the State Board of Education


Founder of our Forest Hills affiliate testifies before State Board, 9 May 2013


Our op-ed on the EAA's failure and why the Parent Proposal embodied in HB 5268 is a better alternative. MLive.com, 9 Feb 2014


Our op ed on the push to pass an EAA expansion bill by year end, Free Press, 16 December 2013


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