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Senate weighing school takeover bill

After a bruising vote in the House, the Michigan Senate is slated to take up the latest version of HB 4369, the state school takeover bill. Most people, including us, have been calling this the "EAA bill," but that's a misnomer. The latest version of the bill doesn't even mention the Education Achievement Authority by name, though it would allow the EAA to continue operating and even expand.

What the bill does do, however, is to cement in place a state school takeover system originally rushed into law over four years ago in a desperate attempt to win a share of Federal "race to the top" funding. (We didn't get any.) At the time, everyone agreed that the provisions being rushed into law were less than half-baked, and lawmakers promised to re-visit the provisions and replace them with sound policy. Naturally, that never happened.

But the EAA is still an important part of this story, mainly because of the lessons it - and other examples of state intervention - should have taught us about what happens under state takeover. What are some of those lessons?

Now for another episode of "Lansing Knows Best!"

House Bill 4369 (the "EAA expansion bill") passed the state House of Representatives late last Thursday. After close to two hours of maneuvering and floor speeches, it passed by the thinnest of margins: 56-54. The bill now goes back to the Senate either for its approval or for more changes.

Why is this legislation so important - and so dangerous? This bill is not just about the EAA - in fact, the EAA is not even mentioned by name in the document (though it does allow the EAA to continue and expand). Its impact would be much more sweeping if it becomes law.

This legislation would enshrine state takeover as the best and (nearly) only way to "help" students in struggling schools. On top of that, the bill opens the door for many different organizations to run such schools on behalf of the state - they might be like the EAA (because that has gone so well), or they might be for-profit charter management companies. Both the Governor and the state Superintendent have said they want more "options" for state takeover. That should make us all feel much better.

Who is watching the school "reformers"?

It's hard to talk about education these days without hearing the word "accountability" in nearly every sentence. Teachers should be accountable, administrators should be accountable, and school officials should be accountable. There is no question that the education of our children is a top priority and, yes, the people doing that job should be accountable.

Strange, then, that our state government's one and only strategy to address persistently struggling schools and districts would abandon accountability entirely. Children are already paying the price.

Departments: 

A better way to help schools improve

Proposed legislation offers parent proposal to assist struggling schools

For years, the tag line of our messages to school advocates has been: "together, we can make a difference." Well, today is proof that together we have made a difference.

Legislation introduced today in the Michigan House of Representatives would enact the "Parent Proposal to Assist Struggling Schools," a policy recommendation developed by MIPFS after extensive consultations with parent group leaders, educators, policy experts, and advocates like you.

"One rogue school board member"

This is how a legislator described a close colleague and dear friend of mine: "one rogue school board member." The school board member in question is Elizabeth Welch Lykins, trustee of the East Grand Rapids Public Schools, committed proponent of strong public education, and member of the MIPFS board of directors. Though she was not singled out by name, every person knew who was being described.

"One rogue school board member." The phrase itself is designed to belittle and marginalize. But it fails in that attempt, because it is so disconnected from the truth.

A Parent Proposal to Assist Struggling Schools

Strategies to turn around troubled schools need to address specific local challenges and be owned by the local school and district community


With the recent push to pass a bill on the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) before the winter 2013 legislative break, it’s more important than ever that parents start talking about real alternatives that work. For the last year, MIPFS has worked with parent groups, educational leaders and lawmakers to develop a positive program that will actually help struggling schools. This article outlines our proposal.

Existing law does not provide enough assistance to local schools in diagnosing and solving their difficulties. To compound the problem, the law provides for complete state takeover as the only remedy for schools which fail to improve. The parents’ alternative is based on these core ideas:

  • Any effective school improvement strategy must focus on the particular circumstances of the school or district that is a candidate for intervention, and be tailored to address local needs and shortcomings.
  • Diagnosis of educational problems is best done by experienced and disinterested specialists, but the solutions to those problems will be most durable if they are hammered out and implemented by all relevant stakeholder groups.
  • Unilateral state intervention must be a last resort, and must be focused solely on implementing the changes identified as necessary in the independent review.
  • The goal of state intervention for school improvement is not to take over management of the school but to identify and see implemented educational and organizational changes, which are critical to the long-term growth of student achievement.

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.

When did we become the enemy?

MIPFS and affiliated groups’ statement on the latest “skunk works” revelations

The evidence is piling up that the Snyder administration was closely involved in the effort to construct an alternative “education” system whose top priority is to minimize public school costs, not improve education. According to emails obtained by the Detroit News, top advisers to Gov. Snyder helped put the so-called “skunk works” group together or approved of its creation as early as September 2012.

From the parent perspective, one of the most disturbing discoveries was a statement by Gov. Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore. “Frankly, there’s nothing I enjoy more than seeing the education community in a fratz,” Muchmore wrote not long after the “skunk works” story first broke.

Thousands of parents, educators, and other concerned citizens who care about quality public education expressed their outrage at the secrecy and narrow vision of the “skunk works” project. Since when did we become the enemy? What kind of distorted lens must members of the Snyder administration be using that they see in concerned parents an opponent to be overcome rather than a constituency to be heard?

Open letter to Sec. Arne Duncan

We released this open letter on the occasion of US Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s visit to southeast Michigan. Sec. Duncan visited two schools in Detroit, one of them an EAA school, and the Perry Child Development Center in Ypsilanti. Our letter points out the conflict between the educational values Sec. Duncan has espoused, and which are the foundation of Perry’s High/Scope model, and the urgent direction of education policy in Michigan.



Open Letter to US Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Dear Secretary Duncan,
On behalf of Michigan parents and others concerned about public education here, I would like to welcome you to our state. Michigan is home to some of the best ideas and programs in education as well as some of the most serious challenges our schools, and communities, face. We welcome your effort to learn more about the hopes we cherish and the obstacles we confront in our local efforts to educate our children.

Unfortunately, I fear that your tour may leave you with an incorrect impression of what is in fact happening in our state. The current direction of state policy is not to offer an excellent education to all children. Instead, key Michigan policy makers have adopted an extremely narrow and barren notion of “education” and have focused on how to deliver it at the lowest cost possible. These proposals take us in precisely the wrong direction.

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MIPFS is working with parent group 482Forward, ACLU Michigan, and many school groups to ensure public funding goes to public schools.


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


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