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Action alert: Stories from EAA get worse, state still wants to expand


Dear Friends,

Once again, we are asking for your help. Our state is on the verge of compounding a terrible mistake by making it even bigger. As you might guess, I'm referring to the so-called Education Achievement Authority, an agency engineered by the Governor and billionaire donors to take over struggling schools and wave a magic wand over them. It started with 15 schools in Detroit, and the Legislature is nearing a vote on whether to take it to the "big time" state wide.

Only we're too old to believe in magic, and the EAA's work in Detroit has been a disaster rather than a miracle. This experiment should be ended, for the sake of the children in those schools. We should not base our state's entire program for helping struggling schools on a failed experiment that many call "educational malpractice." There are real alternatives, which can produce constructive change. Our "Parent Proposal" is just such an alternative, and there is now pending legislation which would take our state in a better direction.

If you believe in helping struggling schools rather than punishing them, in lifting up students carrying heavy burdens rather than subjecting them to half-baked experiments, please read on. As parents who care for our own children, how can we remain silent when other children are being hurt in the name of "reform"?

Please take a moment to call your State Representative and Senator. They need to hear from all of us who want something better for all children.

If a sensible person were to design a program to assist struggling schools, educating children facing significant hurdles, you might expect that program to include the best resources available, the most experienced and skilled teachers, and an educational program that was proven to help children overcome the hurdles they face.

In the Education Achievement Authority, we see none of these things. In a program that prided itself on its technology-centric curriculum, there were never enough computers, no resources to repair ones that were broken, and persistent network failures. To face the most difficult classroom challenges, the EAA hired primarily new teachers, many of them in turn Teach For America fellows who are recent college graduates but with only five weeks of training to be a teacher. Since most of the teaching was to be done by computer, class size was not a concern and teachers were supposed to be just "facilitators." But those computers, when they worked, delivered a "curriculum" which was mostly an empty shell. EAA students were essentially unpaid beta testers for a private for-profit software development firm in Utah.

"First of all, there is no EAA-provided 'curriculum.' Teachers design the curriculum as we go and upload it into Buzz, which is an empty shell other than some videos and tests. In practice, however, the digital curriculum in such large classrooms winds up being students keeping Buzz open in one tab while they watch YouTube videos, go on Facebook and Twitter, check out Instagram, etc."

The gap between the marketing and the reality was so large that even inexperienced teachers started to realize they were in a losing situation: they would lose, their students would lose, their community would lose.

"Almost all [the teachers who quit] have gone back to the Detroit Public Schools. We lost all of our guidance counselors. We lost all but two special ed teachers. We lost all of our science teachers except for two."

Then the really disturbing stuff started leaking out. The EAA had huge discipline problems, and when their suspension rates attracted public attention, they responded by telling staff to "handle" things without reporting it. Building administrators reportedly used harsh physical punishments in an effort to "control" things; but at other times there seemed to be no control at all.

"I've never felt this worried about going to school. I'm well aware that most of my kids would protect me and they have before, but they shouldn't have to. That's the role of discipline. But, at the same time, I afraid to report a kid because I've seen disciplinary officers hit them and I've reported it and nothing has happened from the state."

Then there is the question of special education: the EAA claimed to have "discovered" that literally hundreds of their students with special education status did not actually need those services. But we started hearing stories of parents being pressured to give up, "revoke," their child's right to special ed services; of families being intimidated into taking their children elsewhere; and of serious irregularities in how special education services were handled in each school. These are all matters tightly regulated by Federal and state law, and the very serious charges are now the subject of legal complaints to state and Federal authorities.

"I left because as a special education teacher, I knew that their special education program was violating the law. The treatment of students was making me sick. For my own professional reputation and mental health, I had to stop working there. I miss the kids. I worry about them."

[These quotes are drawn from some remarkable interviews by independent journalist Chris Savage with current and former teachers in the EAA. To read more, please see the list of interviews here.]

So this is our state government's vision for all schools, not just those most in need. Start with unaccountable bureaucracies implementing top-down, inflexible solutions. Then create regimented classrooms where computers replace human talent and interaction. (Remember the "skunk works" plan for a computer-based "value school"?) Finally, show that you can do it on the cheap - because there's no point spending money on other people's children.

Is this what we want? Is this what our children deserve? Is this how we build a solid future for our communities and for Michigan? If this is not what we want, we need to speak out today. We need to let our lawmakers know that we need to end this awful experiment and move in a new and constructive direction.

Please take a moment to call your lawmakers today!

Thanks for reading!

Steven Norton
Executive Director

Want to know more about the EAA? MIPFS assisted other advocates and lawmakers in combing through documents received under FOIA requests, which along with other resources can be found on the Inside the EAA web site.

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