‘EAA cheats students’
Detroit children used in Snyder ‘experiment’
By T. Kelly
DETROIT — “A different system for a different outcome” is the motto of the experimental state-run Education Achievement Authority (EAA) schools. Created by Gov. Rick Snyder using Detroit students, buildings and resources, including a $12 million loan, the EAA is now in its first year.
Detroit parents, education professors and advocates have questioned the quality of the program since its beginning. Now, it seems, even multi-billionaire businessman Eli Broad, who is partially funding the EAA, questions the quality of its academic program.
In an e-mail dated Jan. 4, 2013 — midway through the EAA’s first year — and titled “How short on funds is the EAA?,” Broad Foundation Director Luis de la Fuente, Ph.D., writes to EAA Deputy Chancellor Fiscal Affairs Rebecca Lee-Gwin about the “challenges facing the EAA.” Those challenges are financial and academic, he says.
“I think Eli’s [Broad] plan is to help make the case to the Governor [Snyder] that the students are not receiving the education they’ve been promised (I’m not sure anyone actually understands this fully on the state side) and to lay out some options for the Governor as to how the difference might be addressed, both in terms of state dollars and philanthropy [funds]. We are afraid that the state will continue to address the cash flow situation on a month-by-month basis to keep the EAA afloat without addressing the overarching challenge that the academic program being delivered is not the one we’d promised to these families.”
The e-mail was part of over 1,000 pages of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by St. Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods). Required to pay fees of over $2,600 to obtain the information, Lipton posted the documents on her Web site, www.lipton.house dems.com/publications.
Lipton said May 7 that she has not yet had the chance to go through all the documents, but that it appeared not all of her requests have been met. Especially lacking, she said, is information about enrollment and certification of teachers.
“So far, it seems that the information I have received raises many red flags and generates as many questions as it answers,” Lipton said.
Quality of the academic programs worries many in Detroit.
Michelle Fecteau, who is on the Michigan State Board of Education, said she questioned the “extraordinary [academic] advances” the EAA claimed in testimony before legislators. She asked for testing results but has not yet received any data. “Why if we have oversight of the EAA, don’t we have access to the data?”
Tom Pedroni, Wayne State associate professor of Curriculum Studies, says the documents reveal “high rates of midyear teacher turnover, falling enrollment and persistent financial difficulties” so that lawmakers seeking to expand the EAA statewide through pending legislation are “banking on academic results.”
Pedroni noted, in a widely distributed article, that Mary Esselman, the EAA’s chief accountability officer, recently told legislators that 43 percent of math students and 48 percent of reading students were on track for a year’s academic growth.
“Of course, spun a bit differently, the same numbers tell us that 57 percent of students in math and 52 percent in reading are not on track to make expected gains,” Pedroni says.
Students had trouble taking academic benchmark assessments in September, he said, due to weak Internet connections, trouble logging in and poor quality equipment. January testing went more smoothly. Pedroni says comparing the two test results, without considering the problems in the first test session, skew the results.
“There were other stark differences between the fall and winter administrations,” Pedroni says. “While 91 percent of students took a reading test in the fall, only 72 percent did so in the winter. And while in the fall, 14 percent of students in grades two through nine took a modified reading foundations test, less than one percent did in the winter.”
Helen Moore from Keep the Vote No Takeover has persistently criticized the EAA on many fronts, including the system’s use of Teach For America (TFA) participants rather than certified teachers. TFA lets college graduates work off a portion of their student debt in exchange for two years of service teaching in urban districts. The TFA participants are not trained educators nor have they classroom experience when they begin.
A call to de la Fuente to ask if Broad still considered EAA an academic risk brought this e-mailed response: “As the initial assessment scores show, students attending schools in the EAA are making encouraging gains and beginning to reverse years of low academic achievement. We’re proud to play a part in funding this promising initiative, and we will continue to do all we can to support improving the quality of public education throughout the State of Michigan. Our children need and deserve the very best schools and we are dedicated to providing them opportunities to succeed and thrive.”
In March 2013, the Broad Foundation donated another $10 million to the EAA. Broad makes plain that he is about making education a business opportunity. The Broad Web site says, “The Broad Foundations were established by entrepreneur and philanthropist Eli Broad to advance entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science and the arts.”
The Broad Foundations include The Eli Broad Foundation and The Broad Art Foundation and have assets of $2.1 billion. Former Michigan Gov. John Engler, who engineered the first state takeover of DPS in 1999 that pushed the district into debt, sits on the board of the Broad Foundation.
Broad found a willing political partner for his privatized education plan in Michigan’s self-proclaimed “nerd” governor. Snyder promised in 2011, when he announced the creation of the EAA through an Interlocal Agreement signed by DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts with Eastern Michigan University, that the EAA would provide a new, stable, financially responsible set of public schools dedicated to improving outcomes for the lowest achieving schools.
The EAA documents reveal the experimental district has struggled with finances since its inception. Foundations did not provide all the funds founders expected, and the district was not qualified to receive all the federal Title I funds anticipated. EM Roberts authorized loans totaling $12 million from DPS to the struggling EAA, and the governor secured at least $20 million in state funds for the startup. Roberts also “leased” 15 DPS buildings and contents to the EAA, without consent or input from the elected board or the public.
Snyder is now fighting to get legislative approval to expand and make the EAA truly statewide. The House has approved the legislation, and it will come before the Senate this summer.
The EAA claims the students are instructed through an “individualized” system working on computers. Pedroni said the practice amounts to students working on the digital equivalent of work sheets, that instruction remains top down, simply divided into sections accessible to students on an individual basis.
Broad lists 75 ways in which bureaucracy hinders quality urban education (www.broadcenter.org/how-bureaucracy-stands-in-the-way). It is a list that teacher unions, parent groups and community control advocates have identified as the messages corporate interests use to attack public education. Unions and civil service jobs rank high on the list.