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EAA provides abstract curriculum

By Marcus Wright
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — In less than two weeks the statewide school district known as the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) will open. Fifteen of Detroit’s most “chronically underperforming” schools and 11,000 students are scheduled to begin classes Sept. 4.

In spite of an intensive public relations campaign extolling the high expectations of the EAA, there is a strong undercurrent of community concern due to vague information surrounding the curriculum.

According to the Enroll in EAA Web site, www.enrolleaa.org, “the EAA will offer students a decidedly new learning environment — one that is technology-enabled, challenging, engaging and tailored to their academic interests, progress and needs.”

It also states that “great teachers and school leaders will be empowered to support the needs of their students. Parents will have a choice of high quality, safe schools for their children, with the opportunity to track their progress and be directly involved in their education.”

The Web site also indicates EAA schools will provide a student-centered learning system along with a dynamic and highly innovative computer-based learning platform.

An EAA spokesperson told the Michigan Citizen EAA principals, as well as Chief of Staff Tyrone Winfrey, would contact this paper with comments and follow up with answers to questions e-mailed to them. They had not responded by press time.

Tom Pedroni, associate professor of Curriculum Studies at Wayne State University, says referring to the curriculum platform as innovative, child-centered and cutting-edge is a misnomer.

“It’s computer-based, where the child will be in front of a computer for most of the day. That’s not innovative at all,” Pedroni said. “When I was a tutor at a jail, that was the kind of a curriculum they had. It’s a way of controlling students. They call it student-centered learning and what it means is having a computer responding to what a student does. The point is to hire inexperienced teachers.”

The EAA Web site states the EAA curriculum is tied to new, higher, multi-state education standards known nationally as the Common Core, a variety of content in different mediums and targeted to professional development. The Common Core is a set of expectations about what students should learn and be able to do.

Pershing High School has been selected to transition to the EAA. The Web site promotes it as supporting a student-centered system of education that emphasizes a culture of continuous improvement. As with the other EAA schools, Pershing plans to eliminate the traditional model, in which students are promoted based on their age and “seat time,” or the required time a student must spend in a class to receive official credit for the class.

Students will be organized by instructional levels based on completion of course content rather than by grade levels based on age. In other words, they will progress to the next level in school based on their mastery of content rather than the completion of a nine-month school year.

According to Pedroni, student-centered learning is when students as a group root their education into their lives and what’s culturally relevant. “It begins with students as a starting point instead of the subject matter,” Pedroni said. “The EAA is latent with subject matter. It misses things essential to real education.”

The EAA of Michigan will hire proven leaders and personnel to work in the schools that are brought under its jurisdiction, according to the Web site. Principals will be empowered to assemble their staff, hire the best teachers and support them in a multitude of ways to improve individual student academic growth.

Some principals of EAA schools have spoken highly of their new platform. Again, none had responded by press.

Pedroni said the EAA wants their schools to be based on achievement level. He said that is difficult when talking about a large number of students in a classroom. He added that Teach for America (TFA) teachers, who are uncertified, will not work with “cooperative” or experienced teachers, as in the case in traditional public schools. “It’s a recipe for disaster,” Pedroni said.

TFA’s are typically assigned to low-income urban students of color, he added.

“They are malleable and inexpensive,” he said of TFA teachers. “You don’t really need to know how to teach to watch children sitting in front of a computer. Don’t tell me about quality teachers. It’s about getting lower cost.”

EM Roy Roberts has said the EAA of Michigan will direct 95 percent of the resources to the school classroom level.

Pedroni said he has done an analysis of the EAA’s budget, which reveals it is putting significantly less in the classroom than the old budget (July 22 issue of The Michigan Citizen issue).

“They’re mimicking charter schools in being top-heavy in administration and less in the classroom. An example is the chancellor, who’s making $400,000 (a year)” he said.

Contact Marcus Wright at marcuswright@michigancitizen.com

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