Hearing exposes horrors of the EAA
By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen
LANSING — Children being slapped by staff and thrown to the ground, no legally-mandated provisions for special education students, limited supplies and few, if any books, non-functioning or missing computers, kids watching pornography, high teacher turnover, test scores showing students falling further behind, curriculum development left to inexperienced teachers, and a lack of teacher support were among the Education Achievement Authority ills listed by EAA teachers, educators and parents during an informal hearing April 22 in the state Capitol.
State Senators Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor, and Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, held the hearing prior to a Senate vote on House Bill 4369, which would expand the EAA statewide.
“Despicable,” is what Delbert Glaze, a former fourth grade teacher at the EAA’s Noble School, called EAA chancellor John Covington for what the district does to African American students. “Kids in Detroit are really hurting, more than people know.”
He described the EAA’s Buzz curriculum as “cartoonish” saying it lacked social studies and science and noting that it was up to teachers to develop the curriculum. He added administrators are unreasonable and “lack compassion.”
“Two kids wet themselves” because the administration doesn’t want kids in the hallways, Glaze testified.
The EAA is Gov. RickSnyder’s experimental district for “failing schools” created when Eastern Michigan University and then Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts entered into an interlocal agreement in 2011.
To get the EAA going, Roberts gave 15 DPS school buildings — some of them brand new or newly refurbished — and their contents to the EAA district.
Since the EAA has only involved Detroit’s “failing” students, it has been labeled a “Jim Crow district” — separate and unequal. Snyder now wants the EAA expanded statewide giving it the status and powers of other districts.
Because Detroit representatives John Olumba and Harvey Santana voted with Republicans to approve the EAA expansion, House Bill 4369 now awaits a Senate vote. The measure limits the experiment’s expansion to 50 schools, but members of Snyder’s party are resisting the expansion.
“Education of children is not on the EAA agenda,” said Jordan Smellie, a music teacher at the EAA’s Marion Law Academy, 19411 Cliff St. He said the EAA is chaotic and doesn’t care if something works, only that “it looks successful.”
Smellie said teachers have to purchase basic supplies because they are not provided, despite the millions of dollars of donations the EAA says it receives from private sources in addition to state school aid funds.
“I saw hundreds of computers broken, but was told they couldn’t be repaired. There is no tracking method so hundreds were stolen. Students watch pornography because there is no management software. The EAA is the only system that doesn’t have these safeguards in place,” Smellie said.
The EAA is a “failed experiment. It needs to end,” he said.
Mumford teacher Mechelle Sieglitz said she reached her limit and left the EAA because of the treatment of students. “I saw students punched and thrown to the ground just for being in the hall. What they are doing to students is outrageous.”
Special education students especially are mistreated, she said. “Things that should be happening are not. Seven special education teachers left and another two left after a few weeks. There are 40 kids on their lists, which is entirely illegal.”
She said there is a special icon next to the names of special education students on attendance sheets. When she asked for the individualized education plan for those students, which is required by law, she said she was told the students are not really special education.
Marcie Lipsett also testified to the mistreatment of special education students in the EAA, placing the failure of the EAA on the shoulders of the Michigan Board of Education.
“The MDE has not provided oversight,” she said. “Nobody is monitoring the EAA.”
She said parents are not allowed to participate in drafting the IEPs, there are no measurement goals, no measurement data. The EAA is not providing occupational therapy or physical therapy as required by law.
Parent Ola Wayne testified her student was “going backward instead of forward.”
It was a point made by Wayne State Associate Professor of Curriculum Studies Tom Pedroni. He testified that a study of MEAP test data comparing individual student test scores from October 2012 and 2013 revealed in math 78.3 percent of fourth grade students made no progress or actually regressed in math.
Results in reading were similar. He said 27.3 percent made no progress in reading while even more students, 31.2 percent declined in proficiency over the year they spent in the EAA and provided other similar negative test results.
Describing the sharp contrast between what EAA claims as “students’ unprecedented growth,” and the “stagnation and decline” revealed by test scores, Pedroni said, “it raises certain issues of trust. The EAA is not promoting the education of kids, but the self-interests of adults.”
No EAA administrators testified.
After the hearing Dr. Mary Esselman, Chief Officer of Accountability, Equity and Innovation for the EAA, said Pedroni’s focus on MEAP scores “was not where the focus should be at this time.” Student proficiency should be the focus as revealed on the EAA’s internal testing system she said.
Esselman told reporters there is a system in place to prevent students from watching pornography. She said the students’ computer screens are on display up on the wall so the teacher can watch what students are doing. She said there is not a computer for each child, but rather the system is “a blended one. Teachers do one-on-one and small group instruction also.”
EAA Chief of Staff Tyrone Winfrey sat through the hearing taking notes and texting, but refused to comment afterward.
Cassandra Ulbrich, vice president of the state board of education, said after the hearing, the discrepancies Pedroni has pointed out are another reason to delay expanding the EAA.
“If there is so much discrepancy on results, it is another argument why it is premature to codify the EAA,” she said.
School reform activist Helen Moore commented on the hearing.
“It’s about money and leverage for contracts,” Moore said about the expansion of Snyder’s experiment. “Not only do they not care about our children, but evidently they don’t care for their children.”