Faculty fight university’s link to controversial school turnaround district

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Professors at Eastern Michigan University are fighting to end the school’s connection to a highly controversial state school takeover district created by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. The faculty members argue that they had no input in the way the Education Achievement Authority is run and that they oppose the way the EEA is being operated.

The EAA, one of a number of reforms pioneered by Snyder, was created in 2011 to take over and run schools whose standardized test scores are in the bottom five percent in the state and that are not making progress under an improvement plan or are under the control of an emergency manager. Snyder said the EAA was necessary to help improve long troubled schools.

Opponents have charged that the EAA is a miss. They say, among other things, that the EAA’s governance is secretive; that student and teacher turnover is excessive; that the EAA relies on young and inexperienced teachers, including many from Teach For America; that many teachers taught outside the areas for which they had certification; and that there has been an explosion of disciplinary reports but teachers have been encouraged not to report them.

Last May, the Detroit News wrote that EAA officials had “overstated” facts on an application for a $35.4 million federal grant:

The application to the U.S. Department of Education for a five-year teacher merit pay program claimed the reform district with 15 Detroit schools had legislative permission to grow to 60 schools in 10 urban districts by 2017, which it doesn’t.

The grant application took liberties with other facts, claiming to be an IRS-authorized charitable organization and that EAA Chancellor John Covington “has been given the mandate and authority to take control of persistently poor performing schools throughout Michigan” – an issue still being debated in the Legislature.

EAA spokesman Bob Berg said the inaccuracies were “screw-ups” in a hastily written application submitted in late July and approved in October.

The News further reported that it wasn’t the first time EAA had made the same kind of claims; a draft application for a federal Race to the Top grant had some of the same claims, but aides for the governor had them removed.

Eastern Michigan University is the only university in the state that signed on to partner with the EAA — without faculty input — and now its College of Education is being affected by a boycott of its student teachers in six public school districts as a protest against the university’s EAA affiliation. The Ann Arbor News reported that EMU faculty who have been trying to place student teachers into classrooms for the winter semester have found a lot of closed doors. Some faculty members have tried to persuade the university’s Board of Regents to sever the affiliation with the EAA, but nothing has happened. Now, members of the College of Education Council, representatives of the faculty of the college, have written a new letter about the issue. Here’s the text:

 

October 23,2013

Dear EMU Board of Regents, President Martin, and Provost Schatzel,

We, the faculty members of the College of Education Council, as representatives of the faculty of this college, respectfully request that the university’s participation in the inter-local agreement that created the Education Achievement Authority be severed immediately. We base our request on the following rationale:

We find the undermining of democratic processes represented in the creation of a district outside the purview of public decision-making and oversight to be in direct conflict with this university’s mission and our legacy as a champion of public education. This violation of our principles is now beginning to affect our historically strong relationship with local schools, as local districts have begun to respond. In a strong protest of EMU’s involvement in the EAA, the leadership of the Michigan Education Association in Washtenaw County is now moving to boycott placement of our student teachers in their schools. They have plans to work with unions in other nearby counties to do the same. Obviously this response will have detrimental impacts on enrollment and student credit hour production as the effects of this teacher-led action undermine our ability to attract students to our programs, and carry out necessary aspects of our national accreditation.

While we are concerned over declining enrollment and impacts on revenue to the university, we are also very aware of the impact on our professional reputations statewide as our colleagues, and the citizens of the state look on with the assumption that members of the education faculty at Eastern are actively engaged in the EAA. From the start, EMU faculty were not invited to give our input into such an arrangement or asked for our expertise as the EAA was established. Other than a handful of individuals’ involvement, we have been excluded from any direct participation in the creation or implementation of its policies, operating procedures, professional development, curricula or pedagogical practices, many of which we find questionable at best. The fact that Dean Joseph was given a non-voting seat on the EAA board has not remedied that situation. Thus, our expertise as researchers and professionals in the complex and varied aspects of education has been blatantly ignored, in spite of our clear indication in at least two meetings with Chancellor Covington and his staff that we would be willing to give such input. Instead, Teach for America teachers have been hired and other regional universities invited to offer professional development.

Thus, we find EMU’s participation in the EAA unacceptable. These negative impacts on our reputation, our local relationships, our students and programs, the clear effect on enrollments and thus revenue to the university are a repudiation of EMU’s legacy as a champion of public education and a leader in the preparation of educational professionals. We implore you to remedy this situation as quickly as possible by unanimously voting to withdraw from the contract creating the EAA.

We sign this letter in solidarity and the sincere wish to be heard.

Steven Camron, Chair

Rebecca Martusewicz, Executive Committee member

Joe Bishop, Teacher Education

Margo Dichtelmiller, Teacher Education

Linda Lewis-White, Teacher Education

Gil Stiefel Special Education

Lidia Lee, Special Education

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · October 25, 2013