President Woodard Joins Michigan Coalition To Oppose Race to the Top Finalist

Out of the 61 finalists for Race to the Top funding, the newly created “Education Achievement Authority” (EAA) was the only listed finalist from Michigan, which will be responsible for running the lowest performing five percent of the state’s schools. President Woodard joined a coalition made up of educators, parents, and members of the community to send a letter to President Obama and Secretary Duncan opposing this selection.

Below is the letter they sent:

Dear President Obama and Secretary Duncan:

We are encouraged that education continues to occupy such an important space in the national agenda, and we thank you for your efforts in promoting dialogue around this critical issue.  We are writing to share our deep concerns with the possible awarding of Race to the Top funds to the “Education Achievement Authority” or EAA in the state of Michigan.

The EAA, a “state reform” district modeled after the problematic New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD), was established through an August 2011 interlocal agreement between then-Emergency Manager of Detroit Public Schools Roy Roberts and Eastern Michigan University under the former Public Act 4 of 2011 (“The Emergency Manager Law”), an act that was repealed by the Michigan electorate in the November 6 election. Shortly thereafter, the Detroit Board of Education voted to disband the EAA and to sever ties with Eastern Michigan University.  Despite the voice of the electorate, our Michigan state legislature is pressing forward with bills during the lame duck session that would codify the EAA into state law.

We oppose the establishment of the EAA and ask that you stand in support of Michigan voters who are deeply concerned with its impact on our children’s education and on our rights as citizens to advocate for them.  We urge that you reconsider any inclination toward funding this EAA district for several important reasons:

1. The EAA has only been in operation for a few months and has no objective, external data attesting to its record of success.  The Chancellor of the EAA has chosen to use an instructional learning platform modeled after the “Student Centered” schools he spearheaded in a previous school district.  This learning initiative did not deliver the results his former district had hoped to see and a press release was issued to explain the disappointing results (http://www.kctv5.com/story/15208161/dismal-test-scores-for-kc-district).  As an article published in the October 3, 2012 edition of Education Week by Detroit Free Press reporter Pratt explained:

Mr. Covington implemented a system similar to the EAA’s student-centered learning in 10   schools in Kansas City, Mo., where he was superintendent before coming to Michigan in 2011.  But Kansas City scrapped the teaching method this school year—two years after it started—because of mixed test results, said Andre Riley, a spokesman for the district. He said the new superintendent there wants to take the district in a different direction. (http://pages.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/epe/ew_10032012/offline/epe_ew_10032012.pdf)

2. Unlike the other school districts in Michigan, there is to date no external auditing for quality assurance in the EAA, and this was reflected in the language of the original twin bills, SB 1358 and HB 6004, introduced during the lame duck session.  Without a metric that is not internal to the EAA, how will program effectiveness be measured?  How will “persistently low achieving” schools that are delivered to the EAA based on Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) scores exit from the EAA without a detailed, transparent rubric?

3.  The EAA receives public tax dollars but is not subject to oversight by Michigan’s elected State Board of Education.  This “new form” of school governance is particularly disturbing in its suppression of parent/community participation in the school decision-making process as there is no elected school board.  Installing an appointed Chancellor who only reports to the Governor effectively disenfranchises the citizens of Michigan.

4.  The EAA purports to serve the neediest of students through its stated mission of capturing only the bottom 5% of schools or persistently low achieving schools (PLA) from the state’s PLA list. This past summer, however, the EAA actively recruited students from outside of the initial 15 EAA schools (formerly DPS schools) it was given to operate.  A number of Detroit parents were contacted and provided a workshop where they were briefed on how to canvass neighborhoods to “recruit” students for EAA enrollment.  They were provided with FAQ, Scripts, talking points, door hangers, and EAA t-shirts.  Promotional door hangers especially made for the Highland Park School District explained that “Since the EAA is an open school district children in Highland Park are welcomed to attend EAA schools.” Advertising materials came complete with enrollment hotlines [see enclosures]. These actions would seem to contradict the insistence that the EAA is not about “empire building.” What we appear to have in the EAA is a separate, unregulated district that receives public funds and works in competition rather than in cooperation with our elected State Board of Education.

As citizens who care deeply about the future of our children, we ask that our concerns be respected. We ask that this yet unproven EAA campaign not be funded by Race to the Top dollars.  What would truly help Michigan is for the funding to be used to enfranchise our families, schools, and communities to engage in real reforms that benefit Michigan’s children and that reflect the will of her citizens.  We hold great hope that we will be authentic partners in a larger dialogue, and one that will have the courage to include honest conversations about the kind of contextual education reform needed to make meaningful change not only for Michigan but the nation as a whole.

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