Archives for category: Michigan

Jane Slaughter describes what she calls the neoliberal assault on Michigan, and she adds in Wisconsin as well. The assault consists of a plan to end collective bargaining and to weaken the unions so they are unable to protect the benefits for working people.

I am not sure why she calls this movement “neoliberal,” as it seems that the main movers and shakers are far-right conservatives who always hated unions.

Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter for the ACLU of Michigan, published this story at Detroit Metro Times, based on an in-depth exploration of internal documents of Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority. The EAA was announced by Governor Rick Snyder in 2011 to “save” the lowest-performing children in Detroit.

 

Governor Snyder said in 2011:

 

In June of 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder stepped behind a microphone at Detroit’s Renaissance High School to announce the start of a revolutionary new approach to education in Michigan.

The problem of poor academic performance would be addressed in dramatic fashion.

“We do have too many failing schools in our state,” he said. “If you look at us statewide, only 16 percent of our kids are college-ready. That’s absolutely unacceptable.

“We need to focus on a new way of doing things.”

The target would be Michigan’s lowest-performing schools. The bottom 5 percent.

The stakes could not have been higher. As the governor explained it, the future of both the city and the state as a whole would be riding on this experiment in education.

“For Detroit to be successful, it depends on having successful schools. For Michigan to be successful, it depends on having a successful Detroit,” Snyder declared. “So we’re all in this together, and we’re going to make this happen as a team.”

 

A year later, the EAA opened its doors. Don’t you think the EAA would have smaller classes for intensive learning, experienced teachers, and the other research-proven methods of successful schools? No.

 

What Guyette learned was that the EAA was an experimental platform for an online program called BUZZ.

 

Buzz “came to Detroit from Kansas City, along with John Covington, the controversial figure hired by the EAA board to be the new system’s first chancellor. Along with Buzz, Covington also brought to Detroit a group of administrators who worked under him in Kansas City. A key member of that team is Mary Esselman, first hired on as the EAA’s Chief Officer, Accountability, Equity, and Innovation for the EAA, and later promoted to the position of deputy chancellor.

Covington is gone now, having departed under a cloud of scandal generated by news reports of the credit card spending that occurred under his watch.

But the software remains, significantly upgraded twice since it arrived. Those upgrades were made possible because of the students and teachers at the EAA, who were bitten again and again and again by the many bugs that plagued Buzz for the first two years of its use in Detroit.

Created by a Utah-based company called Agilix Labs, Buzz is education software that provides what its marketing material describes as an individualized learning experience. With the help of $100,000 from the EAA, Buzz was merged with other educational software created by the School Improvement Network [SINET], also based in Utah. Another $250,000 from the EAA would eventually pay for improvements suggested by the teachers, students, and administrators who were using it, according to Esselman.

 

The children were guinea pigs for product development.

 

Guyette writes:

 

What internal EAA documents reveal is the extent to which teachers and students were, over the course of two school years, used as whetstones to hone a badly flawed product being pitched as cutting-edge technology.

In fact, a SINET employee in November of 2013 informed Mary Esselman of his “fear” that another school district might want to start using Buzz (re-branded as GAGE for the purpose of marketing the product to others) before a second major upgrade could be finished and ready for use in March of the following year.

Records show that such an upgrade did finally land in April of 2014, and was installed over spring break. Another two months passed before a press release was issued announcing that the upgraded product would be available to selected school districts for the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

Agilix and the School Improvement Network began working with Covington and his team in Kansas City.

“In Kansas City, the leadership team implemented the model with limited technology…,” according to the response provided to Snyder. “In Michigan, they have had the opportunity to select staff and leverage a strong teaching and learning platform with strong, short-cycle innovation.”

By short-cycle innovation they mean this: improvements were made as Buzz moved from Kansas City (where it is no longer used) to Detroit. And in the two years since its arrival here, it has gone through technological upgrades significant enough to warrant press releases heralding the breakthroughs that were achieved.

“We’re building this plane as we fly it,” is a phrase numerous sources we’ve interviewed have attributed to Mary Esselman, who was in the thick of the technological planning.

Part of that build-it-as-they-go model included paying inexperienced Teach for America instructors to provide curriculum content that was loaded into Buzz when it arrived at the EAA. They were recent college grads who didn’t study to become teachers and who lacked certification, coming to the EAA with only a few weeks of training in the art of teaching. (About 25 percent of the EAA’s teachers were from TFA when its schools opened in 2012.)

 

The EAA announced dramatic score increases. They claimed the experiment was working. But documents show that students were allowed to retake tests they had failed. And the stellar results were not replicated on state tests:

 

Numerous teachers interviewed by the ACLU told us that, because of intense emphasis on producing positive test results, students were allowed to re-take tests when they failed to perform well. It was described as standard procedure throughout most, if not all, EAA schools.

Asked by the ACLU if she ever became aware of these types of improper testing procedures, Esselman responded: “Yes. We were made aware at a public meeting and immediately made the necessary steps with our school leaders to address this issue.”

Adding more darkness to those shadows is this fact:

In stark contrast to the internal test results are the state’s standardized achievement tests, known as MEAP. The most recent MEAP results show that a high majority of EAA students are either stagnating in terms of reaching math and reading proficiency, or falling even further behind.

 

In fact, BUZZ was unsuccessful. The plane built in mid-air couldn’t fly. The children were used to improve it, but it did not improve their education.

 

During the course of our investigation, the ACLU interviewed a dozen current and former teachers, one former administrator, and several students. Many of the teachers asked to remain anonymous, saying that, because they lacked the protections afforded by a labor union, they feared retaliation by the EAA if they spoke on the record. Others feared that the EAA would blackball them. Others, however, did agree to go on the record.

One of them is Jordan Smellie, a tech-savvy former music teacher now working in the IT industry.

“Buzz overall I would describe as a travesty. To say it was incomplete when it arrived is giving it too much credit,” he said. “The software was in a state that any other firm would have never released. The design was poor, front to back, top to bottom. The user experience was horrendous. It was incredibly slow, if it worked at all.”

Nearly everyone interviewed talked about the dearth of content when Buzz first arrived in the fall of 2012, which is contrary to Mary Esselman’s unequivocal written assertion that Buzz arrived on time and fully formed.

 

Even students testified that they used the classroom computers to play games and visit porn sites.

 

Were the children “saved”? Of course not. They were used to pilot new technology that could be sold to other districts. Based on the EAA’s experience, the message to other districts should be: BEWARE.

 

 

Yesterday, we remarked on the candid remarks of the StudentsFirst executive director in Ohio, who said that most charters in his state “stink” and should be closed down. That was a hopeful sign that at some part of the reform movement might be willing to bend on its anti-teacher pro-privatization agenda.

But today we learn from Eclectablog in Michigan that StudentsFirst has fired an ex-state legislator who was recalled by voters. He is, says Eclectablog, known for his homophobic remarks. When he was recalled, he was chair of the House Education Committee, and StudentsFirst gave him a campaign contribution of $73,000.

Eclectablog writes:

“Given their long history together, it’s not too surprising that StudentsFirst, which spends much of its time attacking teachers, trying to destroy public schools, and promoting for-profit charter schools across the country, would hire Paul Scott. Because, hey, nothing says “students first” like hiring an extremist homophobe who rails about the evils of teaching children about contraception while impregnating an staffer to whom you aren’t married.”

Possibly in response to the Detroit Free Press’s expose of charter schools’ lack of transparency and accountability, a majority in most recent poll (73%) want a moratorium on new charter schools until the Legislature and the State Department of Education has reviewed charter legislation.

 

Having learned from the 8-day series of articles that charters get $1 billion without oversight, the public might want some regulation of how their dollars are spent.

Jack Martin, the emergency manager for Detroitpublic schools, has canceled his proposal to cut teachers’ salaries by 10% and to increase class sizes to as many as 43. This is great news for the children and teachers of Detroit!

“In place of the pay cuts, Jack Martin will ask state education officials to extend the district’s five-year deficit elimination plan to seven years, consider layoffs for non-school employees and look to revenue increases from future property sales and possible student enrollment increases.

“Facing a fierce backlash from teachers, parents and even the state school superintendent, Martin announced the reversal of the planned cuts as part of the district’s plan to eliminate its $127 million deficit.

“The district’s deficit elimination plan, submitted to the Michigan Department of Education and approved last week, was intended to make up for the loss of a projected $18.5 million in revenue from a countywide school tax that voters rejected Aug. 5.

“Detroit Public Schools’ sole focus is and must remain providing the highest quality education possible to the children of Detroit,” Martin said during a news conference.”

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140826/SCHOOLS/308260087#ixzz3BWxXkqaf

Governor Rick Snyder long ago made it clear that the state of Michigan has no intention of saving public education in Detroit or anywhere else. The city’s emergency manager announced a 10% pay cut for teachers, larger class size, and the closing of 24 schools. The schools have a deficit of $127 million. The wage concessions by teachers will save $13.3 million.

“Parents, educators and community stakeholders met Wednesday morning in front of Ludington Middle School to denounce the cuts, as well as the district’s previously announced plans to increase class sizes.

“Brian Kindle has two children beginning Head Start in the fall, and a 15-year-old at Cody High School. He said he’s worried about how pay cuts will impact his kids.

“I say hands off first responders, kids and teachers,” he said. “I’m here to support parents and their children, and to ask Gov. Snyder not to vote for the proposal.”

“Kindle said he fears additional cuts will result in further neglect of students in the classroom.

“We should have classrooms on every corner, instead of liquor stores,” he said. “That would be great, but we don’t have a society that encourages it. But I will remain on the forefront supporting our children.”

Dr. Thomas Pedroni of the Detroit Data and Democracy Project contends that the cuts to classroom instruction are NOT necessary. He shows in this analysis that the emergency manager has allowed other categories of spending to grow, while cutting the single service that matters most: classroom instruction.

As we learned from the Detroit Free Press series on the state’s charter industry, it collects $1 billion from taxpayers without producing better results than public schools for the state’s neediest children.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan acted to warn the authorizers of the state’s lowest performing charters that he was warning them they were “At Risk of Suspension.” This warning applied to 11 of the state’s 40 authorizers.

He said:

““We want all public schools to provide a quality education for Michigan’s kids,” Flanagan said. “I am using the authority provided me in state law to push for greater quality, transparency, and accountability for those who aren’t measuring up as charter authorizers.”

“The authorizers on the At Risk of Suspension list are being given until October 22 to remediate those deficiencies before Flanagan makes his final determination in November to suspend the authorizer’s chartering ability.

“If an authorizer were to be suspended, it would not be a death sentence, and we’re not closing down their existing charter schools,” Flanagan said. “They wouldn’t be out-of-business. They just won’t be able to open any new charters until their deficiencies are fixed and the academic outcomes of their schools are improved.”

So he won’t close down their failing schools, he just won’t let them open new ones.

Here are the authorizers:

“The charter school authorizers At Risk of Suspension are:

Detroit Public Schools
Eastern Michigan University
Education Achievement Authority
Ferris State University
Grand Valley State University
Highland Park Schools
Kellogg Community College
Lake Superior State University
Macomb Intermediate School District
Muskegon Heights Public Schools
Northern Michigan University

“Each of the named authorizer’s charter school portfolio; that is, all of its charters schools considered as a whole, is in the Bottom 10 percent of the state’s academic Top to Bottom list. They, likewise, have deficiencies in their contract and transparency requirements.”

The Michigan State Board of Education passed a resolution calling for reform of the state’s charter law. The vote was along party lines; the state board is dominated by Democrats but the legislature is not.

The resolution was passed following a series in the Detroit Free Press showing that the state spends nearly $1 billion each year on charters, which are neither transparent nor accountable.

“Among the recommendations: The board wants the Legislature to require private management companies that run charter schools to post online the same kind of information that traditional public schools must post, bar management companies from also being a charter school’s landlord, require lease agreements to reflect fair market values, set clear standards for who can open charters and hold charter authorizers accountable for the academic performance of their schools.

“The resolution, which was rejected by the two lone Republican members of the eight-member elected board, came after more than an hour of debate. Eileen Weiser, R-Ann Arbor, argued the board should delay voting because she believes some of the recommendations are already covered in state law.

“And then we can have a conversation that’s different than what we’re having now,” Weiser said.

“She and Richard Zeile, R-Dearborn, developed an alternate report…..

“The “State of Charter Schools” series showed that Michigan charters receive nearly $1 billion per year in taxpayer money from the state, often with little accountability, transparency or academic achievement. No state superintendent has ever suspended an authorizer since the charter law was adopted in the mid-1990s.”

Lori Higgins reported in the Detroit Free Press on Monday that the State Board of Education was debating new rules to make charter schools more transparent and accountable. Most charters in the state operate for profit and don’t believe in opening up their operations to prying eyes. We will see how this turns out.

She wrote:

“The State Board of Education on Tuesday is set to debate a proposal to call on the Legislature to adopt comprehensive changes to the state’s charter school law that addresses transparency, accountability and educational quality.

Among the recommendations:

■ Require management companies that run charter schools to make public the same information traditional public schools must make public — including salaries, benefits and contracts.

■ Bar a company from serving as both a charter school’s management company and landlord
.

■ Require an open bidding process for contracted services.

■ Prohibit authorizers from unilaterally removing charter board members.

■ Reinstitute a “cap” that allows high-performing charter schools and operators to replicate and expand, while precluding poor-performing charters from replicating and expanding.

■ Hold authorizers accountable for the academic performance of their charters.

Sherry Gay-Dagnogo won the Democratic primary in Michigan’s 8th House District. The Network for Public Education endorsed her because of her strong stand against over-testing and privatization. She is a former middle school teacher. Gay-Dagnogo also supports Congressional Hearings on the cost and misuse of testing.

Sherry Gay-Dagnogo’s victory is a big win for students and public education in Michigan. Her victory sends a strong message to candidates nationwide that siding with the over-testing zealots isn’t just bad policy, it’s bad politics. Seat by seat, in legislatures, in the gubernatorial races, in Congress, we will fight to elect friends of public education, who defend children and sound education.

Never forget: no matter how much money the privatizers spend, we are many, and they are few. A victory for public education is a victory for democracy.

Congratulations, Sherry!

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