State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton has bravely fought for public education and for the children of Michigan in a hostile environment, in a state where free-market fundamentalists control the governorship and the legislature.
She has been unable to hold back hostile legislation and anti-civic policies, but she has actively resisted those who encourage the plundering of precious taxpayer dollars for corporate benefit, to the detriment of children.
In this interview, conducted by Eclectablog, she describes how the legislature created the so-called Educational Achievement Authority and how she was stonewalled when she tried to get information about what was happening to children in the EAA. She filed a Freedom of Information Act to get the information the EAA refused, and after a long delay, it released nearly 2,000 pages. That is called a data dump, where they give you so much information that they hope you can’t figure it out.
The state boasts about the EAA, but what Rep. Lipton discovered was appalling. This is the way Eclectablog described EAA:
“What has become increasingly apparent is that the administration of the EAA is in complete disarray. They have incredible discipline issues, special education kids are being summarily removed from the program in violation of state and federal law, and they appear to be manipulating testing to both make their outcomes look better than they are and also to justify taking over schools. Instead of being a model for educating kids, classroom instruction is being handled by inadequately trained graduates from the Teach for America program which gives “teachers” five weeks of training before sending them into the classroom. Text books and other teaching methods appear to have been tossed aside in favor of software programs where the student interacts with a laptop computer rather than a teacher.”
The interviewer for Eclectablog writes:
“On the forefront of this effort to hold the EAA accountable and to make sure they are actually achieving the results they say they are before we take the system statewide is Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods). She has been repeatedly rebuffed by the administration of the EAA as well as the Department of Education, forcing her to pay several thousands of dollars out of her own pocket for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) data that should have been provided to a three-time elected state legislator for the asking. She and Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Taylor) have, through their FOIA requests, been given over 2,000 pages of information in what amounts to a data dump intended to overwhelm them with so much documentation that they couldn’t find the information that they are looking for. They have, however, begun the process of organizing the documents and have them on a searchable website called InsideTheEAA.com.”
Then follows a fascinating conversation, and you realize that Rep. Lipton “gets it.” She sees that what is happening in Michigan is the same as what happened in Louisiana. she sees a national pattern. She sees that Broad, Walton, and Gates don’t like democracy. It is too messy. They like organizations where one person runs everything, and what he does fits their mold.
This is part of the interview:
Q. “He [a state senator] got something like 880 documents in mid-August. How many did you get, you got more than that, right?
A. “Yeah, I got about 1,700 pages.
Q. “It’s like drinking from a fire hose. I was on your site and it’s clear what they’ve done: they want to make it so that it’s impossible to analyze it, basically.
A. “Yeah, that’s sort of the game plan. But there are certain threads that you can definitely glean from the documents. One thread that is abundantly clear is that the Broad Foundation, and specifically Eli Broad, was and still is intimately involved in the creation as well as the carrying out of the EAA.
Q. “How are they doing this?
A. “The Broad Foundation, before the EAA opened, contributed something like $25 million and I believe they’ve made a subsequent grant to the EAA. It appears that he was instrumental in, if not the hiring of John Covington, he was certainly…
Q. “Who was a Broad Fellow, correct?
A. “That’s right, a graduate of the Broad Superintendent’s Academy. There are some emails that suggest that the Broad Foundation put his name forward and there doesn’t seem to be any other names that you can find. There doesn’t seem to be this sort of extensive interview process. Some of the emails from that time are sort of, “This is the person that it’s going to be”.
Q. “What’s interesting is that, when you look at this in a broader context, in terms of what the Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation, to name a few, have done in other states, there are similarities. The money that they spend, it sort of follows a very interesting trend line. They will go into states with opportunities for state take over districts or where there is mayoral control. So, you’ll see the Broad Foundation in the Louisiana Recovery District, for example.
Q. “Challenged places, in other words.
A. “Mmm hmm. In Philadelphia, places like that. Instead of — and, again, this is my opinion — instead of using their money to fund initiatives that we know work, you have them spending an enormous amount of money to create an infrastructure like an EAA — in Louisiana you have the Louisiana Recovery District — that aggregates control in a single person.
Q. “You begin to wonder, “Why is that?” and then you begin to look at the broader context of corporate reform in education, you see that that seems to be the M.O. Why have to work through all of the messiness of this thing called ‘democracy’? Oh, my heavens! School boards can be so insufferable! I mean, we actually have to work with our community!
A. “You have this sense of this sort of disdain for the democratic process. Because, think about the local school board. That defines democracy for a lot of people, right? I mean, people will say to me, “I’m not political. I couldn’t care less about politics.” And I’ll ask them, “Do you care about your schools?” and they’ll say, “Why heavens yes, my children are in school.” “Do you go to school board meetings?” “Absolutely!”
Q. “So they are involved.
A. “Absolutely. And the concept that these corporate “reformers” loathe is that very concept. So, how do you get around that? Well, first of all, you convince people that the current system is rotten. And you spend a lot of money to do that. And they can, right? These are organizations…”
Q. “That are super-wealthy.”