MAKING THE GRADE: We need to talk about EAA

By Daily News • Last Updated 10:53 am on Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Making the Grade | Janet Ralph

If you are following the news about education legislation, you have no doubt heard about EAA. EAA stands for Education Achievement Authority. It began as a partnership between Eastern Michigan University and the Detroit schools as a means of implementing legislation to help improve schools that have been identified as failing students. The stated mission is:

To transform traditional public schooling and provide a prototype for 21st century teaching and learning.

The mission is lofty. But some of us have concerns. When we raise them, we are often accused of trying to scare the public. I am not trying scare anybody, but I believe there are some scary components of this effort that need to be discussed openly.

The greatest concerns I have are the rush to codify an untried program and a belief that one size fits all. The EAA is an experiment with about six months in practice. Some legislators have visited a few of the schools and are inspired. Frankly, I think they would be inspired if they toured most of our public schools. But six months evidence would not be accepted from the rest of our public schools. And if the experiment works with this test group, why not share what they have learned with other districts? Educators learn from one another all the time. Why insist on taking over schools? Unless, of course, the goal is to undermine the public school system.

According to a transmittal letter written by Chancellor John Covington, the EAA is a prototype to transform public schooling. To me that means a model to be used by all public schools. Sounds noble enough. So why do I have such concern?

According to information I have been able to attain, the model in place includes a chancellor, (salary & benefits $353,000): two deputy chancellors, a chief officer for accountability, equity and innovation, a chief technology officer; an assistant chancellor for human capital equity and accountability; an assistant chancellor for instructional support and a chief of staff (salaries and benefits all in the $163,000 to $235,000 range). In addition, the current plan includes salaries for 13 principals (salaries and benefits ranging from $137,000 to $196,000). Because they do not have to report salaries under $100,000, I do not know how much is being paid for assistant principals, counselors, media specialists, secretaries, attendance clerks, and business managers that the plan requires. I have seen no discussion about the classrooms where I assume we still need teachers — although I know some people think they can be replaced by virtual programs. Then there is building and grounds maintenance and upkeep and maybe a few buses.

The Fiscal Year 2013 Operating Budget of the EAA is based on the projected student full time enrollment of 9,785 general education students and 1,004 special education students for a total of 10,789 students. How many more positions will they feel they need if they expand the EAA as projected? Greenville serves about 3,700 students. I will let you do the math. If this is the model, how many of these positions will it take to staff local school systems? How could we possibly replicate this model?

In a letter to parents, staff and others Covington wrote, “The EAA’s vision for a school system is like nothing ever before in the U.S. or elsewhere. All of the design elements are oriented around two critically important tenets, personalized and directed learning for every student and the freedom for teachers and school leaders to make the right choices for the students they serve.”

I am sorry, but I consider that an arrogant statement. This is not a new idea. It is a vision long held by public school educators everywhere.

Next week I plan to share other concerns I have about this experiment. In the meantime, talk with your legislators and find out how they view this issue. A bill has passed in the House. The Senate will be taking it up after their spring break.

 Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.

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