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Guest commentary: EAA won’t answer simple questions about its finances (UPDATED)

By Rep. Ellen Lipton

Files released

Rep. Lipton's office reports that the EAA has responded to her FOIA request. The 31 documents released by the EAA can be viewed at http://lipton.housedems.com/resources/publications.

As I watched House Republicans rush to expand the experimental Education Achievement Authority statewide last month, I wondered if legislators who supported House Bill 4369 remembered their high school science classes. Particularly, I wondered if they recalled the scientific method — the process of developing a hypothesis, testing it and drawing a rational conclusion.

High school science classes teach us that when you follow the scientific method, you're more likely to arrive at solid, evidence-based knowledge. Ignore the scientific method, and there's no telling what kind of mess you might make.

Since the start of this school year, 15 schools in Detroit have been operated under the EAA, a board of hand-picked gubernatorial appointees enabled to make sweeping changes in these schools. Without waiting to see how the EAA performed in its first year, Republicans are declaring the experiment a success and are ready expand its authority.

Who knows what kind of mess that will make?

Who knows, that is, except the children attending these EAA schools? While Republican lawmakers forged ahead to expand the governor's authority, I took time to listen to students.

What I heard concerned me.

At Detroit's Mumford High School, students said their school has become a prison. Computers replaced teachers and unchallenging software programs replaced books. Classroom discussion is virtual nonexistent and many special needs students may not be receiving extra help and accommodation to ensure a good education. Kids no longer felt safe in their environment.

I took the next step to get more facts about the EAA to share with members of the Senate, before they rush to judgment, as well as with the public. I filed a Freedom of Information Act request. In it, I posed simple and straightforward questions, such as:

-What is the EAA’s budget?
-How many millions of dollars is it getting from private sector foundations?
-If the EAA is expanded, is there a plan to ensure that the new schools brought into the EAA have access to the millions of dollars over and above the regular state support that goes to other public schools?
-If not, what will happen to those schools?
-Who is teaching at the EAA?
-How many teachers are considered “highly qualified” by state standards?
-How many have master’s degrees?
-How many have certification in the areas in which they are teaching, as required by state law?
-How much turnover has there been already?
-What is the enrollment of the EAA, and how has that enrollment changed from day one?
-What is the enrollment of special education students, today compared to the beginning of the year?
-Are special education students receiving all the services that they need?
-What is the student-teacher ratio in various classes?
-How many counselors and social workers does the EAA have in each school?

The EAA has delayed for more time and demanded that I pay for getting answers to these basic questions. I’ve started that process, because even if the leadership of the House of Representatives isn’t interested in these facts, I am.

The Michigan Senate deserves this information before voting on giving the EAA authority to take over more schools. Let’s get the facts, so we all can judge whether the EAA is a solution to education problems, or yet another top-down bureaucratic exercise that leaves our students worse off than they are today.

The EAA experiment hasn't yet ended, but so far, there's little to suggest the ending will be a happy one. I hope that others in the Legislature will join me in the search for strategies that work. Our children deserve it.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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