Guest commentary: Why do EAA critics want children trapped in failing schools?

By John William Covington/Education Achievement Authority

guest co-eaaresponse featured pic 5-5Rep. Ellen Lipton’s comments about the Education Achievement Authority are an example of the way so much of the educational establishment and their political allies are trying to kill an innovative approach to educating young people who have been abjectly failed by the old, outdated system of public schooling.

The EAA was created to transform the worst of the worst. Schools that were transferred to the EAA have been consistently, over a number of years, failing the young people they are supposed to educate. They have repeatedly performed at the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state.

At the beginning of the school year, baseline testing of students entering the EAA from these schools showed only 2 percent of elementary and middle school students were proficient in math — none in the sixth grade — and only 18 percent were proficient in reading.

No one who truly cares about young people can wish for them to continue in such a failed model. I see no value for students to force them to remain in a system which allows them to graduate and receive a diploma they are unable to read.

The EAA approach is based on the belief that children in failing schools want to learn, can learn and will learn -- if they are provided the right environment.

The initial results are encouraging. Tests administered earlier this year showed that, in reading, after just four months under the new system, more than 27 percent of EAA students in grades 2 through 9 had achieved one full year’s growth or more; in mathematics, 22 percent already have achieved one or more year’s growth.

The most significant growth was in mathematic scores for grades 9 and 10, where 40 percent already had achieved one or more year’s growth and an additional 16 percent were on track to achieve one or more year's growth by the final assessment in late June.

How do parents react to the new system?

“The new structure at Brenda Scott is just tremendous,” said Sharon Reed-Thompson, a parent and volunteer at Brenda Scott Elementary/Middle School, one of the EAA schools.

“My son completed third grade last year and couldn’t read. At the start of this year I said I would give the EAA structure a week and see how it went. It only took a week for me to realize what great things were going to happen for the students.”

What has been the reaction of the educational establishment?

They are fighting it tooth and nail. Sadly, their priority is to maintain the status quo, no matter how badly it fails children.

It is particularly ironic that Rep. Lipton would suggest the EAA is “another top-down bureaucratic exercise that leaves our students worse off than they are today.” EAA is designed to put all of its resources into the classroom. We have a central staff that is only about 20 percent the size of central staffs in other school districts of similar size.

Lipton filed a voluminous Freedom of Information Act request with the EAA at the end of March. Then, less than a month after submitting the request, she was complaining that we “delayed for more time and demanded that I pay for getting answers to these basic questions.”

The request was quite detailed and required considerable staff time, including culling through thousands of old emails, to assemble the information she was requesting.  As the material has been accumulated, it has been forwarded to her. The request to reimburse the EAA for copying costs and staff time was computed under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, a law which, as a legislator, she should be quite familiar with.

Lipton has a standing invitation to come visit EAA schools during the school day to personally see the exciting educational atmosphere and the way students are thriving. Thus far she has failed to avail herself of that opportunity.

The schools that are now part of the EAA had a history of chronic failure. Now they are showing clear and welcome signs of success.

The shame is that those who should welcome this improvement are wedded so resolutely to the old, failed status quo. The shame is that they are so willing to settle for old, failed results for urban children that they would never accept for their own. Our kids deserve better from them. They deserve for us to fight for their chance to succeed in life.

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Chuck Jordan
Sun, 05/05/2013 - 9:42am
Cherry picking short term results as both Covington and Lipton have done is not helping. We need more evidence. We need to make sure the evidence is sound, not based on single measures of improvement on multiple choice tests. Nobody wants to see these students fail. The issue is how to improve reading, writing, and math skills for all students, not to improve test scores. Give it more time. Make sure the testing is broad based. Then assess the value. Now is not the time to expand.
Ed Haynor
Sun, 05/05/2013 - 12:42pm
This story represents the tired old rhetoric of unless you agree with ideas from right-wing radical republicans concerning school reform you must want children trapped in failing schools. Certainly, all schools need to be performing at high levels, but the ideas brought forth since the Engler administration have been failures or had minimal success at rates no better than what is currently being realized. Unless all facets of human resource development are addressed such as poverty, crime, unemployment, etc., public education improvement efforts will likely stall. It’s time for republicans to drop their nonsensical efforts of cut and slash and start putting some money where their mouth is. In the next budget cycle, legislative republicans are planning on raiding the K-12 school aid fund of at least $400 million dollars and give to higher education. It’s time that republicans stop attempting to undermine traditional local schools and their community’s investment in their children.
Dave Maxwell
Mon, 05/06/2013 - 8:24pm
Ed....sounds to me like you have the tired old rhetoric of name-calling....
Earl Newman
Tue, 05/07/2013 - 1:30pm
It looks as though what the EAA is offering is a unique delivery system for educational services. What makes a difference in educational effectiveness is not the delivery system, but what happens to the youngster in the classroom. If what they have is more effective in teaching youth how to read and cipher is more effective than traditional methods they should be prepared to tell us how they do it. That way these benefits could be made available to other youngsters, in non-EAA schools. They should tell the citizens specifically how their methods are better. As it stands it looks as though the EAA claims to have special powers not accessible to ordinary educators. Surely this can't be true.