By Dave Palmer
Michigan Legislature is accelerating the process by which it dismantles public schools and hands them over to private entities, and it’s doing it through the Educational Achievement Authority.
The EAA was originally designed by Michigan Legislature to take over the bottom 5% of schools and school districts (labeled Persistently Low Achieving, or PLA) after three years with that dubious distinction, or sooner if required by a state reform officer. Apparently, Lansing believes that for-profit outsiders with no proven record in education or school reform might have some insight into righting those sinking ships.
While this sounds like a good deal on a piece of paper, statistically speaking, it’s a slow way to ensure that the EAA gets to run all school districts in Michigan. Mathematically speaking, every single school in Michigan could potentially fall into the bottom 5% in performance category, even if all schools were performing between 75% and 80% proficiency. (There will always be a mathematical “bottom 5%”.)
However, Lansing legislators are not content with waiting that long for their desired private takeover of public schools. HB 6004, and its partner SB 1358 would allow the EAA to open brand new schools not in the bottom 5% across the state under a statewide school district and would be allowed to convert a community school to a charter within one year of being identified as a PLA.
The Board of the EAA would be appointed by the governor, not elected by the people, and the EAA would be allowed to receive public tax dollars to run these schools despite their private nature.
It would also allow the State to take over unused school buildings, and require school districts to pay for maintaining these school buildings, costing the taxpayers untold sums of money. School districts under and emergency manager would be forced to allow that person to evaluate their buildings to determine if they will be used for school purposes, redeployed for use by other schools, or if they are unsuitable for school use. If they are suitable for schooling, the emergency manager is required to make these buildings available for both public and private educational institutions, while the title and liability for the building would remain with the school district. Oh yeah, and the EAA is exempt from the state testing requirements that public schools have to endure.
HB 6004 and SB 1358 would effectively destroy the concept of a school district and the property values of the homes contained within, gives parents and students no incentive to work within schools to help them improve, and is borderline fascist policy making.
Allowing the EAA to come in and set up schools wherever it feels like under the auspices of a state-wide school district would completely destroy the concept of a local school district. No longer would a good school district be used in the determining the value of a home, nor could being located in a good school district be used to attract buyers. This could cause property values in all neighborhoods to plummet because someone living in a neighborhood that has a bad school only has to enroll their child in the EAA to move them to a better one.
Schools that are failing often have little input from the community as to what is desired or need to achieve that improvement. If HB 6004 and SB 1358 are allowed to pass, the PTA in those districts might as well be a book club. Parents will no longer have incentive to consult with teachers regarding their child’s performance, or any reason to even attempt to improve their school through a community effort.
Instead, they will simply be allowed to enroll their students in EAA and bounce them from school to school at the first sign of teachers with high standards and low tolerance for excuses regarding why Bobby or Suzy didn’t have a chance to finish their homework. Bobby and Suzy will most likely pass their classes once pliant teachers are found, but will get a lower quality of education because of it.
Finally, allowing a private entity like the EAA to take over public entity like schools and using public tax dollars to fund that private entity is a textbook definition of fascism. Hitler did it. So did Mussolini. They also specified the curriculum for their schools, and anyone who has studied World War II knows what was taught by those private institutions accepting public funds.
It is obvious that not a single member of Michigan Legislature has any inkling what might constitute good school reforms, and it is equally obvious that they don’t care what the consequences might be. Otherwise they would not be attempting to pass the twin atrocities of HB 6004 and SB 1358 in this lame duck session.
The legislature could easily fix failing schools by assigning all new teachers a veteran mentor to observe the newbie one half of the day, and demonstrate their own proven practice to the newbie during the other half.
Another approach is to allow teachers to not only grade their students, but also to grade parents based on their involvement in the student’s education as well as the administration in terms of whether or not the teacher’s needs are being met, then weigh those evaluations against any State evaluation the teacher endures.
Instead, Lansing wants to privatize the whole system and wind up facing a lawsuit alleging a violation of anti-discrimination laws like Louisiana.
Now is the time to take action. Now is the time to tell the Michigan Legislature to stop using education as a political football and focus on real reforms using real educators with real proven results instead of trusting an unproven, for-profit entity like the EAA to reform their system for them. Do it now before private entities are allowed to take over and pay no attention at all to what the community wants. Tell Lansing to give education back to the educators.