Who’s Influencing Education Policy in Michigan? Part I

Teachers across America show up to their classrooms every morning to make a difference in the lives of millions of children. Despite amazing challenges, they remain committed to realizing positive impact tapping into their students’ learning potential, guiding them to explore, to dream, and to reach their goals of becoming doctors, scientists, and even teachers. According to a study conducted by the Center for Teaching Quality on Teachers’ Workdays, educators spend on average 12 hours daily to ensure adequate time for lesson planning, instruction, after school tutoring, checking papers, parent outreach, and staff meetings. Coupled with their individual family commitments, this leaves little time or interest for being directly engaged in understanding the constant changes on America’s educational landscape.

While my origins as an education advocate are deeply rooted as an AFT-DFT member, I caution teachers simply placing their fate in the hands of unions while they do what they love most, teach. Policymakers, philanthropists, and corporate special interest groups, many of which lack the pedagogical competency, or the awareness of complex social, behavioral, or learning challenges which exist in many over-crowded classrooms, are shaping our nation’s educational landscape in isolation. The disengagement of educators in this process allows the “Blame the Teacher” narrative to be perpetuated, resulting in the development of biased, unsubstantiated, punitive, anti-teacher policies which do nothing to improve academic outcomes.

In Michigan alone, numerous bills impacting teacher performance, tenure, accreditation, vouchers, the uncapping of charters, and the infamous Education Achievement Authority (EAA), with failed practices originating from Kansas, were rammed through the house and senate over the last two years. By all evidence this is the dismantling of public education brick by brick with no real reforms or recourse for taxpayers in sight. Governor Snyder sidestepped the Michigan’s State Superintendant, State Board of Education, and many of the professors, deans, and education specialists at Eastern Michigan when developing the Education Achievement Authority’s (EAA) interlocal agreement with Eastern Michigan University. That was easy to do at Michigan’s only university where members of the Board of Regents are appointed by the governor. Can you say Dictatorship?

Governor Snyder then appointed a board of eleven corporate and philanthropic leaders to the EAA, with Roy Roberts, Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager serving dual duty as EAA’s President. No systems of accountability and transparency exist for taxpayers as million dollar contracts have been doled out to EAA board members. Amidst Public Act 4 challenges, the EAA was successful in taking 15 Detroit Public School facilities, many of which built jointly by Michigan taxpayers and matching Rebuild America federal funding, valued close to half a billion dollars, under the guise of interventions for persistent low performing schools. However, their goal to expand via EAA legislation caused a tsunami of advocacy by virtually every surrounding superintendent, parent and advocacy group from Michigan’s 500 school districts halting their expansion outside of Detroit’s borders during the lame duck session.

Although the EAA’s model originally touted to be funded primarily through foundations, the a recent Detroit New article highlights their request for a $2 million bailout from the State of Michigan notes that they are strapped for cash. Their efforts to be Michigan’s premier district, the first and only to receive Race to the Top funding, were met with effective grassroots resistance. Seemingly even with free infrastructures built with 2010 Proposal S funding that they have taken from Detroit taxpayers, now burdened to pay the debt until 2039, and Detroit Public School staff used to write EAA staffing contracts, to market their registration, and student recruiting, they are now taking Michigan legislators on a bus tour Friday, January 18th, to garner support for new EAA legislation and a Michigan taxpayer bailout for their academic experiment on Detroit students.

I am confident working collaboratively we can address Michigan’s educational crisis. However, not at the exclusion of community engagement and education professionals weighing in on the discussion. I hope that Michigan citizens, advocates, and legislators will defend all of Michigan’s children. Take an unplanned visit. Go talk to the students at Mumford that will not be able to graduate on time or receive a diploma. Talk to the students that take three buses and are met at the doors by staff members unwilling to understand the struggle that many of them come from. Talk to former EAA teachers who have witnessed the mayhem and lack of structure and interventions needed to improve low performing schools. Let your conscience be your guide before we so easily sacrifice Detroit’s children. Please begin calling and emailing your legislators to let them know “If it’s not good enough for your children, it’s not good enough for any of Michigan’s children.”

Click here to following link to find your legislator.