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From the Daily: Cutting the ties

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published December 5, 2013

Protesters and professors marched outside of Eastern Michigan University’s Welch Hall on Tuesday, calling for the school to end its partnership with the Education Achievement Authority— a program that forcibly takes control of the worst performing public schools in Michigan. Since its inception, the EAA has been hugely controversial, with opponents pointing out the undemocratic nature of taking over public schools and placing them under the jurisdiction of an unelected body. Some Michigan schools have refused to accept student teachers from EMU out of discontent with the university’s affiliation with the EAA. It’s time for the dissolution of the EAA, or at the very least, the termination of EMU’s involvement with it.

Established in 2011, the EAA identifies the lowest performing 5 percent of schools in the state and appropriates control of the school to Detroit Public School Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and a 11-member governing board appointed by Governor Rick Snyder, EMU and DPS. The EAA began its project by taking over 15 schools in the DPS district. Countless debates surrounding the EAA’s “educational program, accountability and governance of the authority” led to a coalition of parents and university professors to write a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama voicing their concerns in December of 2012.

Being the only public university partnered with the EAA, public schools in Michigan are angered by EMU’s unique relationship with the controversial program. Led by chairman Tim Hein, the Washtenaw County chapter of the Michigan Education Association is boycotting EMU student teachers in an effort to coerce the school to abandon the partnership. Hein explains that the EAA’s primary approach to improving schools to fire teachers deemed inadequate through an evaluation by their district. This is an overly simplistic and unsustainable approach to improving Michigan schools. Furthermore, the constant staff turnover creates a tumultuous environment for students whose academic struggles may be exacerbated by an unstable classroom.

Money spent on the EAA would be better spent on long-term solutions like more training for teachers and better resources for students. The programs detract from local control over schools, and in turn, the schools have lost community support. Enrollment in the schools has plummeted almost 25 percent. Regardless of the progress the EAA says it’s making with students, if they are choosing not to be educated through the system, these gains are irrelevant.

A significant amount of these teachers are replaced with volunteers from the Teach for America program. This places young, inexperienced college graduates in difficult and increasingly unstable situations. These new teachers are asked to teach students in low-income neighborhoods with higher-than-average crime rates while simultaneously dealing with the political controversy surrounding the EAA.

The WCEA’s boycott against EMU and the controversy surrounding the EAA directly harms EMU and its students. Many professors and department professionals are displeased with EAA tactics and the fact that their input is neither utilized nor valued. The growing tension culminated in the protest organized EMU’s chapter of the American Association of Teachers on Tuesday, Dec. 3. Despite faculty ire, EMU spokesman Geoff Larcom said in a statement that the university intends to continue its partnership with the EAA.

The EAA takes a simplistic and detrimental approach to fixing the schools it commandeers. Students at EMU and at EAA-run schools are victims of this mismanagement. The program should be ended. If state politics prevent the EAA’s dissolution, EMU should dissolve its partnership.