April 24, 2014

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OP-ED

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An Unfair Portrayal of the EAA

In regard to your May 1 item about state Rep. Ellen Cogan Lipton’s [Freedom of Information Act] request to the Education Achievement Authority, the representative filed a voluminous [FOIA] request with the EAA at the end of March. [“Snyder’s Skunky Smell,” News Hits; Vol. 33, Issue No. 29.]

The request was quite detailed and required considerable staff time, including culling through thousands of old e-mails, to assemble the information she was requesting. As the material was accumulated, it was forwarded to her with the process being completed within a month after she submitted her request. For her to complain that we “delayed for more time” is ludicrous given the amount of material she was requesting.

The request to reimburse the EAA for copying costs and staff time was computed under the provisions of the Freedom of Information law under which she made the request, a law with which she, as a legislator, should be quite familiar.

As far as the loan from the state to EAA is concerned, it did not cost DPS a dime to administer. In fact, since DPS is collecting $11 million in rent from the EAA for the 15 school buildings EAA is using; it was in DPS’ interest to make sure EAA had adequate funds. The loan was taken out under the Master Service Agreement EAA signed with DPS for a number of services at the beginning of the year, which was approved by our board. There was nothing “secret” about it and it is being repaid on schedule.

The EAA was created to take over and transform the worst schools, schools that had been chronically failing the students who attended them and turning out kids who couldn’t read the diplomas they were receiving when they graduated.

We are a start-up operation with 15 schools, more than 400 teachers and 10,000 students, so we were bound to have some glitches.

But in the few months we have been operating, we already have experienced many inspiring stories of young people who, in past years, have been disengaged and created discipline problems, but who are now engaged and eagerly learning. Initial testing of students to check their progress in late January and February showed that a quarter of our students already had achieved one year’s growth in reading and math.

Our student-centered learning model requires that a teacher be an engaged facilitator of content and learning approaches for each individual student in his or her classroom. It’s a stark contrast to the traditional teacher/lecture model that tries to move the entire class forward at a pace that is too slow for some and too fast for others.

The progress we have made in student achievement is proof on a very fundamental level that children, no matter what background they come from, want to learn, can learn and will learn if they are provided the right environment. That is what student-centered learning can accomplish and is accomplishing in the EAA schools.

 

John William Covington is the chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan.

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