INTRO: U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan and Governor Rick Snyder toured schools in Detroit this week. They inspected one of the 15 Detroit schools that’s part of the Educational Achievement Authority. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus followed along. So did critics of the EAA.
This 5th grade teacher played a video and asked students to sing. This is Thirkell Elementary. Kwame Kilpatrick grew up one street away.
The classroom is regular sized. 20 journalists were told to stay together at one side. Governor Snyder walked in. He walked around to a couple of the kids’ desks. He asked them to read. We shot photos, video and audio up close of the kids and Snyder.
Another dozen officials in suits walked around the room. One man crouched down to eye level with a boy named Khalil Holiness who was seated at his desk. The man got positive answers by asking yes or no questions.
“We have many projects to keep us active in class,” Khalil said.
“Do you guys do a lot of projects versus worksheets?”
“Yes. We do more projects that worksheets?” Khalil said.
“Do you like that?” said the man, doing research on your own and trying to figure things out?
“Yes it helps me learn and how to be independent,” said Khalil.
The Educational Achievement Authority started last year in schools with low test scores. It’s designed to let students in the same room learn at their own speed. If they can do 9th grade math in 5th grade great. U.S. Education Secretary Arnie Duncan entered the classroom.
“My last thing. Do you guys have a good teacher? Why is she good?” asked Duncan.
“She exposes us to different types of learning,” said Jakaila Taylor. A boy said:
“while we’re learning she lets us have fun while we’re doing it.”
“Do you think teachers make a little money or a lot?” asked Secretary Duncan.
“A lot,” said several kids. The adults laughed.
The Secretary and the Governor led a troop of adults downstairs to another classroom. I asked 11 year old Jakaila Taylor what she thinks of her school.
“When I first came here I didn’t really know about it. But when I got used to it I got used to it, I feel really welcome, really safe and I think that it’s a really good school for people to come. If you are trying to find a really good school for your child you should come to Thirkell Elementary.”
When people jam into elevators they tend to stop talking, keep their hands at their sides and pop in breath freshening mints. That’s how close journalists and politicians were crammed together. Journalists got access. Politicians got spin.
Republicans in Lansing want a state wide EAA plan. Democrats say it’s wrong to expand the program without proof that it works. Public school districts and charter schools are regulated by the state board of education. But the EAA is regulated by the governor. Some democrats are warning that the EAA will become a parallel education system around the state. They warn that laws are being written so more money and students can be taken from public schools and placed into schools that are run like a business.
“We know that what they are offering is an inferior product mandated by the governor’s office because all control of these 15 EAA schools is seated within the governor’s office.”
Democrat State representative Bert Johnson came to Thirkell Elementary. He delivered a letter to Secretary Duncan telling him not to support the EAA. I asked Johnson if racism is part of this process.
“There is a war on impoverished families and their children. What they have dreamed up in this EAA format… you know I don’t even have to touch the racism thing. A number of people see that as it is anyway and they don’t all look like me as a black man. It is an inferior product that is being sold to families who can’t get out of this community if they want to.”
We journalists got a cursory glance at the school and the children. It was difficult to see how the EAA curriculum is failing kids. But Senator Bert Johnson argues:
“There is a nexus between some of the failed policies that disproportionately impact people of color and people in high poverty and the fact that they receive an inferior education. This could not take place and take root in West Bloomfield, Grosse Pointe or Birmingham. This could not take place in more affluent areas.”
The bill to expand the Educational Achievement Authority state wide has been introduced by republican Lisa Posthumous Lyons. She’s the daughter of former Lieutenant governor Dick Posthumous. They’re from suburban Grand Rapids.