Wednesday, February 26, 2014

UPDATES: EAA Removes Job Posting, Apologizes--But What Does It Say About the EAA?

For Part 1 (to find out more about the Education Achievement Authority's job posting where they looked for teachers to work in a Christian setting), start here.

Education Achievement Authority logo

Update 2/26/2014:

The job posting has been taken down. In a letter from Chancellor John Covington to ACLU Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg, Covington writes that the EAA is aware of their Constitutional obligation to remain neutral in matters of religion; and that they don't discriminate; and that they have removed the job posting from the website and will replace it with one that does not have any references to religion. He calls the job posting an "error" and says they will make a "concerted effort" so that it doesn't happen again.

Read the entire letter here.

Meanwhile, in other news--an acquaintance sent me the link for the job posting from which the EAA job posting was likely copied. The job posting is from St. Mary Child Development Center in Troy, MI. Read it here. But unlike the publicly-funded EAA, St. Mary Child Development Center is a private parochial school which has as its mission (according to their website)
to provide loving care with a Christian Orthodox based education in a nurturing Christ Centered environment where values are taught and exemplified.
The whole thing smacks of laziness on the part of the EAA staff. As a friend wrote to me on Facebook--

The choices here are a) they are completely and utterly ignorant of the first amendment, civil rights law and education law in this country or b) they are not only copying from elsewhere (let's face it, we've all done it) but not competent enough to proofread before proceeding. I don't think either of these are attractive options. I think b is much more likely, and perhaps more palatable, but not exactly a ringing endorsement. A "turn around" school district doesn't write its own job postings? How are they hoping to attract the great educators needed to help struggling kids if they don't give any thought to what that job description looks like?

[Based on some of the other job postings I saw on the website, I would say there is a lot of sloppiness in the EAA's editing of those job posts! For instance, some of them had non-discrimination statements at the bottom, others did not.]

And another friend commented:

There will be an EAA Board of Regents meeting at EMU on March 25, 1:00 p.m. at Welch Hall. Please come and share your outrage.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

BREAKING: Education Achievement Authority Looks for Teachers to Teach in a "Christian Setting"

The Education Achievement Authority (EAA), the controversial publicly-funded school system that has taken over 15 "failing" schools that were formerly Detroit Public Schools, is advertising for lead preschool teachers for three schools (Bethune, Law, and Brenda Scott) who will be "responsible for implementing a developmentally appropriate early childhood education curriculum in a Christian setting."

According to a letter sent to the EAA by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, a teacher called the ACLU last week to alert them to this job posting.

Excerpt from the EAA preschool teacher job posting. Found online at on 2/25/2014.

What's more, because the EAA is the vehicle for the state-run State School Reform/Redesign District, the job posting is actually hosted on the State of Michigan's web site, [Find other documents from the EAA at]

In the letter to Chancellor John Covington, the head of the EAA, from Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg, the ACLU notes that:

There is no principle more fundamental to American public education than the requirement that schools be welcoming of all students and teachers regardless of religious or racial background. Our Constitution wisely requires schools to remain neutral in matters of religion. . . 
I hope that you will respond to this letter by explaining that the use of the "Christian setting" language was somehow a mistake and that you will change the job description right away. Even if it was a mistake, however, we are distressed by how many EAA administrators and staff must have read the job announcement without thinking it was wrong or demanding that it be changed. Moreover, we wonder how many excellent teachers who are Muslim, Jewish or not religious read the job description and decided not to apply because they believed they were not wanted. Indeed, how many top notch teachers who are Christian decided not to apply because they thought it was improper to teach public school students in a religious environment?
Read the entire letter, including Exhibit A (a .pdf of the job description) here.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

W.E.B Du Bois: Of The Color Line, the Class Line, and a Boyhood in Western Massachusetts

Photo by Ruth Kraut, 2010
To close out Black History Month,* I thought I'd share some thoughts I had about a visit I made a few summers ago to the W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite in western Massachusetts. Before that, I knew about Du Bois' as a wonderful thinker. I had read--more than once--his book The Souls of Black Folk, in which he wrote that "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." [Read the Souls of Black Folk online here, check it out from the library, or invest in a copy!]

Photo by Ruth Kraut, 2010
I did not realize, until I passed this historic site, and stopped to visit, that Du Bois had graduated from the mostly white high school in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. I wonder how that experience affected his thinking about education?

In Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois spends some time talking about the Talented Tenth, the idea that an elite group of intellectually-motivated black students should be encouraged in intellectual pursuits.

In Chapter 3 of Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois also takes on the legacy of Booker T. Washington, who promoted the idea of industrial/trade education for the majority of black students.

Photo by Ruth Kraut, 2010
Photo by Ruth Kraut, 2010. Part of the caption here reads,
"Violence is black children going to school for 12 years
and receiving 5 years of education."
Taken together, these two trains of thought--W.E.B. Du Bois' Talented Tenth on the one hand, and Booker T. Washington's belief in trade education on the other hand, created--and continue to elucidate--our understanding of education for people of color today.

Yet as I once heard Ted Shaw, former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund say (paraphrasing here, I wasn't taking notes at this speech! but I think I found an account of the speech here): "If the issue of the 20th century was the color line, the issue of the 21st century is likely to be the class line."

According to this account, Shaw also commented that: "Race has always masked class differences in the United States. . . Why are educational opportunities at the best universities and colleges so limited? . . .
Shaw described the tracking, sorting and labeling of young students by ability as 'diabolical.'"

Are we--should we be--training students to be automatons, cogs in an industrial machine? Or are we--should we be--training students to be intellectual leaders? And are those our only choices? I find echoes of these discussions in the arguments around the narrowing of the curriculum that is in part caused by high-stakes standardized testing and the reduction of the arts in public schools.

I'll close with this excerpt from Souls of Black Folk, Chapter 1, Of Our Spiritual Strivings, because in this excerpt Du Bois writes of his time in the western Massachusetts Berkshire Mountains:
And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,—peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards—ten cents a package—and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card,—refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination-time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heads. Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the worlds I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my head,—some way. With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.
*As it happens, I have been thinking about writing this post since I took these pictures in the summer of 2010, and because of Black History Month I decided that I should finish the post now. As I was getting ready to hit the "publish" button, I came across something that gave me Du Bois' birthdate--February 23, 1868. And the date of today's post? February 23, 2014. Today is, in fact, the 146th birthday of W.E.B. Du Bois. He died in Accra, Ghana (in self-imposed exile!), the day before the 1963 March on Washington. So much of what Du Bois wrote, over 100 years ago, is still relevant now. And that's why, if you haven't yet picked up and read the Souls of Black Folk, I'd recommend you put it on your "short list" of books to read in 2014. 

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Latest Ann Arbor Chronicle Column: Good Ideas, Flawed Process at AAPS

Here is my latest Ann Arbor Chronicle article. The focus is on Jeanice Swift's new proposals (mostly good) and the school board's lack of attention to process or to following the school board's own policies.

It starts like this:

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen good news and bad news coming out of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. 
Good news has come in the form of a new, enthusiastic, positive-energy, forward-looking superintendent in Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift. Her “Listen and Learn” tour was thorough and well-received by the community, followed by some quickly-implemented changes based on feedback from parents, teachers and staff. 
Swift also brought forward some longer-term initiatives that required approval from the AAPS board. Those include plans to address underutilized buildings, a new K-8 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) program, more language programming, and opening up AAPS to students outside the district through the Schools of Choice program. Those ideas are all positive. 
The bad news is process-related, tied to actions by the AAPS board. Mistakes of past years are being made again, as the school board fails to follow its own policies when implementing major changes to the schools. Specifically, the board continues to make important decisions after midnight, with scant information about costs or implementation. Some final votes are rushed through at the same meeting when the items are introduced, not allowing time for sufficient public input.
Read the rest here.

Embedded in the column, also, is the list of Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel members. The Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel is an invited group of community members--and I was asked to be on it. You can access the list directly here.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Does Pay Prove Worth? Teachers Race to the Bottom

The first time I thought about becoming a public school teacher, I was deterred by the thought of paying for a whole semester of school, and not being able to make any money during that time period, while working for free as a student teacher.

The second time I thought about it, I had a slightly longer view. The 13 weeks didn't seem quite as long, and plus my husband was working. I was more interested in putting to rest the question of whether I should be a public school teacher.

At the time, I asked a friend who was an Ann Arbor school teacher, if I should pursue teaching certification. "No," she said definitively. "I am a born teacher, but teachers are not valued in any way."

I didn't take her advice then (13 years ago!), but afterwards I thought maybe I should have.

Student teachers work for free. So, too, do their supervising (mentor) teachers, who get something like $100 for each teacher they take on.

I thought of all this today, listening to a story on NPR about how North Carolina teachers have had their pay cut; have no right to organize; and don't get rewarded for time as a teacher or masters-level education.

Then I opened up and saw Kellie Woodhouse's article about how the majority of the full-time lecturers at EMU's School of Education have been laid off for the fall of 2014. These lecturers are unionized--and although part-time lecturers were recently able to unionize, I have to believe a part of this is a way for EMU to break the union. It could also be revenge for the fact that the union rightfully opposed EMU's involvement in the Education Achievement Authority--for very good reasons!--and asked local school districts' unions to not place EMU student teachers.

Full-time lecturers cost more too, so in that way EMU's action is part of the same Race to the Bottom that we see in North Carolina, and here in Michigan as well--where teachers have had to give up compensation year after year.

I didn't listen to my friend, and paid for the "opportunity" to be a student teacher. [I hope, sometime soon, to blog a little bit about that experience.]

Teacher certification, and other school of education programs that award teachers higher degrees (additional coursework is often a requirement of certification) have been a cash cow for education schools for many years. But that is changing.

According to Woodhouse's article, the number of people who are studying to be teachers has dropped dramatically at EMU.

"In 2008-09 undergraduates were enrolled in 40,089 credit hours, a number that shrunk to 30,743 credit hours in 2012-13, according to the 2013 EMU data book."

Honestly, I'm surprised that it hasn't dropped more.

If anybody asks me, I give them the same advice my friend gave me. "Don't do it!" I say. "I'm a born teacher, but teachers are devalued every day."

Some of them might take my advice.  Many of the others can be found substitute teaching around town for the princely sum of $75/day--an amount that has remained the same locally for at least 13 years.

*Coincidentally, the number 13 shows up several times in this short piece. What do you make of that?

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Education Achievement Authority Discussion Tuesday

The Ann Arbor Education Association is sponsoring a forum on Governor Snyder's failed experiment - the Education Achievement Authority. 

When: Tuesday, February 11th from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Pioneer High School in the Little Theater.

From the press release:

Scheduled speakers include State Representative Jeff Irwin along with other members of the Washtenaw County delegation, Tom Pedroni—Associate Professor of Education at Wayne State University, Christopher Robbins—Associate Professor of Social Foundations at the Education School of Eastern Michigan University, Chris Savage-owner of Eclectablog, and other local public educators and concerned citizens.

**Speaking of the Education Achievement Authority, People Who Know believe the new (mostly the same) EAA bill will be fast-tracked through our state legislature this week.

From Vickie Markavitch of the Oakland Intermediate School District:

URGENT ACTION on EAA NEEDED by 11:00 am Wednesday 2/12

February 11, 2014 at 9:54pm
Here is the new version of the EAA legislation. House members have been told they have 24 hours to review and then will vote on it tomorrow.  We believe that vote may be as early as NOON. 
PLEASE call your state representatives and senators to express your opinion on this newest version.  

Here are the key discussion points for your call. 

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mascots: Mastering A Good Name

I didn't see this ad at the Superbowl, but afterwards my husband and son showed it to me. I have a special interest in this because of the month that I spent on an Indian reservation in South Dakota (Cheyenne River) many years ago with the Sioux YMCA.

This ad is about the NFL, but it has great relevance to school sports too.

Discussions of school mascots have been major topics in Washtenaw County. . .  remember the EMU Hurons (name changed to the Eagles)? The Ypsilanti Braves (name changed to the Phoenix before the merger to YCS, and then changed again to the Grizzlies)? The Milan Big Reds (name kept, but Native American imagery removed)?

Mascots: A good name is worth more than great riches.

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Great Opportunity to Support Michigan Parents for Schools

For the past five years, we've seen attack after attack on public schools in this state.

If the tide is ebbing even the tiniest little bit, in my opinion a good part of the credit goes to MIPFS Executive Director Steve Norton and the board of Michigan Parents for Schools.

They have tirelessly been harnessing and encouraging citizen action on education; rebutting simplistic legislation with thoughtful testimony; and even proposing ideas of their own [like this new piece of legislation--many thanks to Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton].

Here is Steve Norton, Executive Director of MIPFS,
speaking at an education rally in Lansing, Michigan.
And for the last two years, I've been asking Steve, who has been a tremendous resource to this blog, as well as to the state's education community, "Can I make a contribution to MIPFS?"

And each time, the answer has been: Not Yet.
Now, finally, the answer is: Yes.

I am very happy about this because I believe in what MIPFS is doing. And that's why I'm putting a link to contribute to them right here in my blog.

I hope you will join me in making a donation to MIPFS, 

By the way--Michigan Parents for Schools is an advocacy group [applying for 501(c)4 nonprofit status] and so your contribution is not tax-deductible. But then again, some of the best things in life are not.

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