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Executive Director Amber Arellano's testimony to the Michigan Legislature on Education Achievement Authority legislation
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Publication date:November 19 2012
LANSING, Mich. (November 19, 2012) - The Education Trust-Midwest is Michigan’s only statewide, nonpartisan advocacy, research and policy center focused on one central question: What is best for Michigan’s students, particularly our low-income and minority students? This question guides all of our work at Ed Trust-Midwest – and it is what brings me here today to discuss House Bill 6004 on the EAA. Thank you for taking time today for this important discussion.
Ed Trust-Midwest supports research-based, data-driven strategies that boost student achievement for all children, while closing gaps for low-performing students.
We are hopeful about the potential of the EAA to provide high-performing schools to children in the city of Detroit. Indeed, we were the first organization in Michigan to publicly call for the implementation of the state’s first recovery district, which eventually became the Education Achievement Authority.
We also believe House Bill 6004 must be strengthened in order to best serve students and families in three important ways:
1. Honest, reliable school performance information for parents: Under the versions of the bills that we analyzed last week, both House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358 contain language that states only certain portions of Michigan school code would apply to the EAA. This would provide, essentially, an opt out of state assessments for the EAA. We’re also concerned this would mean EAA schools would be able to opt out of the state’s accountability system and proposed statewide growth model data system now under development by the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness. We believe this would be a mistake for the following reasons:
• Michigan parents deserve and need honest, comparable, reliable information about how their schools are performing around the state. If any opt outs are allowed, this legislation would prevent parents from getting such comparable information about EAA school performance and from making informed choices about their children’s schools.
• Furthermore, EAA schools likely would look as if they are performing extraordinarily better than their peer schools around the state, even if they are not. That would be misleading to parents and unfair to educators in other schools.
• Not incidentally, having EAA students opt out of state assessments also would risk the state of Michigan losing more than $530 million in federal Title 1 money, as the U.S. Department of Education requires all public schools to partake in state assessments to receive Title 1 funds.
2. EAA as “Super Authorizer:” The EAA should charter within its district, not statewide. This bill, alongside HB 5923, could be interpreted to give the EAA the authority to authorize new charter schools across the state of Michigan –- far, far beyond its charge of improving the lowest performing five percent schools in the state. Michigan already has many more authorizers than most other states; there is no need for additional authorizers. If the EAA is given the power to authorize, it should only have the authority to authorize charters to replace or turnaround the schools within its network – in other words, only as a strategy to improve those schools in the bottom five percent performing schools that have come under its authority.
3. Michigan students and taxpayers deserve minimum quality standards for existing charter and “cyber” operators’ expansion. We believe all students need and deserve a quality education, regardless of governance structure -- and that means high achievement. Currently, new charter schools run by chronically failing to low-performing operators are continuing to open due to the legislature’s 2011 lift in the charter cap. This is a poor use of public taxpayer dollars – not to mention a disservice to children.
For example, Michigan has one cyber school called the Michigan Virtual Charter Academy. Only 9% of this academy’s white 8th-graders were rated proficient in math in 2011, compared with 35% of white 8th graders statewide. The cyber school’s low-income 11th-graders scored lower in reading in 2012 than the most impoverished students in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Flint.
We urge state lawmakers to adopt language in these bills that would ensure any newly authorized EAA charter or EAA’s expansion of existing cyber operators would meet a basic level of quality performance. Any new school options should pass an “as good or better” test when compared with current opportunities available to similar students across the state.
Leading states provide such quality assurances and standards for their citizens and children. Michigan students deserve no less.
Thank you for your time and attention.
The Education Trust-Midwest is Michigan's only statewide nonpartisan policy, research and advocacy organization focused on what is best for Michigan students. Our mission is to work for the high achievement of all students, particularly low-income, African-American, Latino and American-Indian students in Michigan, and to provide honest, reliable information to our state's families and policymakers. www.edtrustmidwest.org