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What is going on at EMU with the EAA?

Dec 8, 2014

Credit krossbow / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

It's not every EMU Regents meeting that ends with students and community members staging "die-ins" and screaming "Black lives matter! The EAA is killing me!" as the college president leans over them, asking them to calm down and get up off the floor. 

But that's what happened Friday. 

The Eastern Michigan University Regents voted to continue their sponsorship of the Education Achievement Authority, despite testimony from faculty, alumni and students asking the board to sever ties. Even EMU President Susan Martin proposed ending the contract. 

(Learn more about the EAA here)

Student body president Desmond Miller sent the Regents a letter expressing student anger over their decision.

"With today's vote, you showed that you do not care for us. You do not care about the future employment of our students, nor do you care about our opinions."

"With today's vote, you showed that you do not care for us. You do not care about the future employment of our students, nor do you care about our opinions. You do not care. And with today's vote, you drew the line showing your true priority, and it's not to Eastern Michigan University," Miller wrote. 

Here's what's going on.

What is the EAA contract and why are some people so upset about it? 

EMU is one of two sponsors who make the EAA possible.

"If EMU did pull out of that agreement, the EAA would have to find another governmental partner, or shut down completely."

They, along with Detroit Public Schools, have what's called an "interlocal" agreement with the Education Achievement Authority.

It's what allows the EAA to exist in the first place.

The contract they signed gives EMU a window to exit that agreement once a year, in December.

And if EMU did pull out of that agreement, the EAA would have to find another governmental partner, or shut down completely, according to EMU's spokesperson Walter Kraft.  

What do people dislike about the EAA? 

Remember when Governor Snyder said we have to do something about Michigan's worst schools? 

The Education Achievement Authority is what came of that. 

It's envisioned as a turn around district, a special status for troubled schools to get extra attention and try cutting edge teaching tools.

But rather than being spread throughout the state, the EAA is made up entirely of Detroit schools.

In brief, critics like the ACLU say the EAA used some of Detroit's most disadvantaged kids as guinea pigs for bug-ridden, incomplete teaching software, while staffing many classrooms with novice Teach For America teachers who had no union to support them, and ultimately failing to help most students make any significant progress on state tests.

But why does this concern EMU students?

We heard from several people at EMU that their education students are having serious trouble finding student teaching positions because some teacher unions want to boycott EMU students because of the university's EAA affiliation.   

"That has made it more difficult to place our student teachers," says EMU spokesperson Walter Kraft. 

"I just spoke with a student who was telling me that because of our affiliation with the EAA, he's having trouble getting placed in schools," says student body president Desmond Miller. 

A school spokesperson says in an email that they were ultimately able to place all 300 teaching students in positions this fall, some of them even in districts whose teachers unions reportedly backed the boycott. 

So if it's hurting EMU students, why do the Regents keep sponsoring the EAA? 

Many EMU faculty and students say they believe it's because the Regents are politically appointed, most of them by Governor Snyder, and may be afraid of financial or political repercussions from the legislature if EMU backs out of the contract. 

"You can't leave those schools like they are right now, and the only way the [EAA] students have any hope of moving on is to get an education. If we don't fix this, I don't know what their future is."

But the Regents themselves say that's not the case, that this vote was just the right, if tough, choice.

"I've met Governor Snyder to shake hands I think three times, he wouldn't know me from Joe Blow. I did it because it's the right thing to do," says regent James Webb, who was appointed by Snyder in 2012 and says he wasn't on the board when the EAA contract was first written. 

"You can't leave those schools like they are right now, and the only way the [EAA] students have any hope of moving on is to get an education. If we don't fix this, I don't know what their future is. They don't have much of one. If we don't do this, we go back to the system we had before. I won't quibble that we haven't seen the results we want coming out of this, but we've got a new chancellor in there and high hopes from our perspective," Webb said.

Webb says the resolution passed by the Regents on Friday is just an agreement to give the EAA one more year to turn things around. 

"If we don't see progress, then we'll have to revisit our thoughts." 

As for what EMU education students are dealing with, Webb says: "It makes it inconvenient. All students were placed, maybe not in the district they wanted. But that wasn't our decision, that was the teacher's decision. They took it out on the kids. You talk about bullying, and I wonder if that doesn't qualifying as bullying."

The resolution itself calls for more transparency from the EAA, and Webb says the Regents are working on more concrete benchmarks for the EAA to prove they're turning things around.