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Letter to Editor: Rep. Jacobsen responds to reader's concerns over EAA



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April 10, 2013 - Editor's Note: What follows is state Rep. Brad Jacobsen's (R-Oxford) response to a reader's concerns over the Education Achievement Authority.

The EAA has been more successful than failing traditional public schools at teaching their curriculum.

Since the EAA was put into place in just 15 schools, 20 percent of students in the district saw their math and reading scores improve by one year's growth. Another 40 percent of students showed measurable progress in closing the achievement gap. The word "increase" shows me that there is an improvement in the student's ability to learn and retain information, not a decline in those same abilities.

Furthermore, EAA attendance is significantly higher than averages in failing traditional schools. These students have considerably more seat time, greater access to non-traditional learning like online courses, more elective choices, and use of innovative class scheduling. Students also have more access to social services, larger food plans, and counselors than in a normal school environment. The EAA allows school districts to pick the best ideas from the forefront of education and implement them.

The answer to your question on why I support this is simple: It's time to try something different. We spend the same amount of money per student to attend a failing district, and not get the education that they need to even have a chance to become successful in the future. Local school districts are relieved of the burdens of a failing district, they no longer pay for building maintenance or staffing for that school. An EAA school is treated the same as all Michigan public schools and would receive between $6,966 to $8,019 per pupil. Often times this per-pupil funding is even greater than areas like Lake Orion or Oxford because EAA schools are in areas that receive higher per-pupil grants like Detroit.

I also toured an EAA school before making my decision to support this important legislation. Students and teachers seemed to have a better attitude. Comparison photos of before and after the schools takeover are dramatic. Everyone seemed to respect their newer, safer, and cleaner environment. Students spoke with me about their like of more technology, actually enjoying school again, and learning new concepts. Administrators and teachers were praising the EAA as more flexible and allowing a tailored approach to each school's specific problems.

The EAA is an attempt to turn these schools and the futures of these children around before they reach the point of no return. The data already shows that the EAA is having a dramatic effect on the student's ability to learn in these districts that were at one time failing. Once a school has been taken off of the list of lowest performing schools, then the school would return back to the district it came from with its new model in place. The local school board would then be responsible for making sure a school continues to educate students.

It is important to consider that an Emergency Manager is very different from the EAA. This is not an admission that the EM laws are not working, simply that a small portion of schools are in need of a new education model. Restricting the program to 50 schools was seen as a sensible way to move forward. We can throw around a lot of buzz about "state takeovers," and "government overreach," but what we're really focusing on is allowing failing schools to excel. The EAA is run by a Chancellor, who is paid as a normal administrator, and a Board selected by the Governor with most approved by the State Senate. The Board receives no compensation for their work. The schools operate within a normal budgeting process which is the same for every school.

There is also no data to suggest that students formerly in the traditional school model would falter or become worse under the EAA, even if they were personally performing well in the past. The EAA would likely do a better job of identifying their past success and skills, then provide more focused learning opportunities. This is a new model for providing education outside of the traditional school model. It can be hard to accept that this is the right thing to do. The status quo is so engrained in education policy, but we can't keep at the same model that continually fails, even after throwing millions of dollars at failing districts.

The original law put in place under Gov. Granholm's "Race To The Top," program already allowed for a state management of the lowest 5% of schools. This isn't a new idea, nor is it necessarily a partisan idea. In fact, I don't feel it should be a partisan idea. We are trying to help in places the status quo isn't working. While we can debate the merits of the proposal, we certainly need to realize that politicizing and asking biased questions isn't the solution.

Again, thank you for your letter. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact my office at 517-373-1798.

This is a complex issue and unfortunately it is often hard to adequately explain such a vast quantity of information in a 500-word editorial format to our local paper. If you have further questions I always urge constituents to contact us directly.

It is my sincerest hope that this legislation creates model schools that provide quality education for our children.

Brad Jacobsen

Oxford

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