In response to recent controversy surrounding Eastern Michigan University’s relationship with the Education Achievement Authority, the university hosted a question and answer forum with a panel of EAA representatives in the Student Center Auditorium Wednesday morning.
The panel members consisted of six EAA representatives including EAA Chancellor John William Covington. Also on the panel were two students from Detroit Public Schools now under the EAA’s control were also on the panel, Southeastern High School student Malik Canty and Central High School student Leslie Fantroy, parent of seven students in EAA controlled schools Peggy Gordan, Principal of EAA-controlled Burns Elementary/Middle School Dwayne Richardason and teacher at EAA-controlled Law Academy Gary Puhl.
Before the forum began, members of Students for an Ethical and Participatory Education and the coalition of people against the EAA stood outside the auditorium, passing out literature which highlighted the ways in which they believe the EAA is failing public schools in Michigan.
“We want our critical voice heard here today,” Phil Patterson, a masters student at EMU studying social foundations and a member of SEPE and the coalition of people against the EAA said. “We want [President Martin] to know she has an ethical obligation to cancel the relationship with the EAA and support actual education reform that will bolster and strengthen the community, as opposed to corporate education reform.”
SEPE and the coalition of people against the EAA were disappointed when they discovered the format of Wednesday’s Q and A forum. Questions for the panel were to be submitted on an index card, which was then read aloud by vice president of communication Walter Kraft.
“They told us to submit three questions, and that the first 30 minutes would be spent answering those questions. Then, the floor was supposed to open,” one anonymous member of SEPE and the coalition of people against the EAA said. “This is a pre-meditated Q and A, it closes the dialogue.”
Executive director of media relations Geoff Larcom said the forum was set up in a way that allowed a lot of topics and questions to be covered in a short amount of time.
“It was undertaken with the best of intentions,” Larcom said. “We covered a lot of ground that had never been covered before.”
Provost Kim Schatzel knew emotions would run high at the panel, warning audience members beforehand, “many people will hear things they may not agree with today.”
Members of SEPE and the coalition of people against the EAA pushed back against the panel’s positive portrayal of their EAA-controlled schools, but the panel’s message remained the same: the EAA is good for Michigan’s public schools.
Questions from the audience ranged from seeking explanation for declined proficiency rates in students at EAA-controlled schools to questions about the student retention rates.
SEPE and coalition of people against the EAA members refuted most answers from Chancellor Covington. They held up sings that read, “liar” and “lies” after many of his responses to their questions.
Still, Chancellor Covington was eager to bridge the gap between the EAA and the College of Education at EMU.
“You are more than welcome, in fact, we would encourage you to come and see first hand what’s going on in our schools,” Covington said. “As the Chancellor, I am saying you are invited to come to any [EAA] school.”
Canty, Fantroy and Gordan shared their EAA success stories, stating they were better off in Detroit Public Schools after the EAA arrived, praising individualized education programs like the technology-based “Buzz” platform, which SEPE and the coalition of people against the EAA condemned.
“I can go back home and catch up [on buzz],” Fantroy said. “I like buzz because it actually sets me where I need to be… if I do have a problem with it, they actually go back and tell me everything that I would get wrong and show me how to do it.”
Overall, SEPE members, coalition of people against the EAA members and EMU College of Education faculty left the event feeling disappointed.
“We were disappointed that there wasn’t the opportunity for an open Q and A,” Steve Camron, special education teacher and Chair of the College of Education Council said. “We were lead to believe that was the case.”
Camron said the controlled environment discouraged follow up questions from the audience and didn’t leave room for dialogue, stating they were, “coopted into this theater event.”
For more information about the EAA and EMU’s relationship with the authority, stay tuned with The Echo in the following weeks.