[nfbmi-talk] Interview with State Representative

joe harcz Comcast joeharcz at comcast.net
Sun Mar 23 11:43:10 UTC 2014


Hi Terry and All,

Right on. And this also goes to the state taking over institutions including 
school districs with private pals and violating special ed rules which do 
impact, of course the blind students there. This is not unlike the takeover 
of MCB and using funds for everything but the Vocational Rehabilitation of 
blind people.

I do have one correction though and that is most of the documents are 
accessible here and elsewhere. The initial complaint, which is systemic by 
the way is not and I have a call in to this State Rep and lawyer, by the 
way, to take care of that.

The other issue that we must note and is blindness related is that 
increasingly these systems are relying upon computer related training. We 
must ensure that that education is accessable to all students with 
disabilities including our blind students.

This goes, of course to the TEACH Act and the good OCR resolution with 
Charter Schools in South Carolina that I posted.

Also as Amy Shepard pointed out to this list the powers that be are trying 
to ram through highly suspect special ed rule changes as a way to enshrine 
the abuses to our disabled kids and parent advocates referenced here in not 
only the EAA but state wide.

This said I thank you for reading this, and for your apt comments.

Also as an update on this general issue of the EAA, including the special ed 
component we all know that blind folks who live in this area are totally 
underserved and have been so for years. The state plan tells us so.

And as Larry points out, if you're black and poor and live in Detroit and 
are blind you get nothing.

The Michigan House just extended the EAAto perhaps takeover as many as fifty 
districs now statewide and beyond the 15 it has taken over in Detroit 
proper.

Moreover, Eastern Michigan left the EAA in disgust and reports in November 
were that the EAA actually lost close to 24 percent of students in this 
school year.

Where did they go? And more importantly to this list and our brethren where 
did the special ed kids, including those who are blind go?

Again many thanks Terry.

Joe
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Terry D. Eagle" <terrydeagle at yahoo.com>
To: "'NFB of Michigan Internet Mailing List'" <nfbmi-talk at nfbnet.org>
Sent: Saturday, March 22, 2014 11:21 PM
Subject: [nfbmi-talk] Interview with State Representative


> Dear Fellow Federationists,
>
>
>
> What an interesting and informative article and interview of the state
> representative.  If you did not take the time to go to the link Joe 
> posted,
> I encourage you to read on in the entirety of my post.  I have pasted the
> article and interview.  Unfortunately, the referenced and linked 
> referenced
> documents were image-based, and unable to be read by the screen reader
> program.  Despite that flaw, that does not take away from the content, and
> the entire article and interview is very revealing regarding the sad state
> of education, especially for Michigan special education students, such as
> blind students.  Moreover, it speaks to this current state governor and
> legislature’s actions to block and end run the democratic system process,
> ignore federal law and state promulgated administrative rules, ignore and
> deny, by outright rejection of valid, legally recognized complaints and
> grievances, lack of oversight and accountability, lack of transparency and
> difficulty in obtaining public documents and records, because state
> officials ignore Freedom of Information and accessibility laws, and of 
> corse
> follow the money conflict-of-interest and political and civil service
> friends, family, and bedfellow relationship payoffs.
>
>
>
> For the reader who routinely inquires what does this all have to do with
> blindness, I submit that all that is raised in the article and interview,
> are exactly that which we as individuals and as an organization all face 
> and
> must contend with each and every day, as we attempt to navigate along a 
> path
> to equality and independence in our community and society, whether as a
> blind student, a parent or family member with a school-age child, or an
> aging parent, spouse, or relative, or as an unemployed individual seeking
> work opportunity or services from a governmental agency or official , or 
> as
> an advocate for ourself or others similarily situated, each barrier and
> challenge outlined in the article and article points to what is 
> drastically
> wrong with our democratic system and self-serving state officials and 
> their
> well positioned political cronies, and that which we must face as 
> realistic
> challenges, as we move ahead as individuals and an organized movement in
> society and with such a governmental system in which to operate.
>
>
>
> Imagine, if an elected state official, such as a state representative or
> state senator, cannot get state officials to act and respond in a manner
> consistent with laws and regulations, can be charged $2600 for 1700 pages 
> of
> documents, have official inquiries and complaints ignored and outright
> rejected, while attempting to obtain transparency, oversight, and
> accountability from state agencies and officials, then we as citizens and
> consumers also face such barriers and corruption, and we must be informed
> and prepared for that which is sadly reality in our government system.  As
> the article and interview clearly points out, the environment in which we
> find ourselves and must operate, is as important as the issue of how and
> whether something simply is related to blindness.  To ignore or outright
> dismiss something as unrelated to blindness is to narrowly view the world 
> in
> which we operate,  with tunnel vision or with blinders (no pun intended), 
> or
> to bury our head in the sand, believing it is not reality and will vanish
> somehow.
>
>
>
> Again, if you have not taken the opportunity to read the article and
> interview through the link Joe ppreviously posted, I highly encourage you 
> to
> read on for a very informative and instructive article and interview, as a
> commentary on our governmental system, and how it directly relates to our
> organizational mission for changing what it means to be blind in Michigan,
> and that which we face as systematic governmental barriers and challenges.
>
>
>
> Terry Eagle
>
>
>
>
>
> INTERVIEW: Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton on exposing violations of federal law 
> by
> the Education Achievement Authority & how it’s failing our kids
>
> By
>
> Eclectablog
>
> on
>
> September 25, 2013
>
> “Why have to work through all of the messiness of this thing called
> ‘democracy’?”
>
> I have written extensively about Michigan’s “Education Achievement
> Authority”. It was formed in September of 2012 as an interlocal agreement
> with Eastern Michigan  University as a school district comprised of
> Michigan’s most failing schools. Originally it had 15 of Detroit’s worst
> schools. New legislation,
>
> House Bill 4369, introduced in the spring of this year by Republican Lisa
> Lyons, chair of the House Education Committee, would codify the EAA into
> state statute and it would contain the lowest-performing 5% of schools
> statewide.
>
> Based on grant applications filed by Dr. John Covington, the chancellor of
> the EAA, there would be as many as 60 schools in this “district for 
> wayward
> schools” if the law passes.
>
>
>
> The idea behind the EAA, of course, is that the state could do a better 
> job
> of solving
>
> the problems of our worst-performing schools than the school districts 
> that
> they
>
> are in have done and can do.  The state of Michigan website
>
> waxes eloquently about the EAA
>
> :
>
> There are a number of features that make EAA schools unique:
>
> Students have more time to learn. The EAA has a 7.5 hour school day - an
> hour longer
>
> than the traditional school day - and 210 days per school year - more than
> 30 additional
>
> days compared to most Michigan public schools. This means nearly 1,600 
> hours
> of instruction annually, some 50 percent more than Michigan’s requirement
> of just 1,098 hours. This expanded learning period puts EAA students on 
> par
> with students in countries such as Japan, China and Singapore, enabling 
> them
> to achieve on a level with their international competitors.  This 
> grandiose
> language notwithstanding, not surprisingly, Dr. Covington quickly learned
> that he couldn’t run these schools at the level of funding that had been
> receiving from the state, either, and had to go outside for millions of
> dollars in
>
> federal and private grants.
>
>
>
> Since it was formed, several Democrats in the legislature have been
> scrutinizing
>
> the EAA to ensure that, since they took over these schools, they were
> meeting the
>
> standards that are required by law for educating our kids. What has become
> increasingly
>
> apparent is that the administration of the EAA is in complete disarray. 
> They
> have
>
> incredible discipline issues, special education kids are being summarily
> removed
>
> from the program in violation of state and federal law, and they appear to
> be manipulating testing to both make their outcomes look better than they
> are and also to justify taking over schools. Instead of being a model for
> educating kids, classroom instruction is being handled by inadequately
> trained graduates from the Teach for America program, which gives
> “teachers” five weeks of training before sending them into the 
> classroom.
>
>
>
> Text books and other teaching methods appear to have been tossed aside in
> favor of
>
> software programs where the student interacts with a laptop computer 
> rather
> than
>
> a teacher.
>
>
>
> On the forefront of this effort to hold the EAA accountable and to make 
> sure
> they
>
> are actually achieving the results they say they are before we take the
> system statewide
>
> is Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton, (D-Huntington Woods).  She has been
> repeatedly rebuffed by the administration of the EAA as well as the
> Department of Education, forcing her to pay several thousands of dollars 
> out
> of her own pocket for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) data that should
> have been provided to a three-time elected state legislator for the 
> asking.
>
>
>
> She and Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Taylor) have, through their FOIA
> requests, been given over 2,000 pages of information in what amounts to a
> data dump intended to
>
> overwhelm them with so much documentation that they couldn’t find the
> information
>
> that they are looking for. They have, however, begun the process of
> organizing the
>
> documents and have them on a searchable website called
>
> InsideTheEAA.com.
>
>
>
> I sat down with Representative Lipton on Monday to talk about her efforts 
> to
> expose
>
> the failures of the EAA.
>
>
>
> Thanks for sitting down with me, Representative. Could we start with a bit
> of a timeline
>
> of how we got to where we are today with regard to the Education 
> Achievement
> Authority and your involvement? I know that Lisa Lyons introduced House 
> Bill
> 4369 in March, and there were FOIA requests and other things since then.
>
> Sure and, yes, it’s an interesting timeline. Actually, you need to go 
> back
> a bit
>
> further to the lame duck session of the state legislature last fall. The
> legislation
>
> that would codify the EAA sprang from that. There were a lot of things
> happening
>
> during the lame duck and I think the thought was “we’ll just slide this 
> in
> there
>
> and no one will notice.” Well, people
>
> DID
>
> notice and many of the people who had lead the fights back in the 90s
> against vouchers,
>
> those groups had never stopped being around, they were just “mothballed”.
> They collectively,
>
> in a phenomenal and rapid period of time, got activated, they brought in 
> new
> people,
>
> and they were extremely instrumental in organizing, attending hearings, 
> and
> creating
>
> a very specific public outcry against this thing called the EAA. It was 
> not
> something
>
> that people were even following.
>
> Well, they succeeded. We got through lame duck and the bill never passed 
> out
> of committee.
>
> It was a great grassroots effort but, like a lot of grassroots efforts, 
> you
> have
>
> to stay aware and vigilant. Of course, what happened, now we get to this
> session,
>
> the bill gets reintroduced with very few changes. Fundamentally it is to
> codify this
>
> state-run school district. The only difference, really, was the make-up of
> the majority
>
> party on the House Education Committee. Every person the Ed Committee from
> the majority
>
> party that had some reservations during the lame duck was suddenly not on
> the Ed
>
> Committee.
>
> So, the bill is re-introduced and…
>
> It gets a favorable reception.
>
> Right.
>
> I assume this was House Speaker Jase Bolger intentionally choosing 
> different
> people
>
> for the committee who were favorable?
>
> Absolutely. Absolutely. The Chair, Lisa Lyons, held two hearings. One was
> EAA Chancellor
>
> John Covington. He came and talked about how “Oh, we have to do something
> for the
>
> kids” and “At least we’re doing something”.
>
> As the minority vice-chair, I asked a series of questions like, “Okay, if
> the EAA,
>
> at least in these 15 schools, is doing what you say they are doing, could
> you please
>
> show us the evidence? Because it doesn’t seem to be jiving with what we’re
> hearing.”
>
> This is, after all, a “metrics driven” administration…
>
> Right. They’re saying students are getting X amount of growth. Well, what
> we’re hearing
>
> from psychometricians from Wayne State University who have actually 
> reviewed
> the
>
> test data, they’re telling us that that’s not possible because the same
> cohort of
>
> students that took the test in February were not those that took the test 
> in
> October.
>
> There were too many structural deficiencies in the testing that made the
> data completely
>
> unusable. So why are you coming here telling us that this.
>
> The message was, at least from my standpoint, that if you have discovered
> the “magic
>
> bullet” and you have found out how to build the better mousetrap, then 
> you
> should
>
> at least be able to articulate what it is you have done.
>
> That isn’t the case and the Democrats on the committee became very
> frustrated because
>
> the response from Dr. Covington was, “Just trust me. I’m telling you 
> that
> this is
>
> what we’re going to do and this is the solution. And, not only do you 
> have
> to trust
>
> me, but you now have to embed it in state statute.”
>
> And this is a man whose Kansas City school district where he was the
> superintendent
>
> lost its accreditation
>
> just after he left to come to Michigan.
>
> That is correct.
>
> So he’s not exactly a man with a lot of veracity.
>
> That’s absolutely correct.
>
> So, this decision was just flying through the committee, although it had a
> bit more
>
> difficulty on the House floor where there were some arm twisting that had 
> to
> take
>
> place. But, ultimately, it did pass the House. My thought was that I could
> either
>
> just say
>
> c’est la vie
>
> or I could at least start using the tools that were available to me to
> assemble
>
> the information that we were not able to get in the House - it was denied 
> to
> us -
>
> and start sending it to the Senate.
>
> That’s when I decided that if I’m asking for the information and he’s
> going to just
>
> say “trust me”, I don’t have to. So I used the Freedom of Information
> Act. I sent
>
> them a pretty extensive FOIA request. People have said since then, “Why
> should a
>
> state Representative have to use FOIA to get this sort of information…?”
>
> Even some Republicans are saying that.
>
> That is a very legitimate question. But there was a time sensitivity to 
> that
> so I
>
> had to use the tools that I had available.  I am a trial attorney by
> background so
>
> I looked at it  in terms of “I want to look at the document. I don’t 
> want
> to hear
>
> someone else’s rendition of the documents. I want to
>
> see the documents.”
>
> So, I sent a fairly extensive FOIA request. After that I got the typical
> foot dragging.
>
> The “We don’t know what you want” and up and back. At one point I got 
> on
> the phone
>
> with the FOIA coordinator over there and said, “Look, you can put up
> whatever hurdles
>
> you want - and you already have - okay? You charge me? No problem. I sent
> you $2,600.
>
> Personally. Now you’re saying you don’t know what I want and you’re
> having your attorneys
>
> look at it. You’re already in violation of the time limit.”
>
> I got a call back saying, “You’ll get it in two days.”
>
> It appears that what they did was to just do a data dump of information. I
> started
>
> going through and quickly realized that, wow, this is an organization that
> is a complete
>
> mess. On every front you could imagine. Financially. In terms of student
> safety.
>
> In terms of governance. It was just so apparent that they sort of went 
> into
> this
>
> thinking they would just figure it out as they went along and no one will
> know.
>
> I began going through the documents, and there were just so many of them,
> and there
>
> were so many people that wanted to see them that I decided to put it all 
> up
> on my
>
> website. Then people complained that it was difficult to search. What I
> really wanted
>
> was eyes. That to me was the goal, to get as many people looking at it as 
> I
> could,
>
> people with more experience, more knowledge than I have, to go through it.
> So we
>
> put it up on a second website
>
> InsideTheEAA.com
>
> and interfaced with a program so that people can keyword search the
> information
>
> and what have you.
>
> Interestingly enough, during that process, there were a number of senators
> from both
>
> parties that approached me and said, “We’re going to take a close look 
> at
> this, we’re
>
> not going to just rush it through like you guys did over in the House”
> which was
>
> a really, really welcome outcome.
>
> In the meantime, you had the administration… I was at an event in
> Farmington Hills
>
> where the governor’s education person, Dennis Muchmore, said, “The 
> Senate
>
> must
>
> get the EAA done!” And I’m thinking, “Wait a second. Get the EAA done? 
> I
> mean you
>
> haven’t convinced anyone that it knows what it’s supposed to be doing!”
> You had this
>
> sort of strange dichotomy. On one hand administration was saying, “We 
> have
> to codify
>
> the EAA! We have to codify the EAA!” On the other hand, you have the 
> Senate
> saying,
>
> “We need to proceed with caution” which I think is probably the better 
> way
> to go.
>
> And Senator Hopgood filed a FOIA request as well, one that was separate 
> from
> yours.
>
> How did that come about?
>
> The bill was already over in the Senate and he’s my counterpart there. I
> told him,
>
> “This is the FOIA that I sent out” and I was already having a lot of
> problems with
>
> them. I suggested to him that there were some things that I felt I hadn’t
> covered.
>
> I thought that it would be a good idea if he picked up where I had left 
> off.
> Which
>
> he did. He got really good information with regard to some of the
> disciplinary issues.
>
> Because the bill was already over there, I thought it would be a good idea
> to have
>
> a spokesperson on the Senate side.
>
> He seems to have really picked that ball up.
>
> Yes and we’ve been sharing information in terms of the documents I got,
> just so we
>
> weren’t asking for duplicative things.
>
> He got something like 880 documents in mid-August. How many did you get, 
> you
> got
>
> more than that, right?
>
> Yeah, I got about 1,700 pages.
>
> It’s like drinking from a fire hose. I was on your site and it’s clear
> what they’ve
>
> done: they want to make it so that it’s impossible to analyze it,
> basically.
>
> Yeah, that’s sort of the game plan. But there are certain threads that 
> you
> can definitely
>
> glean from the documents. One thread that is abundantly clear is that the
> Broad Foundation,
>
> and specifically Eli Broad, was and still is intimately involved in the
> creation
>
> as well as the carrying out of the EAA.
>
> How are they doing this?
>
> The Broad Foundation, before the EAA opened, contributed something like 
> $25
> million
>
> and I believe they’ve made a subsequent grant to the EAA. It appears that
> he was
>
> instrumental in, if not the hiring of John Covington, he was certainly…
>
> Who was a Broad Fellow, correct?
>
> That’s right, a graduate of the Broad Superintendent’s Academy. There 
> are
> some emails
>
> that suggest that the Broad Foundation put his name forward and there
> doesn’t seem
>
> to be any other names that you can find. There doesn’t seem to be this 
> sort
> of extensive
>
> interview process. Some of the emails from that time are sort of, “This 
> is
> the person
>
> that it’s going to be”.
>
> What’s interesting is that, when you look at this in a broader context, 
> in
> terms
>
> of what the Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation and the Walton
> Foundation,
>
> to name a few, have done in other states, there are similarities. The 
> money
> that
>
> they spend, it sort of follows a very interesting trend line. They will go
> into states
>
> with opportunities for state take over districts or where there is mayoral
> control.
>
> So, you’ll see the Broad Foundation in the Louisiana Recovery District, 
> for
> example.
>
> Challenged places, in other words.
>
> Mmm hmm. In Philadelphia, places like that. Instead of - and, again, this 
> is
> my opinion
>
> - instead of using their money to fund initiatives that we know work, you
> have them
>
> spending an enormous amount of money to create an infrastructure like an 
> EAA
> - in
>
> Louisiana you have the Louisiana Recovery District - that aggregates 
> control
> in a
>
> single person.
>
> You begin to wonder, “Why is that?” and then you begin to look at the
> broader context
>
> of corporate reform in education, you see that that seems to be the M.O. 
> Why
> have
>
> to work through all of the messiness of this thing called ‘democracy’? 
> Oh,
> my heavens!
>
> School boards can be so insufferable! I mean, we actually have to work 
> with
> our community!
>
> You have this sense of this sort of disdain for the democratic process.
> Because,
>
> think about the local school board. That defines democracy for a lot of
> people, right?
>
> I mean, people will say to me, “I’m not political. I couldn’t care less
> about politics.”
>
> And I’ll ask them, “Do you care about your schools?” and they’ll say,
> “Why heavens
>
> yes, my children are in school.” “Do you go to school board meetings?”
> “Absolutely!”
>
> So they are involved.
>
> Absolutely. And the concept that these corporate “reformers” loathe is
> that very
>
> concept. So, how do you get around that? Well, first of all, you convince
> people
>
> that the current system is rotten. And you spend a lot of money to do 
> that.
> And they
>
> can, right? These are organizations…
>
> That are super-wealthy.
>
> Super-wealthy is right. This is a level of money that has not been seen
> before in
>
> this country. So, they start spending a lot of money to buy the
> conversation. “Schools
>
> are failing.” It began with [President Ronald Reagan's National 
> Commission
> on Excellence
>
> in Education report]
>
> “A Nation at Risk”
>
> and it hasn’t stopped since.
>
> “Schools are failing. We’re in crisis. We’re losing our edge.” 
> Whatever
> it is. But,
>
> when you actually look at the data, you realize, well, yeah, if you fudge
> the data
>
> and if you massage it, maybe it will come out that way. But, actually that’ 
> 
> s not
>
> the case at all.
>
> Now you have people in a panic. You couple that with some of the uglier
> parts of
>
> human nature like “white flight” and other things. You create all of 
> these
> alternatives
>
> like charter schools, you uncap charters, and now you have systematically
> dismantled
>
> public education. And you can now come in and say, “Well, they can’t 
> help
> themselves
>
> so we’re going to take over.” And that’s happened in Detroit.
>
> It’s the “Shock Doctrine”, Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” where you
> freak people
>
> out and then take advantage of the crisis.
>
> Right! And they’ve done it in Philadelphia. They’ve done it in 
> Louisiana.
> You see
>
> it in Los Angeles. We are just one domino. What’s really interesting,
> Chris, is that,
>
> if you look outside of the state, there’s sort of an awakening of this
> sleeping giant,
>
> if you will, where bloggers and activists are starting to start to waken
> from this
>
> slumber. It’s amazing. The internet has been an amazing factor. You’ve 
> got
> the “United
>
> Opt-Out” movement where parents are opting their kids out of standardize
> testing.
>
> Because remember: standardized tests have been a major component of the
> global corporate
>
> education reform movement, right? You create a single point. You’re able 
> to
> manipulate
>
> and cut scores and, suddenly, you’ve got schools in New York where all of 
> a
> sudden
>
> the entire state is failing.
>
> So, in any event, I’m nervous for the future but I’m also hopeful that
> people are
>
> going to say, “Not on my watch.”
>
> So, let’s talk about what you found in all of this myriad of over 2,000
> pages of
>
> data dump. I found it interesting that they are giving different tests
> before and
>
> after to show  that things are bad. That’s interesting.
>
> Yup, yup. When you talk about testing, you have to first ask yourself what
> it is
>
> you’re testing. You have to have a good idea about what you’re trying to
> assess.
>
> Then, if you are trying to show a comparison over time, like student 
> growth,
> you
>
> have to first make sure the test will, in fact show that. You don’t
> necessarily have
>
> to assess every student to get a snapshot. So, that’s the first thing.
>
> Then, if you are going to show student growth, you have to be very certain
> that you
>
> use a consistent pretest and then have a very clear notion of what you’re
> teaching
>
> them. And then you have to have a post-test that is identical to the
> pretest. Otherwise,
>
> your data is garbage.
>
> You almost don’t have to say it’s so obvious, right?! You don’t have to
> be a social
>
> scientist or an educator to figure that out!
>
> But then you realize … have you talked to Dr. Tom Pedroni?
>
> Yes, we have talked and he has published on my website. He’s been a very
> fierce advocate.
>
> A fierce advocate. He went and interviewed the company Scantron and they
> stated that
>
> it’s their opinion that the testing conditions were inappropriate. There
> were rampant
>
> computer failures. There’s no way of knowing if the teachers were 
> answering
> the questions
>
> for the students. They have no way of know if even the same cohort of
> students were
>
> being tested. Because that’s another thing: if you’ve got one group of
> students taking
>
> the pre-test and you’ve got a different group of students taking the
> post-test, you
>
> may have an identical post- and pre-test, but if you have different kids,
> again,
>
> the test data is garbage. So you’ve got all of that going on…
>
> But they are using that data to justify the takeover of the schools by the
> EAA.
>
> Exactly. You’re reading it and you’re thinking, “This can’t be 
> possible.
> This cannot
>
> possibly be going on” and then you read a press release and it’s like 
> they
> either
>
> never took the time to look at their own results or they just sprinkled
> fairy dust
>
> over it and say, “We say things are getting better so, therefore, things
> are getting
>
> better.” At that point you begin to realize that this isn’t about
> educating students.
>
> This is about some sort of massive PR machine or something.
>
> Then I started looking at the handling of special education students and
> that created,
>
> for me… You know, it’s an assessment about where you stand as a society,
> how you
>
> handle your most vulnerable population. What I began learning turns your
> blood cold.
>
> It’s heartbreaking.
>
> It IS heartbreaking. At first you think, “This can’t possibly be what’s
> happening”
>
> and then you go down there and you talk to students and parents. You start
> hearing
>
> from them because they read about it in news reports and things like that
> and you
>
> realize that it IS happening. So, that became another avenue of 
> exploration.
>
> It’s very disturbing. I don’t think they’re doing at all what they are
> supposed to
>
> be doing. I think they are breaking the law. But when they are confronted 
> or
> the
>
> Department of Education is confronted, they say there is nothing they can 
> do
> about
>
> it.
>
> You actually filed a complaint recently, right?
>
> Right. So, in terms of the timeline, we have all of this documentation 
> from
> the FOIAs
>
> and we started going through what Senator Hopgood’s documents showed and
> some other
>
> people, I invited them in and I said, hey, this has got to be a group
> effort. Through
>
> this, there was one data point that was inexplicable to me and it was 
> that,
> when
>
> you compare the number of special education students that had Individual
> Education
>
> Plans (IEPs) while they were in Detroit Public Schools and then look at 
> the
> schools
>
> that were taken over, there is a drop off of several hundred students with
> IEPs.
>
> This was one of the questions I asked in committee. I said, “How do you
> account for
>
> that?” I mean, there’s got to be some reason for it. And the answer was,
> “We retested
>
> them”. And they went on to say that it was their opinion that, number 
> one,
> Detroit
>
> schools were over counting their special ed students when all of our data
> shows us
>
> that, in fact, they are UNDER counting or that the special ed population 
> is
> even
>
> higher
>
> than what is being reported. And, number two, they suggested their way of
> teaching
>
> kids, this ‘student-centered learning’, somehow makes it so these kids
> don’t need
>
> special education services or some strange explanation like that. “Well, 
> we
> have
>
> a different way of teaching kids.”
>
> None of which is legal. I read the federal statute, the
>
> Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
>
> . You can, if there’s a child with an IEP, there’s a set way of 
> modifying
> the IEP
>
> or changing the IEP. It’s fairly labor intensive.
>
> I would assume it involves parental involvement…
>
> Parental involvement. You have to convene what’s called an IEP committee
> and the
>
> IEP committee must have the parents, it must have a teacher, and it also 
> has
> to have
>
> someone who is like a school psychologist or social worker. It’s fairly
> involved.
>
> Which is what you would hope for.
>
> Right. And that’s what the law says. One of the things I asked in the 
> FOIA
> request
>
> was, you say your retested the kids. Okay, I’m not aware of that being a
> reason for
>
> rewriting an IEP. But at least show me the documentation that you formed 
> IEP
> committees
>
> for each of these students because it was a LOT of students, hundreds. And
> all of
>
> the people in this field that I have spoken to tell me that there’s no 
> way
> that that
>
> could have been done in just a few months.
>
> I got no documents. So either you’re not going to give them to me or they
> don’t exist
>
> because you didn’t form the IEP committees. So, on that basis (and 
> others),
> I filed
>
> a systemic complaint (pdf)
>
> . Because, under the statute, anyone has the ability to do that. Any 
> citizen
> who
>
> believes that the federal and state law has been systemically violated is
> able to
>
> file a complaint. So I did.
>
> Who do you file that with? Is that the State Board of Education?
>
> Under federal and state law you must file it with what’s called the
> “SEA”, the state
>
> education agency which in Michigan is the Department of Education. Now,
> what’s really
>
> interesting, what’s REALLY interesting… is that - have you seen a copy 
> of
> the systemic
>
> complaint?
>
> Yes, I have it right here, actually.
>
> So, I filled out the form, I mean they give…
>
> They spell it out.
>
> They spell it out under MARs, the Michigan Administrative Rules governing
> education.
>
> You have to say what it is you are alleging and why and all of that. And
> then I get
>
> a response (pdf)
>
> back from the Department of Education saying that they are refusing to
> accept the
>
> complaint.
>
> From a state legislator.
>
> Yes! I said, “Look, you can dismiss a complaint. You can deny a 
> complaint.
> But there
>
> is NO mechanism for you to refuse to accept a complaint. It doesn’t exist
> in law.
>
> It’s not like it’s a hot potato where you can simply say, “Oh, I’m not
> going to touch
>
> this!”
>
> Who was it that denied it, which group?
>
> It was through the Department of Education. First I got
>
> an email (pdf)
>
> back from Deputy Superintendent for Education Services Venessa Keesler and
> it was
>
> cc’ed to State Superintendent Michael Flanagan and Wendy Larvick. She 
> said,
> “We’re
>
> working with you on your complaint”. Well, I didn’t really need any help
> with my
>
> complaint, it was already filed. The rest of the email said:
>
> Outside of that formal complaint process, however, we want to assure you
> that we
>
> are reaching out to the EAA to help provide additional training and
> information to
>
> improve their processes in this area, ideally before the start of this 
> next
> school
>
> year. The director of our Office of Special Education, Eleanor White, has
> been meeting
>
> with the individual hired by the EAA to work with special education
> throughout the
>
> year, and has recommended that we extend/expand our meetings to include
> building-level
>
> administrators to make sure all of those individuals are fully briefed on
> process,
>
> protocol and expectations regarding services for students with 
> disabilities.
> Ensuring
>
> that the EAA has the support they need in order to provide high‐ quality
> special
>
> education services is important to MDE. We believe that working through
> multiple
>
> channels will help them improve their special education delivery and 
> support
> strong
>
> outcomes for students with disabilities.
>
> Keep in mind, this is in late July now. This came the day after I got the
> letter
>
> back saying they were not accepting my complaint. I
>
> wrote back (pdf)
>
> basically saying, you know, I submitted a state complaint and, as far as
> I’m concerned,
>
> you have an obligation under the statute to conduct your investigation and
> the time
>
> clock is ticking, people!
>
> [NOTE: please read
>
> Rep. Lipton's response (pdf)
>
> to the Department of Education. It. Is. Epic.]
>
> Basically, they then contact me and say, “Let’s have a meeting.” So, I
> said, okay,
>
> that’s fine. So, they bring in Harvalee Santos who is the assistant
> director for
>
> compliance, Teri Johnson who is the ISD liaison, and Cheryl Diamond who is
> the Supervisor
>
> of Program Accountability in the Office of Special Education. She’s 
> Special
> Education
>
> Director Eleanor White’s aide, and then the legislative liaison.
>
> I basically said to them, as far I’m concerned, you have an obligation to
> investigate.
>
> That’s what the law says. And their response was, you know, “How do we
> know you’re
>
> telling the truth?” These are the words she used. She’s like, “You 
> could
> be some
>
> crackpot.
>
> They said this to a member of the state House of Representatives?
>
> Yeah. “How do we know that you’re telling the truth?”
>
> And I said, well, number one, it requires the complainant to sign it. You
> can’t file
>
> these anonymously. And you then have an obligation to investigate. There 
> is
> no requirement
>
> under the statute that a systemic complainant [someone who is filing a
> complaint
>
> about a systemic problem affecting multiple individuals] must prove their
> case. You
>
> allege what’s happening and, if there’s sufficient evidence, then you 
> must
> appoint
>
> an investigator.
>
> Then
>
> you can decide whether it has merit or what have you. And they just
> refused, they
>
> said no. They said you have to tell us how you know what you know. I said,
> well,
>
> you know, it’s in the FOIA documents.
>
> Then she says to me, “We don’t have to do your work for you.” And I 
> said,
> “Well,
>
> I guess there’s nothing more to say here at this point.”
>
> My intention is to look at filing a lawsuit because the statute affords me
> that opportunity
>
> if the state education agency (SEA) will not investigate and will not 
> comply
> with
>
> the law.
>
> So you have to SUE the Department of Education?
>
> That seems to be where we’re at.
>
> Wow. That’s profound.
>
> They were saying, “You have to tell us how you know what you know.” 
> Well,
> it’s set
>
> forth in the documents and I’ve also had conversations with parents and
> teachers
>
> and so forth.
>
> “Well you have to give me names.” Well, no, the law doesn’t require 
> that.
> There are
>
> many parents who are scared. There are teachers who are petrified. I’ve
> promised
>
> that I will not disclose their names. So, I kept saying to them you have 
> to
> show
>
> me where in the law it requires me to prove my case at the point of the
> complaint.
>
> And they kept saying, well, that’s our position.
>
> So, that defines and agency working in an arbitrary and capricious way. 
> That
> is the
>
> definition of arbitrary and capricious. I basically said to them, “You 
> know
> what
>
> my rights are and if I believe that you’re acting in an arbitrary and
> capricious
>
> manner…” and they said, “Well, are you threatening to sue us?”
>
> I was, like, I’m not threatening anything it’s just that you have to
> investigate!
>
> One thing I learned was really unbelievable. Once I realized that I wasn’t
> getting
>
> anywhere on the systemic complaint, I went through this email with them 
> and
> I wanted
>
> to know exactly what they’re doing and why they’re doing it and what 
> have
> you. What
>
> they told me was that, when the EAA opened it’s doors, the EAA contracted
> with Michigan
>
> Futures, which you can see in the documents, to hire special ed teachers 
> and
> paraprofessionals.
>
> What these women in the Department of Education told me was that they
> believed that,
>
> since Michigan Futures had been hired, nothing else had to be done.
>
> Wow. No oversight required, I guess?
>
> Right? Or a plan! The state and federal statutes require each district to
> participate
>
> in a plan. You actually have to have, every Intermediate School District
> (ISD) has
>
> a plan. So, she says to me, “Well, the EAA isn’t an ISD.” I said, I don’ 
> 
> t care what
>
> they are. I don’t care what you call them. They are this “thing”. It’s
> just semantics.
>
> Just because you call it, I mean you could call it a banana but the law
> still requires
>
> that this “thing”, this banana has to have a plan for special education. 
> I
> said,
>
> “You just washed your hands of it”. You’re telling me that because
> Michigan Futures
>
> was hired to hire special ed teachers, that that constituted the plan? And
> she said,
>
> “Well, we realized that maybe we thought that they could do more than 
> they
> really
>
> could do so now we’re helping them write a plan.”
>
> NOW you’re writing the plan? You’re a year into it and NOW you’re 
> working
> with them
>
> to write a plan?
>
> So, now let’s talk about what we learned about discipline because they’re
> all integrally
>
> connected. You see this all over the country, particularly with charters,
> where they
>
> will have a “zero tolerance” policy. Sounds good. “We don’t tolerate
> anything. Zero
>
> tolerance.”
>
> Well, let’s see how it works in actuality. At the EAA, you now have all
> these students
>
> that were getting services when they were in the Detroit Public Schools
> (DPS), and
>
> now they’re in the EAA, their school has been taken over, and now they’re
> not getting
>
> services. We don’t know why but we know that they’re not getting 
> services.
>
> Now, the law says that if there is a disciplinary situation - a child 
> bursts
> out,
>
> what have you - and that disciplinary event is a manifestation of their
> special needs,
>
> the discipline you give them has to take in to account their Individual
> Education
>
> Plan (IEP).
>
> In other words, that’s why they are in special in the first place, 
> because
> they’re
>
> having that particular problem.
>
> That’s right. So, even if there’s an issue with violence or what have 
> you,
> if it’s
>
> a manifestation of their disability, the law says that discipline must be
> coordinated
>
> with the IEP.
>
> Now you have a child that was getting services when they were at DPS and 
> now
> they’re
>
> not getting services. They still have special needs and now they have an
> event, a
>
> behavioral event. If their IEP has been rewritten, if they have been 
> denied
> their
>
> IEP, they now fall under the “zero tolerance” policy.
>
> So they get expelled.
>
> And they get expelled. And we found that you have students, I spoke to a
> number of
>
> parents where they were told to come pick up their child and they put them
> out onto
>
> the street. For 180 days or more. And the parents asked, “What am I
> supposed to do?
>
> What am I supposed to do?” And this happened over and over and over 
> again.
>
> Convenient don’t you think?
>
> Absolutely. It’s much easier when you don’t have to deal with the hard
> cases.
>
> They have this way of saying, and charters are notorious at this, “We
> welcome
>
> everyone
>
> ! We welcome everyone.” Well, actually, no we really don’t. Read the 
> fine
> print.
>
> If you have special education needs maybe we tell you that this isn’t the
> right place
>
> for you. Or, if you actually end up coming, we’ll figure out a way to 
> move
> you out.
>
> You see these inordinately high numbers of disciplinary situations. There
> were 5,000
>
> events. We’re talking about a district of roughly 10,000 students. That’s
> very, very
>
> high. Something is not right in the state of Denmark.
>
> Which they are supposed to be fixing with their non-plan.
>
> If you read the brochures, they’ve got it all figured out. Just don’t 
> look
> at the
>
> man behind the curtain.
>
> One of the other things that I wanted to ask you about is about your
> website. I mean
>
> your website literally is like drinking from a fire hose and it’s not a
> website where
>
> anyone can just go and learn by just looking at it. I mean you really have
> to know
>
> what you’re looking at and dig into it. What are you hoping to accomplish
> with that
>
> and what types of folks could potentially assist in what you’re doing and
> how could
>
> they do that?
>
> If I had more time, I would like to make it more accessible. In the
> meantime, I’ve
>
> been trying to get as much of the documentation up there as I could and in 
> a
> way
>
> that people could search. One of the things that I’m hoping to do, at 
> least
> on the
>
> systemic complaint front, is, now that I know that the Department is not
> going to
>
> investigate, I think my next step is to file a lawsuit. And, hopefully,
> through the
>
> discovery process, put more information up.
>
> But, in terms of assistance, I sort of envision sort of an open source 
> type
> of environment.
>
> Sort of a crowdsharing scenario.
>
> Right. Where people that know about specific issues can say “This is what
> this means”
>
> or “Did you see that this is what happened and that it has this effect?”
>
> The problem, I have to say, is that the traditional media has been very
> reluctant.
>
> And when I say the traditional media I’m not talking about bloggers but
> what I would
>
> call traditional newspapers and journalists… it doesn’t really seem to
> exist in Michigan.
>
> People say, “They’ll be interested in that story”. But then, when I 
> send
> them the
>
> information, it’s like crickets.
>
> You’ve done all of the research in a lot of ways for them. You’ve 
> actually
> said,
>
> “Hey, here ya go. Knock yourself out!” They don’t even have to file the
> FOIA. You’ve
>
> already done it for them!
>
> That’s very curious. Then I’ll see a story about, oh, they’re giving 
> away
> free backpacks
>
> at the EAA and I’m thinking…
>
> THAT’S the story? That’s the easy story. It came from a press release.
>
> Well, you know, in other states, what’s interesting is that, if you look 
> at
> other
>
> situations that are analogous to the EAA in other states, there are
> investigative
>
> journalists who are following the money, if you will. That’s what
> uncovered, for
>
> example, the cheating scandal in Georgia. I have yet to find that person 
> who
> is willing
>
> to… Maybe they’re out there, I don’t know. Maybe they’re looking at 
> the
> data.
>
> It’s the kind of thing I would be doing if I didn’t have a full time 
> job.
>
> Exactly. But, I have to say, bloggers like yourself have done an amazing 
> job
> of at
>
> least getting the word out to those who are interested so I continue to 
> put
> out information.
>
> I believe that people who act with that type of arrogance, the people in
> charge of
>
> the EAA, unless it’s unilateral takeover, they’re not satisfied. My hope
> is that
>
> they’ll overreach.
>
> To the point where people really do start to push back and holding them
> accountable?
>
> Right.
>
> How about the State Board of Education? They seem to have taken a hands 
> off
> approach
>
> to this.
>
> You know, it’s interesting. They actually invited Covington to come and
> answer some
>
> of their questions over the summer and he refused to show up! He told 
> them,
> you’re
>
> not…
>
> You’re not the boss of me?!
>
> Yeah, basically. You’re not the boss of me. You don’t supervise me. I
> answer to the
>
> governor. So, he cancelled the first time when they wanted to talk about
> special
>
> education and he didn’t show up. More recently, I think it was a few 
> weeks
> ago, they
>
> invited him to again to answer some questions which, this time, he did. 
> But,
> even
>
> then, he made it clear that he was doing it, sort of as a favor, not 
> because
> he believed
>
> he had to because, again, he didn’t acknowledge them as being, basically,
> his employer.
>
> So he rebuffed the State Board of Education just like he and the 
> Department
> of Education
>
> rebuffed you?
>
> Exactly.
>
> So, one last question. I have heard that you paid the legal bills for 
> Brooke
> Harris
>
> who was
>
> fired by the EAA
>
> for what appears to be retaliation for speaking out against some of what
> they are
>
> doing or not doing when it comes to educating kids. Is that true?
>
> Well, yes. I just wanted to be sure that she had proper legal 
> representation
> when
>
> she went to her pre-termination meeting so I helped her out with that.
>
> Fantastic. Thanks so much.
>
> After our interview, I walked across the street from her office with Rep.
> Lipton
>
> and her staff where she held a press conference in the state Capitol with
> other Democrats
>
> on the Michigan House Democrats’ School Reform Task Force. On the way 
> over,
> she told
>
> me that it’s not enough for her and other Democrats to simply criticize
> what the
>
> administration is doing with regard education reform in the Michigan,
> including the
>
> EAA. They must have answers of their own. That was the intent of the Task
> Force’s
>
> work over the past year and their education plan, released at the press
> conference,
>
> is a sharp contrast to the approach taken by the Snyder administration. 
> You
> can read
>
>
>
>
>
> Source:
>
> http://www.eclectablog.com/2013/09/interview-rep-ellen-cogen-lipton-on-expos
> ing-violations-of-federal-law-by-the-education-achievement-authority-failing
> -our-kids.html
>
>
>
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