Warning to Michigan parents and teachers about John Covington

An open message from a Kansas City teacher to the parents and  teachers of Michigan about John Covington’s reign of terror when he was superintendent of  her district’s schools. Covington drastically increased the class sizes of certain KC teachers following a model suggested by Bill Gates; this experiment ended, thankfully, when he left the district.

Covington was recently appointed the head of Michigan’s new Education Achievement Authority to run that state’s struggling schools, with the power to cancel union contracts and override duly elected school board members.

Covington is personable, charming, and a bully. He made our principals work 80 hours a week and allowed no vacation time, not even in the summer. They were expected to be in their buildings from 6 am to 6 pm and on weekends. He rarely came out to the buildings and instead had henchmen (assistant superintendents) who made surprise visits to schools nitpicking everything from bulletin boards to noisy lunchrooms. He tried to ban recess for elementary schools until parents called the media. He then said if he came by our school and saw children at recess, he would ask to see that class’s test scores. His henchmen also visited senior teachers in their schools, and told them if they didn’t retire or resign they would be fired. They were then placed on improvement plans for anything they could find that needed improvement. The union fought back for the union member teachers and saved their jobs. Teachers not in the union were either fired or resigned.

Last April, Covington talked the school board into pink slipping 80 non-tenured teachers. The majority of them would have been tenured this year. (In Missouri, you earn tenure on day one of your 6th year teaching.) He then persuaded the board to agree to hire 150 Teach for America interns.

In the two years Covington was here, there was zero growth in test scores. He closed half the schools, fired half the staff, wrote a fancy ‘Transformation Plan’ that the state and the local media loved – yet none of his work resulted in a growth in student achievement. So in essence, he failed.

But the community loved him. Like I said, he is charming.  He would stand up at school board meetings and flat out lie to the board – as in the lie that no research supports reducing class size having a positive impact on student achievement. The board would just nod their heads, as if they were in the presence of a wizard, and the local media never investigated any of his lies. Yes we would contact them and say ‘hey that’s not true’ but the media continued to promote this image of Covington as a wonder man who was going to save the district. Even the PAA wonderful blog and the follow up Education Week piece forwarded to the local media resulted in ZERO negative press.

Even when he resigned, leaving the district in a very bad situation, (more on that below), the media spun his surprise resignation into a conspiracy theory involving board members supposedly breaking the law, leaving Covington no choice but to resign. Nearly a month later, that has been completely debunked, but we have a new school board president and zero coverage in our media connecting Covington to the false rumor.

The entire time he was here, he got mainly positive press and nearly constant praise. He was a featured speaker at the local Chamber of Commerce, Jaycees, Shriners, etc. My family and friends were constantly asking me how thrilled I was to have such a great superintendent and I wanted to vomit.

The one good thing Covington did was clean up the finances. As in many school districts, we were paying people for work they weren’t doing or goods they weren’t providing. I will give Covington credit for cleaning all of that up. He brought n a finance person who spent months looking at the budget. And for the first time in years, every teacher in the district got a budget to buy classroom supplies and every teacher also got a laptop. But that is the only thing I will praise him for and his reign of terror was so bad it’s hard to praise him for anything. There was much rejoicing when he resigned.

Also in spite of the financial improvements, employees got NO RAISES the entire time he was here. Contract negotiations were insane. Covington wanted to give unprecedented powers to principals so they could be tyrants just like him.

He has left us in a very bad situation concerning our state accreditation. The state had agreed to give the district provisional accreditation because of Covington’s Transformation Plan and they liked him and praised his leadership. But as soon as he resigned, the state announced they are reconsidering our accreditation and on Tuesday this week, we are expecting the state to announce we are losing our accreditation. That could result in many scenarios, ranging from a state appointed board to the dissolution of the district. So on Wednesday, we could all be looking at the loss of our jobs. Whatever happens, Covington’s resignation caused it.

Yes, organize your teachers! The only thing that saved many of ours from losing their jobs was the union and its attorneys. The only group that ever spoke up to Covington was our union and our teachers. He was loved by everyone else. The principals hated him but were too scared to speak up. The parents were largely convinced he was a miracle worker. The few parents who attend board meetings regularly saw through his bullshit, but there are so few of them they have no impact. So a well organized union is probably the best way to fight back.

Posted on by admin Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to Warning to Michigan parents and teachers about John Covington