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The Fight for Reform: The Education Achievement Authority

By Harrison Blackmond, DFER MI State Director

For the past two weeks, the Michigan legislature has been debating the establishment of a statewide reform district, the Education Achievement Authority (EAA). The EAA legislation, modeled on the Louisiana Recovery School District, has promise. But only if legislators prioritize the interests of students and hold adults accountable.

EAA is designed to respond, with swift and decisive action, to the urgent need for reforms in the lowest achieving 5% of Michigan schools. Students in our state’s most chronically low-performing schools can’t put their lives on hold. If change depended on the same adults who have overseen low-performing schools for decades and who have an interest in maintaining the status quo, we might have to wait at least another generation or two for the political stars to align. Meanwhile today’s schoolchildren, just like their parents and their parents’ parents, would fail to get the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and the workforce.

Essentially, EAA will operate as a school district except that schools in EAA would span the entire state. The governor would appoint a seven-member EAA board based, in part, on input from both the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House. Free of contractual entanglements, a debilitating culture, and a bloated bureaucracy, the EAA is intended to demonstrate how traditional districts can push resources, control, and accountability down to the building level and set the stage for innovative instructional approaches such as blended learning.

EAA currently exists as a public body corporate created by an agreement between Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and the School District for the City of Detroit (DPS). The legislation under consideration would make the EAA a part of Michigan’s system of public schools. By establishing the EAA in statute as part of the Michigan Revised School Code it would have authority over low-performing schools in and outside of DPS.

Opposition to the EAA and the legislation comes from a variety of sources. School board members, administrators, teachers unions, and citizens lament the loss of “local control.” Those who make this argument conveniently ignore the fact that these schools became “persistently low achieving schools” while under the same system of local control they want to maintain.

Some opponents also insist that until we eradicate poverty, crime, and parental neglect, we will never be able to change the quality of education in these low performing schools. Ignoring the fact that the Louisiana Recovery District has been in operation since 2003, they’ve tried to paint the EAA as a new, untried experiment that is sure to harm children. Despite their concerns over the bill, not one opponent has offered an alternative to the status quo!

DFER Michigan and other advocates regard EAA as an important next step to advance reforms passed as part of Michigan’s response to the Obama administration Race to the Top competition. We simply have no other viable option if we are serious about improving these schools.

However, while favoring the establishment of the EAA, DFER Michigan and other reform groups have raised several concerns that should be addressed before its passage:

  • The EAA must be held to all the same accountability standards as other districts and public school academies;
  • The EAA must administer the Michigan Merit Exam (MME) and participate in the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP);
  • The EAA must participate in the new Administrator and Educator Effectiveness program;
  • The EAA should be authorized to charter only the schools transferred to it by a State School Reform Officer;
  • The “buildings” provisions discussed above should be removed from the bill;
  • Schools in the lowest 5% demonstrating significant student growth should be permitted to remain outside the EAA at the discretion of the State School Reform Officer;
  • The legislation should contain a clear “exit strategy” for schools which have achieved an agreed upon level of performance while under the EAA.

The EAA is an important and necessary step in reforming Michigan schools. Without a recovery district, children in Michigan’s worst schools would be left to languish in hopelessness.

It is our hope that the legislature will act quickly to remedy the deficiencies we have identified and deliver this legislation to the Governor for his signature. Our children in these terrible schools have waited long enough.

For more than 35 years, Harrison Blackmond has dedicated his life towards helping children achieve the education they deserve. Harrison has served a multitude of roles within Michigan's education system, including Chair of the Marygrove College Board of Trustees, President of the Business/Education Training Alliance, Vice Chairman and member of the Executive Committee of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, and President of the Detroit Black Alliance for Education Options. Read more about Harrison here.