The Fight for Reform: The Education Achievement Authority
December 10, 2012
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!
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