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Designed to lift schools from bottom, EAA yields decline and stasis

Rick Snyder

Rick Snyder

By Tom Pedroni 

Special to the Michigan Citizen 

Although the Education Achievement Authority was designed to lift schools out of the bottom five percent of the state’s annual Top to Bottom list (TTB), the newest ranking, released Aug. 13, shows most of the 12 schools under the district’s direct control have either declined in rank or have made no progress.  

In all, five EAA schools declined in ranking, three remained level, and four improved.  The decliners included three K-8 schools — Bethune, Burns and Law — and two high schools — Mumford and Southeastern. Among the decliners, Bethune is now at the second percentile and Burns is at the zero. Law, one of two Detroit Public Schools that entered the EAA above the bottom five percent (Stewart was the other, and is now a for-profit charter at the first percentile), has declined all the way from the ninth percentile at the time it was pulled into the EAA to the first percentile today.

Among the declining high schools, Mumford fell to the first percentile and Southeastern fell to the first percentile.  

Among the schools that merely stagnated, Ford remained at the zero percentile, Nolan remained at the first percentile, and Phoenix remained at the zero.

Interestingly, Excellent Schools Detroit lists Phoenix as one of Detroit’s top K-8 schools, due, in part, to its strong academics. The EAA has announced plans for Phoenix to extend its model to a new high school beginning this Fall. Law and Nolan have also been characterized as “promising” schools in ESD’s annual report card.

Gov. Rick Snyder established the EAA, which operates solely in Detroit, in June 2011 to raise performance in Michigan’s chronically lowest performing schools, as measured by the state’s Department of Education’s annual TTB list. Schools that consistently ranked in the bottom five-percent of the TTB could be placed into the EAA, where state-of-the-art educational innovations, Snyder believed, would disrupt and transform the dysfunctional school practices that were thought to cause chronic underperformance.  Once the schools had improved sufficiently and performed above the bottom five-percent for several consecutive years, they would be eligible to return to their home district.

In March 2012, the state designated 15 Detroit Public Schools for the EAA. While three of those schools (Trix, Murphy and Stewart) were handed over to a private for-profit charter operator (today called the Michigan Educational Choice Center), the other 12 remain under the direct control of the EAA. The schools opened their doors as part of the new statewide district in Fall 2012.

Given that schools are eligible to leave the EAA only after they emerge from the bottom five percent and remain there for several consecutive years, it is unlikely the EAA will have to “graduate” any of its schools anytime soon.

From the beginning, skeptics of the new statewide district wondered aloud about what would happen to schools if their ranking did not improve after they were placed in the EAA. This skepticism became more pronounced after the EAA’s new leadership announced the centerpiece of the typical EAA classroom would be an online computer platform called Buzz. Skeptics, including parents, teachers, community leaders and educational researchers, knew research demonstrated urban low-income children did best in small classroom environments in which strong relationships were forged between an experienced teacher and his or her students. EAA classrooms, to their dismay, typically put an inexperienced and mostly unprepared teacher in front of 40 or more students, with the expectation the teacher’s primary role would center on monitoring students’ one-on-one interactions with the Buzz software.

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