Looking Back to the Future in Detroit (& Everywhere)

Mary L. Mason and David Arsen have just come out with an analysis of the effectiveness of Michigan’s Educational Achievement Authority in Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority and the
Future of Public Education in Detroit: The Challenge of
Aligning Policy Design and Policy Goals. (Arsen is a well-respected professor at Michigan State University.) The timing of this report is important as the EAA serves a predecessor to the current clamor in Detroit (and elsewhere) for a “portfolio district” based on the New Orleans model. Not only does it serve as a dispassionate indictment of the EAA, it doubles as an indictment of the market fundamentalism of Michigan’s Governor Snyder and all others who look to loosen public education from the locally held context of democratically elected accountability.  Finally, it serves as a warning to Governor Snyder’s upcoming announcement on schools in  Michigan.

Arsen and Mason carefully unveil the sordid history of the development of the EAA and its impact.

As the report is long, I have highlighted excerpts.

You are welcome.

(The whole report is so worth your time- read it here http://education.msu.edu/epc/library/papers/documents/WP43MichigansEducationAchievementAuthority.pdf)

It  begins by providing the vision behind Snyder’s plan:

“The Governor’s Education Agenda: Disruptive Innovation
In April 2011, soon after assuming office and just two months before announcing the EAA, Governor Snyder issued a special message setting forth his agenda for public education (Snyder, 2011). Noting the mediocre performance of Michigan’s public schools by several measures and the need to compete on a world scale, the governor called for sweeping changes in the provision of educational services. The plan offered a hopeful vision of educational innovation, entrepreneurship, and markets that would usher in improved models of instruction and student outcomes across the state. The policies would disrupt the prevailing complacency and mediocrity, ‘jettison the status quo’ (p. 2), and move Michigan ‘from school systems to systems of schools'(p. 8)”

The governor’s agenda called for an expansion of charter schools and online education and changes in teacher employment policies. To expand charters, it called for removing the cap on the number of charter schools and permitting a charter board to oversee multiple schools under a single charter. To expand online education, it called for reducing state and local regulations on seat time, length of school year, length of school day and week, and the traditional
configuration of classrooms and instruction. The governor stated that: ‘every child in Michigan who needs or wants up to two hours of daily online education must receive it’ (p. 8). Finally, he also called for changes in teacher tenure laws that would make tenure more difficult to attain and ease the dismissal of tenured teachers, as well as changes in the way teachers are evaluated and paid and alternative routes to entering the teaching profession.”

The report covers the EAA’s nuanced approach to democracy:

“…responsibility for the EAA’s accountability rests almost exclusively with the governor. The system is designed to be accountable to him or her. The governor appoints a majority of the board and executive committee while the other members are appointed by people who themselves are governor appointees. All can be removed at any time. Board members, therefore, cannot exercise much independent discretion. Interested parties may express their views to the EAA board and executive committee, but formal opportunities to do so are more limited than in the case of traditional public schools.”

The academic effectiveness as measured by Snyder’s approach to achievement:

“In the second year, MEAP scores, reflecting a full year in the EAA, showed that few students were meeting state standards. EAA Chancellor John Covington, however, announced that scores did show improvement toward meeting the standards (Education Achievement Authority, 2014b). Wayne State University Professor Tom Pedroni analyzed the scores and found that the majority of students made no progress or declined (Pedroni, 2014). Covington’s
statement, unlike Pedroni’s, did not provide detailed information on the procedures used to generate conclusions regarding test score trends.”

It covers the EAA’s approach to the clamoring for “accountability” by Snyder and his cronies:

“In an era when ‘accountability’ has become a dominant consideration for the evaluation of education policies, the EAA has charted a distinctive course. The accountability provisions of Michigan’s EAA policy are underdeveloped and rest very narrowly on the governor’s actions.”

And it ends with some excellent suggestions:

For funding:

“Michigan has tried to do school turnaround on the cheap, hoping
that it could be accomplished with negligible new public resources while merely reconfiguring school governance and management….It is also important to recognize that Michigan’s overall school funding system fails to adequately account for the additional costs associated with student poverty and special education status in the delivery of needed educational services. Michigan’s lowest performing schools have disproportionate concentrations of high-cost students. Future efforts to turn them around

should address this disadvantage by changing school finance policy so that the state revenues that districts and schools receive more closely match the local costs they confront.”

Technical expertise:

“If Michigan’s turnaround strategies are to have any hope of success, they must draw more deliberately on existing research-based knowledge and technical expertise in teaching and learning.”

And, importantly, trust:

“Research indicates that trust is strengthened when parties have ongoing relationships in which their interactions demonstrate benevolence, support, and concern. Trust is also promoted when the behavior of those in authority positions is characterized by open communication, transparency, consistency, integrity, and a willingness to share control. The importance of trust for the turnaround of schools designated as ‘failing’ can scarcely
be overstated. When teachers and administrators feel threatened, or held accountable for problems beyond their control, it erodes trust and ultimately impedes change. The changes may include cutting jobs, altering the way administrators share power, and adopting new teaching
materials and practices. Establishing trust among students, parents, families and surrounding local communities is also important. Unless care is taken, state turnaround interventions can easily create contentious and distrustful school and community environments that weaken the foundations for sustained improvement.”

Please read the whole report!

(Again, you can find it here: http://education.msu.edu/epc/library/papers/documents/WP43MichigansEducationAchievementAuthority.pdf)

For more background:

On education reform in New Orleans:

Accumulation by Dispossession

The Best Article Ever About New Orleans’ Charter Schools

On the EAA:

Getting the Role of the Teacher Right

Eclectablog’s EAA

Connecting race and “failing schools”:

The Racist Narrative of Failing Schools

Overview of corporate reform represented by Snyder’s approach:

Education Corporate Reform 101: What Parents Need to Know

On my up close experience with disruptive innovation in Michigan:

Disrupting Innovation

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