One of the most important pieces of legislation that will be discussed by the Michigan legislature this year is the role and possible expansion of the Education Achievement Authority (EAA). The EAA is the state run agency that takes over low performing schools and attempts to turn them around. Advocates for the EAA say that the greater flexibility given to schools allows them to innovate teaching styles and lower costs through contracting out services, such as custodial work. Those critical of the EAA claim that the state takeover of schools removes local input and allows the state to sell schools to for-profit management companies. This is sure to be a contentious issue with the EAA playing an important role in the upcoming policy discussions.. State education agencies historically functioned as oversight and compliance organizations. Federal legislation passed between 1994 through 2010 encouraged more state intervention into their public education system. These agencies then began to take on more performance and accountability roles, though the degree of state involvement in schools varies from fairly hands off support network for districts all the way up to full state control over struggling schools without the input of the school district. A recent paper by Patrick Murphy and Lydia Rainey describes these approaches as "results without rancor" and "all in strategy", respectively. While the model in Michigan remains a rapidly evolving system, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) still functions primarily as a noninvasive support agency and clearinghouse for information on school performance. The MDE neither has direct control over any school nor does it have any say in the day-to-day operations of school districts outside of their compliance with federal and state laws. In fact, the MDE tries to work directly with school districts that are struggling in an effort to find solutions and best practices that involve all interested parties.
Most states adopt one type of intervention or the other, or take a little from each. Louisiana focuses on a much more hands on direct control approach while Rhode Island approaches its schools with more support and indirect control. Michigan is unique in that it uses two agencies, one of which is hands off support and another uses direct control. The Education Achievement Authority functions very differently than traditional state education agencies, such as the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). Per Murphy and Rainey, the EAA represents an "all in" approach to state intervention into the public school system. Further, the EAA and MDE do not interact with one another. They function as separate entities with very different approaches to school reform. Governor Snyder has expressed his desire to expand the EAA into a permanent organization with eventual statewide jurisdiction. It is unclear how the expansion of the EAA would interact with the jurisdiction of the MDE.
Governor Rick Snyder created the Education Achievement Authority in 2011 as an independent agency tasked with overseeing the bottom 5% of academically performing schools. The goal of the EAA is to create autonomously functioning schools through:
• Giving individual schools control over their curriculum
• Extending school days and school years
• Integration of technology and online courses
• Renegotiation of existing collective bargaining contracts
• Outsourcing services to third party contractors to lower costs
• Outsourcing the entire school to an education management company
The agency took over the bottom 15 schools of the Detroit Public School district as part of its initial rollout. Three of these schools were turned into charter schools. Most similar to the EAA is the Louisiana Recovery School District. Another "all in" model, the RDS focuses more on chartering schools as opposed to maintaining direct control. While the EAA continues to operate schools with only a few charters, how close the EAA gets to the model of the RDS will be a key issue for legislators.
Schools operating in the EAA don't have the traditional interest groups of teacher unions and elected school boards are not involved in their operation. Teacher unions are non-relevant entities as their contracts are unilaterally renegotiated by the EAA. There are also no locally elected school boards and the DPS board has lost complete control of the school. As such, there is intense pressure by these groups to return to the status quo of traditional districts managed by a school board. These groups have and will continue to criticize the EAA and bring a lot of political weight to their arguments. This means that the EAA has to show massive leaps in academic achievement in a very short amount of time in order to remain politically viable. This creates an immediate and pressing need for Governor Snyder to expand the EAA and could result in legislation being passed very quickly.
Murphy, Patrick. 2012. "Modernizing the State Education Agency: Different Paths Toward Performance Management." The Center for Reinventing Public Educaiton. http://www.crpe.org/sites/default/files/pub_states_ModernizingSEAs_sept12.pdf (September, 2012).