In March of 2011 Governor Rick Snyder enacted Public Act Four, which allowed for governor appointed Emergency Managers to take control of financially failing cities and the school districts that resided inside of them. In May of 2011, not too long after Public Act Four's enactment, Detroit Public Schools were handed over to newly appointed Emergency Manager Roy Roberts. Then, that following June, Governor Rick Snyder and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan announced their outline for education reform for the lowest performing Michigan schools (Detroit Public Schools, 2011). From their goals and outlines came what would soon be called the Education Achievement Authority- with the stated goal to "Redesign public education in Michigan's lowest performing schools by driving more resources directly into their classrooms and offering great autonomy to help ensure student achievement increases." (Eastern Michigan University, 2010).. Long before the EAA's creation in June of 2011 the EAA's beginnings can be tied back to Public Act 72 in 1990. Public Act 72 allowed for the Governor of Michigan to appoint an "Emergency Finical Manager" to any city or school district deemed in finical risk. In March of 2011 Governor Rick Snyder expanded upon Public Act 72 with Public Act 4. Public Act 4 contained a controversial measure- the "Emergency Manager". This newer and "improved" version of the old EFM could "unilaterally get rid of union contacts" and had the "express authority to accomplish what he or she needs to do to get a city or school district back on its financial feet" (Gray& Helms, 2012). These EM's, appointed personally by Rick Snyder, can take control of a city's government or school district if "one or more conditions indicative of probable financial stress in a local government exist (Department of Treasury, 2011). "Taking control" in Public Act 4 means "the governing body and chief administrative officer of the unit of local government are prohibited from exercising any of their powers of offices without written approval of the EM..." (Department of Treasury ,2011).
However the story of Public Act 4 did not stop with simple passage of the bill. In November of 2012 Michigan voters went to the polls to try and repeal Public Act 4. Winning 52 percent "no" to 48 percent "yes" Public Act 4 was suspended and Public Act 72 went back effect- thus limiting the EM's currently in service, including Roy Roberts- EM of Detroit Public Schools (Oosting, 2012). It would be nice if the story ended here but more was to come. Following the repeal of Public Act 4 Governor Rick Snyder signed into law Public Act 436- a replacement emergency manager law. Key differences from Public Act 4 included an opportunity for communities and school districts to pick between four options; a consent agreement, control by EM, a neutral evaluation or Chapter 9 bankruptcy (Gautz, 2012).
Both Public Acts 72, 4 and 436 smoothed the way for the creation of the EAA for a few reasons. All of the Public Acts above allowed for fiscally struggling school districts to enter control of either an EM or EFM. What the various Public Acts did not allow for was control over academics. Both EM's and EFM's jobs were recuse finically failing schools- not academically failing schools. However it did not seem to take long for Governor Snyder and State Superintendent Mike Flanagan to realize that many fiscally struggling schools were also failing academically and thus an agency- designed to take over schools and assist them academically was born.
Characters and Creation
Creation of the EAA has involved many characters from various backgrounds, fueled by their own beliefs on education, role of local and state governments and finance they have shaped and implemented a unique and never before seen in Michigan policy. Perhaps no other character and their beliefs have shaped the creation of the EAA more than Governor Rick Snyder. Governor Snyder has mentioned numerous times that EM's are critical in helping finically struggling schools and cites. In his second state of the state address Governor Snyder stated that "I want any jurisdiction that's struggling with its finances to know we are committed at the state level to be a supportive partner to help you resolve your challenges" (Stanton, 2012). Also mentioned in the State of the State address was that emergency mangers where placed into schools and cites to "quickly and effectively" solve a city's or school's financial woes. On the EAA Snyder has had this to say "...I've done the bus tour where I visited the classrooms and talked to the students, the teachers, the parents. It's incredible" (Why EAA expansion hasn't happened yet, 2013).
If Rick Snyder's beliefs are shaping the EAA at the state level then Roy Roberts- Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manger was the man at ground zero. Appointed by Governor Snyder in 2011 Roy Roberts became Detroit Public School's EM. A little time after taking control over Detroit Publics Schools Roy Roberts signed an inter-local agreement with Detroit Public Schools and Eastern Michigan University creating the EAA, an autonomous school district in charge of turning around "failing" schools in Detroit. The EAA had various powers in place to turn around schools such as negotiating new labour contracts, closing schools, taking over the local school board in place and firing and hiring teachers as the EAA saw fit. Roy Roberts stepped down as EM of Detroit Public Schools after nearly two years. However Roberts's affiliation with the EAA was far from over, after stepping down as EM Roberts was elected to the Board of Directors of the EAA and a special two year term as Chairperson of the Executive Committee of the EAA.
With the creation of the EAA came a new bureaucracy. A board of directors and executive committee was made to bring leadership and oversight into the EAA. Heading the entire organization now is Chancellor John Wm. Covington. Elected to head the EAA in August of 2011 Covington's former job titles include being superintendent of schools in Pueblo, Colorado, Kansas City, Missouri, Lowndes County Public Schools, Alabama and other various job titles within schools (EAA, 2013). During Covington's tenure as Chancellor of the EAA he has taken steps to implement various reforms into Detroit Public Schools such as the online centered learning platform called "Buzz", closing and re-opening school and hiring new, young teachers from various backgrounds such as Teach for America and "partnering with partnered with Harvard University Graduate School of Education to recruit and screen prospective teachers across the nation" (Covington, 2013).
Covington's Chancellorship has not been without criticism though. Covington left his job as superintendent of Kansas City in 2011 to take on the role of EAA Chancellor. However many people say that his time in Kansas City was marked with failure. According to Board of Education (Ann Arbor) Trustee Christine Stead "...state accountability test data from the Missouri Assessment Program or MAP, the first year's results of Dr. Covington's SCL initiative was mixed at best and disturbing at worst" (Stead, 2012). Others criticized Covington leave from Kansas City as incentive based. According to the Detroit Free Press "[Covington] will be paid a $175,000 signing bonus and a $225,000 salary his first year as leader of the new Education Achievement Authority. His base salary grows to $325,000 in the second year. And if he meets yet-to-be-determined goals, he could make more than $425,000 in each of the last two years of the contract" (Wattrick, 2011).
Implementation and its challenges
After the inter-local act was signed On September 4, 2012, the EAA re-opened 15 of Detroit's "most chronically underperforming schools" (About the EAA in Michigan, 2012). As of right now the EAA has still yet to expand into Michigan's bottom five percent of schools due to "a technicality...[to make clear] that the EAA and the state reform district are one and the same" (Higgins, 2012).
The biggest hurdle in implementation for the EAA has been funding. Teachers, principals and other school staff members have lamented the lack of money with the Detroit Public School and the EAA.
The EAA states that it intends to address the budget woes of DPS by having "a far greater percentage of [total per- pupil allocations] (95 percent) will reach the classroom than are reaching it currently (55 percent) (EAA, 2011). The EAA's current budget comes from various resources such as per pupil state school aid, public and private donations from foundations and federal grants. Some of the bigger funders of the EAA are The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, who recently awarded 10 million dollars to the EAA. This money was given to "fund technology, infrastructure, computers, instructional support and professional development for teachers" (Pratt Dawsey, 2013). The Broad Foundation, founded by businessman/philanthropist Eli Broad, was one of the first groups to donate money after the creation of the "Michigan Education Excellence Foundation" a non-profit created to accept donations for the EAA. Money for the EAA has also come in the way of federal grants. In October of 2012 the United States Department of Education provided the EAA with 5.9 million dollars in funding for the next two years and potentially 35 million over three years if Congress decides to continue its funding (Higgins, 2012).
The United States Federal Government also announced that the EAA was a finalist in the newest Race to the Top round, and if picked as winners were eligible for around 400 million dollars in federal funds (Strauss, 2012). However the EAA did not make the cut and was not awarded those funds from Race to the Top. The EAA also has potential to be funded by a bill, commissioned by Governor Rick Snyder and written by Peter Ruddell and Richard McLellan both of the Oxford Foundation, called "The Michigan Public Education Finance Project" or PEFA which would state allow for student funding given by the state to follow the child around- not just the district that the child attends (Michigan Radio Newsroom, 2012).
While the EAA hoped to solve budget problems some have argued that the EAA has done little to increase fiscal responsibility. In late December/ early January of 2012-2013 the executive committee requested "$2 million advance from its monthly state funding allocation" (Dawsey, 2013). The money was requested to help buy more computers for EAA students as funding from private sources such as the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation, has failed to provide the EAA with as much money has they might have liked (Cwiek, 2013). Other problems with the EAA budget have included notions of transparency. Thomas Pedroni, an associate professor at Wayne State University argued that "it's also hard to verify the EAA's claim that it's spending more money- at least 90 percent- in the classroom than a traditional public school" (Cwiek, 2013). Pedroni also noted that "the EAA, as it stands, lacks transparency and accountability..." (Cwiek, 2013).
Controversies, Backlash and Support
The creation and growth of the EAA has not been without controversy. It affects a wide variety of persons, teachers, students, principals, school board members and superintendents. Of the above mentioned groups teachers have come out as some of the most vocal on their views of the EAA. Brooke Harris, an English Language Arts teacher who teaches in an EAA school, wrote this in a letter to the House Education Committee. "Having spent the past seven months [in the EAA]...I can assure you that the reality is nowhere close to the dream that Drs. Covington and Esselman are attempting to sell you" (House Committee Letter, 2012). Brook Harris outlines three major areas of discontent, the online centered learning platform called "Buzz"- specifically its low level of cognitive demand and technical issues such as glitches and streaming difficulties. Next Harris brings up the lack of resources in her classroom such as enough computers to run Buzz and shortage of textbooks. Her third area of concern has to deal with the institution that the EAA did away with and that was the locally elected school board. Harris makes the case that board meetings are now "held in faraway cities during school and work hours...this makes EAA board meetings entirely inaccessible" (House Committee Letter, 2012).
A large coalition combining the Parent Teacher Association, K-12 teachers, the superintendent of DPS and parents came together to write a letter to President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressing their concerns over the EAA qualifying for Race to the Top money. The group's main grievances with the EAA included lack of objective data as to whether the EAA was effective in turning around schools, lack of accountability by the State Board of Education and its competitive nature against non EAA involved Detroit Public Schools (Strauss, 2012). Problems and opposition have also arisen from the locally elected DPS School Board that has now been replaced by Roy Roberts as EM. When Public Act Four was overturned by Michigan voters this past fall DPS School Board quickly acted. They voted to withdraw themselves from the control of the EAA and their inter-local agreement with EMU (Sands, 2012), however the vote was ignored and Roy Roberts was quickly given his old position as EM back again with Public Act 436.
While it seems that with the EAA many in education have come out and fought the EAA others have been more supportive. KC Wilbourn-Snapp is the principal of Denby High School. She says "the EAA has meant more autonomy for me" (Neher, 2012). Wilbourn- Snapp also mentions that funding approval for various programs happens faster with the EAA than it had in the past. Principal Angela Underwood of Nolan elementary school also has positive remarks for the EAA. A former principal from Kansas City she followed then Superintendent John Covington (now chancellor of the EAA) up to Michigan. Underwood agrees with Covington's vision of "student-centered" learning saying that it worked in Kansas City schools and is already working at Nolan. Underwood said that because of student- centered learning "We saw attendance increase, and student engagement increased, big time. I've already seen that happen here. It's been pretty amazing" (Cwiek, 2013).
To stay or not to stay
According to the book "Reforms at Risk: What Happens after Major Policy Changes are Enacted" by Eric Patashnik we have various types of reforms, some that will be stable and others that are doomed to fall apart. With the creation of the EAA a whole new bureaucracy that it can be said that this policy is "reconfiguration". Reconfiguration is an unstable form of reform. Powerful forces cause new groups to come into and out of existence. Coalitions change, and political mobilization is different that it had been before. According to the book "old rules of political behavior no longer apply, and there is considerable uncertainty about how the "whole new ball game" is to be played" (Patashnik, 2008).We can see the symptoms of reconfiguration in the creation of the EAA. Various groups came in that had not usually been involved in education, like foundations.
With any controversial legislation in its earliest stages it will be interesting to see if the Educational Achievement Authority can survive past the will of its makers or if it will bend to pressures from the Detroit Public Schools Board of Education, teacher unions and other dissatisfied groups. After a hectic and fast push through the Michigan House the bill has come to a standstill. It seems as if Michigan Republican legislators- previously supportive of the EAA have back away. Fearful of creating another large bureaucracy, the see the expansion of the EAA to the bottom five percent of schools in Michigan- even if capped at 50 schools- as too large. I've stated before that if the EAA was allowed to expand throughout the state it could easily become Michigan's largest school district. If allowed to grow many see the EAA has hard to get rid of. The EAA is a school district meant to turnaround failing schools- this implies that eventually- the EAA would do its job and we would no longer need it. However some previous supporters believe that this might never happen and if the EAA was deemed to be a failure- would make removing it next to impossible.
The Future of the EAA
The EAA and issues of funding, legitimacy, growth and effectiveness still have to be answered. The EAA is currently still in its first year of operation in DPS and a lot of questions still have to be answered. Is the EAA causing student gains? Dr. Thomas C. Pedroni made an argument to the House Education Committee saying no. Test scores reported by Mary Esselman, Chief Officer of Accountability, Equity and Innovation, Pedroni argued where "not nearly as remarkable as Esselman claimed them to be. In fact, as I will show, student growth using Esselman's own numbers is quite the opposite of remarkable" (Pedroni, 2013). Even with the conflicting data and possible "politicization" of data (Henig, 2009) the House Education Committee passed House Bill 4369, by a 9-5 vote with Republicans in favor and Democrats against. The current version of the bill will allow for the EAA to take over the bottom five percent of schools in the state (not just DPS) and cap the amount of schools in the EAA at any given time at 50 (although not all at once- there will be a phase in cap). Removed from the last version of the law was a controversial measure of where and what buildings the EAA can move into.
It seems that as the story grows for the Education Achievement Authority it becomes more and more complicated. Soon we will have data on student performance for the first full school year and soon the legislature must make a decision on what to do with the bill currently sitting in their hands. What we do need to do though is fine a way to help these children. It is no coincidence that our failing schools are so often located in extreme poverty. Like Geoffrey Canada in "Whatever it Takes" (Tough, 2011) we know that something needs to be done for these students who live in chronic poverty and have been over looked by traditional school districts at time- however we also need to be cautious that the EAA is not just an experiment doomed to fail our neediest students.
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