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The future of the EAA

Jack Lessenberry

There aren’t many who are neutral about the EAA, or Education Achievement Authority. That’s the entity formed to improve Detroit’s worst public schools.

For some, this experiment is an abject failure. Last year, through dogged persistence, State Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, turned up lots of disturbing information about the EAA.

That includes news that the authority borrowed millions of dollars from the cash-strapped Detroit school district, loans the authority then seemed determined to hide. Today, Lipton, a former teacher, calls the EAA “education deform.”

There have been revelations that at least one-quarter of the kids in EAA schools have left. There have been wildly conflicting reports as to the learning atmosphere in the 15 EAA schools, as well as whether kids in them are making better progress.

State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan gave the authority a stunning vote of no confidence in February, when he canceled an agreement stipulating that the EAA would be the only agency that could operate failing schools for the state.

Yet Gov. Rick Snyder has continued to strongly believe in the program and push for it to expand statewide. Yesterday, by a two-vote margin, the Michigan House of Representatives voted to do just that, allowing it to expand to 27 schools within the next two years.

The Senate is expected to quickly concur. Eventually, the agency will be able to operate as many as 50 schools. The governor was ecstatic. Critics were livid.

Though it was mainly a party-line vote, the one Democrat who supported the expansion, State Rep. Harvey Santana of Detroit, said the agency may not be perfect, but that it represented progress, and added that nobody can deny that “children in the lowest performing schools need a better approach.”

Well, there’s no doubt that the EAA hasn’t been all that it was cracked up to be, and that administrators have tried to hide some of the problems. Even some who support the EAA think that current chancellor John Covington may not be the right person to head the authority. On the other hand, there’s also little doubt that our lowest-performing schools are failing their students.

And there’s no sign that the public schools can fix this. We will now have a chance to see if the EAA can be made to work better, and if it will work differently outside the city of Detroit.

Assuming the Senate makes no more changes, there are some safeguards in this bill that didn’t exist before.

For one thing, there is an out. Before a school can be put in the reform district, it would have to be in the bottom 5% statewide for at least two consecutive years.

And, the EAA will not be able to take over any failing school if the local Intermediate School District agrees to run it instead.

What our lawmakers and indeed all of us now need to do is to keep a vigilant and non-ideological eye on all this over the next few years. We should demand accountability. Critics need to develop a realistic alternate plan – and the status quo isn’t it.

What matters is fixing the schools and giving our children and our state a real shot at a future. By any means necessary.

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