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Detroit Announces New Authority For Failing Schools

Snyder Detroit Education Reform

First Posted: 06/20/11 08:28 PM ET Updated: 08/20/11 06:12 AM ET

A plan revealed Monday to overhaul Detroit's public schools left stakeholders with more questions than answers about the future of education in the Motor City.

The lowest performing schools in Detroit will be taken over by a new authority created in partnership with the state, Detroit Public Schools and Eastern Michigan University, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) and DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts announced at a news conference to much fanfare and some protests.

The new "Education Achievement System" (EAS) has the support of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, signaling its resonance beyond the borders of Detroit. Duncan has called the district "ground zero" for education reform and spoke via satellite at the Monday news conference.

Snyder and Roberts also announced a second initiative Monday: a scholarship program that would finance two years of college or vocational school for all Detroit high school graduates. The fund would be sponsored by "businesses and philanthropic organizations," Roberts said.

Though no official has said which groups will contribute the money, a representative in Snyder's office confirmed the program will receive donations from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. Billionaire Eli Broad is a Detroit native, and his foundation has been influential in recent reforms to Detroit's schools.

The idea of targeting failing schools with specific reforms has been promoted by the Obama administration. If done right, Duncan said, the EAS has the "potential to be a model not just for the city, not just for the state, but for the entire country."

HOW IT WORKS

The plan mirrors similar efforts in New Orleans and Tennessee that target the lowest-performing schools. But how Michigan's EAS will live up to its promise to improve Detroit's schools -- and address the district's crippling debt -- has yet to be revealed.

What Roberts did say is that the state will run the EAS in partnership with EMU beginning in the 2012-2013 school year. The coming 2011-2012 school year will be an "incubation" period for the development of the system. In addition enveloping schools from DPS, the system is slated to expand to include low-performing schools throughout Michigan.

Schools deemed low-performing based on standardized test scores and student grade point averages will enter the EAS. After five years in the system, an evaluation will determine whether the school can choose to go back to local control.

A parent advisory council will be created at each school, and each parent will be required to sign a contract certifying involvement in his or her child's education.

The new authority will function with an 11-member board. Two members will be appointed by DPS, two appointed by the university and seven by the governor. Five of those board members will make up the system's executive committee, chaired by Roberts.

The goal, Snyder said, is streamlined authority, and the plan includes a restructuring of the DPS central office.

"Only 55 percent of the dollars show up in the classroom," he said. "We need to strive for a system where we get 95 percent of the dollars in the classroom."

Roberts said EAS would help eliminate Detroit Public Schools' $327 million debt in five years, but he did not specify how it would do so.

Detroit's education unions are skeptical.

"More questions than answers remain at this point, not the least of which include who will be part of the planning team, how the new system will be designed, and what will happen to the collective bargaining rights of employees of the Detroit Public Schools and the Education Achievement System," DPS union leaders wrote in a joint statement.

According to a FAQ on the new plan released by DPS, teachers whose schools are moved into the new system would be required to reapply for their jobs.


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