Legislation that clarifies the role of the state’s Education Achievement Authority (EAA) should not be shelved just because it’s a vehicle for the expansion of charter schools, as critics claim.
However, parents should be concerned that there’s little in the EAA experiment to suggest that consolidating failing schools into one state-sponsored district is a paradigm for success. It does nothing to address why schools fail. In fact, there’s evidence that a financial commitment to change doesn’t always compute with improvement.
The Michigan House and Senate education committees are trying to immortalize the EAA educational model, which incorporates public schools that have been in the bottom 5 percent of academic achievement for three or more years. Currently it’s made up of 15 schools from Detroit Public Schools. The DPS board has taken legal steps to dissolve that takeover.
EAA officials promise to turn underperforming schools into a learning mecca where students learn at their own pace using specialized education plans instead of the status quo curricula. In some instances, students are situated in new facilities like Mumford High School, a $52.1 million facility. Other schools are equipped with new computers and other updates. The applied strategy is to devote more money and resources to distressed classrooms.
The history of education spending, however, reveals that there isn’t much direct correlation between the kind of spending excesses undertaken by the EAA and educational performance. A case in point is the Kansas City, MO experience.
In 1998, then-Federal Judge Russell Clark decided that Kansas City schools were segregated and blacks, which comprised 75 percent of the student population were denied equal educational opportunity. The judge ordered the school board to impose a property tax hike, which resulted in a cost-is-no-object educational solution. The state subsequently spent more than $1.3 billion for massive school improvements – including state-of-the art equipment — for the 37,000-student district.
The 15 new schools built came with a hike in per pupil spending to twice the statewide average — more than any of the 280 largest districts in the country. Another feature was a student-teacher ratio that was 12 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country. But despite the extraordinary expenditures, educational outcomes in Kansas City showed no improvement. And since 1999 there have been six or seven superintendents who couldn’t make the experiment work.
When John Covington became Kansas City’s school chief in 2009, he brought with him a student-centered model that was supposed to usher in a new beginning. Two years later, Covington abruptly resigned, leaving the district no better off then when he arrived. He is the current chancellor of Michigan’s EAA.
The Kansas City experiment suggests that educational problems can’t be solved by throwing money at schools, that the structural problems of our current educational system extend beyond a lack of material resources.
If giving students real opportunity and access to a good school is the goal of educational policy, providing parents and students the opportunity to be free of the inept bureaucratic functionaries would seem to be the preferred option. Separate legislation is being considered in Lansing to do that.
More school choice would empower parents who could choose which schools their children could attend. Individual schools would be required to compete harder for students. Failing schools would go out of business.
But not even choice comes with a guarantee.
As well intended as the EAA concept may be, history tells us that the substandard performance of schools has less to do with the amount of money flowing into the system than the degree to which parents are involved in the education of their children. Unless the EAA can generate greater parental involvement – and it can’t in a social environment dominated by fatherless homes – it’s mission will constitute a waste of valuable time and resources.
Better to go with the choice option. At least the wasteful central bureaucracy is cast aside.