By now, everyone should understand the gravity of the prevailing educational crisis and the need to make children the central focus of policy decisions. In response, Michigan has taken up the challenge of improving its schools by attempting to institutionalize in state law the Education Achievement Authority (EAA). Unfortunately, commitment to change doesn’t always compute with improvement.
Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Education Achievement Foundation, a charity his office established to tap private donors, recently announced that $59.7 million has been raised to make the EAA a stand alone school district and ultimately includes some 45 chronically failing schools across the state. Fifteen already operate in Detroit. The foundation has a goal of raising $100 million. This commitment falls under the persistently applied strategy of trying to fix schools through greater investment.
First, it’s important to acknowledge that substantial research has found there is little, if any, relationship between differences in spending and the quality of schooling. Indeed, if money alone could solve the problems of educational failure Detroit would be awash in academic success.
Educational expenditures per student in real terms, for example, are twice what they were in the 1970s. Skimping on schools has not been the chief cause of bad performance by DPS or the EAA.
The foundation’s fundraising effort will also underwrite a two-year scholarship program for graduates of anyDetroit public school to attend one of five community colleges. This type of incentive isn’t new either.
In fact, it is reminiscent of the once highly touted Detroit Compact, the school/business partnership designed to provide graduates guaranteed jobs or scholarships. At its onset, students had to maintain high academic skills to qualify. They also needed more than a 90 percentile attendance and punctuality rate, in addition to good citizenship.
Alas, the Compact proved to be a poor choice to bring increased resources and new hope to schools most in need. The standards were lowered when not enough children could qualify for the benefits. Because the district lacked an effective education delivery system, the Compact’s demise was tragically assured.
“This is a big deal folks, changing the lives of those kids,” Snyder said at the Mackinaw Conference. ” (The EAA) is at the forefront of education innovation.”
In fact, there’s not much innovation in the EAA at all. At best, this initiative is a compilation of general improvement measures that have made the rounds through the education establishment for most of the last four decades.
Adding to the EAA hype, advocates point to the authority’s internal test scores showing students are learning more this year than they did under DPS. But even with clear evidence of tinkering at the margins of achievement, test scores remain at the low end of state averages. And the spotty accomplishments are overshadowed by the failure of the majority. Basically, the EAA system is preparing students for a lifetime of potential failure.
In fairness, not all educational dysfunction can be heaped on the defunct system.
By and large, families that value education have left the city for the suburbs and better school systems. Those remaining tend to be poor, single-parent head of households that typically have less formal education and often find it difficult or impossible to help their children through school.
For the better part of four decades this virtual minefield of obstacles has stood between children and the education they need. And there’s not enough money anywhere to arrest the social disintegration occurring in homes and neighborhoods around schools – or to finance the EAA model to make it meaningful, for that matter.
“Tradition-shattering” educational reform like expanded school choice would help. It begins by shifting attention from school inputs – spending programs – to school performance; making schools compete for students and giving parents more choices to seek out quality.
If nothing else, enlightened parents could opt to escape faltering public schools and recycled experiments like the status quo EAA.