The Educational Achievement Authority: Detroit’s Top Secret School District

By Phillip Bailey

Detroit will have a new school system this fall, separate from the Detroit Public Schools. Yet few know much, if anything, about the new network of schools and what it will mean for the city’s students. The Education Achievement Authority (EAA) is a new statewide school system established through an agreement between Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and Detroit Public Schools (DPS) that will eventually operate the lowest performing Five percent of schools in Michigan, those that are not attaining adequate results on a “redesign plan,” and those that are under an emergency manager.

Detroit schools are the only schools to be included in this “statewide” district in the coming school year. Fifteen schools have been selected. Nine are elementary and middle schools, six are high schools. Each school will be independent and charged with the development of its own academic plan. Some will be operated by subcontractors under charter agreements, others will be run directly by a new administration.

The new system will be governed by a separate 11-member board, with two members appointed by DPS emergency manager Roy Roberts, two members appointed by EMUand seven members appointed by the Governor. Five members of the board will make up the Executive Committee, which will be chaired by Roberts and will be made up of one board member selected by Roberts, one member selected by EMU and three of the board members selected by the Governor. The Executive Committee will select a Chancellor  to lead the system as chief administrator.

Critics of the new district are frustrated that little is known about sources of funding for the system and nothing is known about the curriculum. Detroit School Board member Elena Herrada filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts Monday June 4, requesting:

  1. All policies, procedures, memos, minutes, and other documents of any kind that govern or relate to debt service from DPS to State, from EAA to DPS.
  2. All policies, procedures, memos, minutes, and other documents of any kind that govern or relate to assignment, transfer, loan, or hiring of DPS employees by the EAA.
  3. All policies, procedures, memos, minutes, and other documents of any kind that govern or relate to real estate transactions between DPS, EAA and the City of Detroit.

Herrada is part of a participatory action research project investigating the EAA. The volunteer-based project will work over the summer with students, parents and community members to understand and educate the public about the EAA in historical, political, cultural, economic and geographic context.

Herrada said she believed forcing students into a stigmatized district of low-performing schools could hurt their educational prospects. Herrada said the plan would create a, “separate and unequal district.”

Long-time union and community activist Russ Bellant said the new system has its origins in state efforts to meet goals set by U.S. Department of Education “Race to the Top” legislation. But according to Bellant, the EAA would violate Article 8 Sec. 3 of Michigan’s constitution, which mandates all public education be administered through the state Board of Education. “The state is trying to strip Detroit of its ability to educate its own citizens,” Bellant said.

Keith Johnson, President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT-AFT), said he did not believe the EAA schools would be ready to open for operation by September. “They are still trying to secure their startup funding,” Johnson said. “It is painfully obvious that they are not ready to start off in the fall.” In any case, Johnson said the DFT was wary of a new district. “Our concern is that the educational future of our students is being gambled with.”

Specifically, Johnson said the union was concerned that the new system would be unable to attract experienced teachers because EAA employees will not be allowed to participate in the Michigan state pension plan and many will not want to transfer to the new system. He said teachers will also face a lower salary cap coupled with more hours in the new district. EAA teachers will work two-hundred and twenty days and eight hours a day versus the one hundred ninety-five hours and six-to-seven hours DPS teachers work.

Johnson said that despite all the uncertainties, he was sure of one thing. “These schools will be union.”