A Vital Tool for Improving Education in Michigan
In Michigan, we have an education crisis on our hands. Many of our students are being left behind, all at a time when they can least afford to stand still. We now have an opportunity to take action, and that is by confirming in law an innovative tool that can lend a helping hand -- the Education Achievement Authority (EAA).
Here's a fact that's as shocking as it is tragic: Last year, 238 Michigan high schools did not produce a single student proficient in math or reading, yet every one of those schools is accredited. Those students were crying out for help, so we created the EAA, a new program designed to help turn around the lowest performing schools in our state.
The EAA program is based on a proven learning platform and locally-based management style. Principals are empowered to hire the best teachers; place, train and support them to provide continuous improvement based on student needs; and ensure that at least one third more taxpayer dollars is spent directly in the classroom. It eliminates “one-size-fits-all” education by instituting a system known as student-centered learning. Under that method, each student is individually tested to determine his or her achievement level in each subject. Educators then develop a unique education plan for each individual student, working with that student on an individual level.
No longer are students moved on just because they have spent nine months sitting in a chair. They move on when they master a particular subject. Students don't identify themselves in grades based on their age, either, but by their achievement level in various subjects.
We put this system in place in September at the 15 consistently lowest performing schools in Detroit. Already, students and parents have shown a dramatic response. More than 10,000 students are enrolled in the EAA schools, truancy is down, and daily attendance at the schools is measurably higher than previous years. Marques Stewart, the principal at Brenda Scott Elementary/Middle School, reports that daily attendance at the school ranges from 88 to 90 percent, compared to 77 percent last year. Parents are doing their part, too. Only eight parents showed up at Brenda Scott for a back-to-school meeting. But after intensive outreach, more than 400 parents attended a special activity night in mid-October.
The good news is spreading, and enrollment is continuing to grow as more parents and students learn about the hope and potential that EAA offers.
It's difficult to grasp the revolutionary change that EAA has brought to the most desperate of educational conditions, but I recently had a chance to witness it for myself. I walked the halls of an EAA school in Detroit, met with students and teachers, and could see the look of hope and excitement on their faces. I compared what I saw to that which I knew was true before -- our school system was failing to deliver for our students, and too many futures were not bright.
Trumeia Smith, a student at Nolan Elementary/Middle School, recently told a reporter that she likes student centered learning (SCL) because - in her words - “you can work to mastery. If you don’t get it the first time you can work on it until you’re ready to go to the next level.” She concluded, “I like SCL because you can’t fail.”
We can't allow ourselves to fail these students, either. The state legislature has an opportunity to confirm in law the EAA as part of the state's public school system, providing a clearer way forward. I support this legislation and ask our legislature to join me in doing the same. It's an important tool in our effort to reinvent education in Michigan and throw a lifeline to students who, when given the opportunity, are ready and eager to show what they are truly capable of achieving.