Every Student Deserves Effective Education

By Governor Rick Snyder | March 06, 2014

No one was proud when U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called Detroit Public Schools "Ground Zero for education in this country" in early 2011.

The academic progress in our state's largest district was unacceptable.

We know that a strong public school system will be an important part of Detroit's comeback, as well as our state's resurgence. That effort is well underway on multiple fronts.

We also know that what we were doing was not working -- for whatever reason -- for too many students and for too many years.

That's why we faced these challenges head-on by creating the Education Achievement Authority, now covering Detroit's 15 most-struggling schools.

EAA schools embrace an innovative approach where traditional methods have failed, which includes longer school days, and students spend about six weeks longer in class than peers in traditional schools.

Most students who come to EAA schools are substantially below their grade level in many subjects.

To confront that problem, the reform district created a student-centered approach to learning that allows for individualized plans that help students grow from wherever they started. The goal is to reverse the decline, bring students to their grade level in all subjects and help them move forward.

No longer are students pushed along to the next level without first mastering the subject matter.

Students also work with computerized lessons that provide teachers with real-time information about where each student is successful or struggling, allowing them to quickly step in and help so the student can learn and move ahead.

EAA schools also help address some of the reasons behind academic struggles.

Many students come from families where parents want to assist, but might not have been successful in school themselves. Or, the families have faced other, outside-of-school hurdles that affect the student's ability to focus and thrive inside the classroom.

EAA schools include visits from social service agency staff members to assist with those challenges. Each building also has a Parent Empowerment Center, where family members have access to computers and are helped with finding job listings and polishing resumes and interview skills.

These are holistic approaches that get at the root of student struggles and help steer them toward success.

We are in the early stages of the EAA, but already there is progress.

MEAP scores released last week reveal that in many cases, we've stopped the downward spiral.

EAA students in four of five grade levels improved their reading performance on the MEAP compared to how they performed the year before the authority started. That's key, because this vital subject is the foundation for all learning.

Results show that 12 percent of students who had previously failed state reading tests passed them in 2013. And overall, 38 percent of the EAA students tested on the MEAP made progress toward or beyond proficiency in reading, and 21 percent improved in math.

It's important to note that the MEAP exam measures if students are working at grade level. So many EAA students started years behind where they should be academically. Many have made impressive gains, but might still fall shy of proficiency on the state exams at this point.

The results are encouraging, but by no means where we want or need to be.

We have much more work to do.

As experts often point out, there are no quick fixes in education.

It takes time to reverse decline and build an academic foundation, especially after students have spent years in failing schools or have been without the support they need to truly thrive.

These reforms come in concert with other changes we've made at the state level to help all our schools. That includes helping our youngest learners prepare for school through expanded pre-kindergarten programs and making sure our hard-working teachers get the help they may need with an enhanced evaluation program.

MEAP results released last week showed improvements across the state, especially in reading. It's encouraging to also see progress in the Detroit Public Schools.

But we cannot halt this work that has, in effect, just barely started. And we cannot let adult issues interfere with real progress made by students who have been in the 15 most-challenged schools in an area known nationally for its struggles.