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Monday, February 10,2014

A local alternative for schools

Lawmaker proposes alternative to expanding Education Achievement Authority that would depend on more local reforms for struggling schools

by Nicole Halvorsen
State Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods. Courtesy photo.

Monday, Feb. 10 — In response to a contentious proposal to expand the Education Achievement Authority statewide, one lawmaker is proposing an alternative meant to keep public schools in the hands of those who know them best.


State Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, has proposed an alternative that would give Intermediate School Districts, or ISDs, more control over reforming their struggling schools.


Her bill, House Bill 5286, would require schools submitted to the state reform office to undergo an audit by the local ISD to construct a transformation plan to correct problems identified by the audit. It’s in response to claims that an expanded Education Achievement Authority would institute “one-size-fits-all” changes within a district. The bill is before the House Education Committee.


The Education Achievement Authority, or EAA, is a school system meant to redesign public education in the lowest 5 percent of underperforming schools in Michigan.


Already operating 15 buildings formerly run by Detroit Public Schools, the EAA hopes to move statewide, turning the underperforming schools into “stable, academic gaining environments.”


Under EAA control, schools are placed under supervision, with a five-year minimum stay. The EAA is hoping to achieve “maximum potential” of the schools’ students by tailoring instruction to each child individually, based on needs.


EAA schools organize students based on the content of the courses they’ve completed, rather than grade level. This means that a student will not have to wait until the next academic year to progress to the next content level. For students who take longer than the academic year to complete content, they will not be penalized.


But the EAA has faced criticism from parents, students and teachers.


Lipton has critiqued the EAA’s method as “one-size-fits all.” She told MLive.com that the EAA has needed emergency infusions of cash to continue operation. The schools have also seen enrollment decline.


If her proposal is approved, local struggling schools may be working closer with the Ingham County ISD. An ISD is a regional education agency that acts as a separate entity from districts to provide programs and services.


Operating for over 50 years, Ingham’s ISD would have a better sense of a struggling school’s needs than would the EAA, said Ingham ISD Board Superintendent Stanley Kougt Jr.


The Lansing School District is already working to keep track of early warning signs for struggling schools and students with several programs such as attendance monitoring.


If Lipton’s bill passes, the district and the Ingham ISD would be allowed to continue forward with these efforts without intervention. Kougt, who supports the legislation, said it doesn’t make sense for the EAA to move ahead without proven results and that schools should be in the hands of ISDs because they belong to locals.


The struggle for the community and the school boards’ support for the EAA program stems from a lack of data to prove the successes of the EAA’s intervention — without the data, it is not a proven entity, Kougt said.


“If we could see that data — that they are supporting schools, we would support it. It doesn’t make sense to move ahead without backup data,” he said.


Whichever structure is put into place, Kougt said he hopes it is for the benefit of the kids. “We need to make sure kids are being successful.”


EAA expansion has stalled after lawmakers began talks to change its structure.


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