June 20, 2014 at 1:00 am

EDUCATION REFORM IN MICHIGAN

The need remains for Education Achievement Authority

Gov. Rick Snyder's reform district has taken on some of Michigan's most challenged students. (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images)

John Covington, chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority, has resigned.

Covington said he was stepping down immediately to care for his ill mother and to launch a consulting businesses. God speed.

He said the EAA has been a success. Others would disagree.

“The EAA was created to transform traditional education for students who — for far too long — were left with an egregious education gap,” Covington said in a statement. Clearly, this is true and the need for reform remains.

Agree or disagree with Covington, we need the EAA or some other educational entity to be successful so our children, city, region and our state can prosper.

The EAA’s board of directors moved quickly and named a former New Yorker, the COO for the EAA for past few months, Veronica Conforme, as the EAA’s interim chancellor and have begun a national search for a permanent chancellor.

While there have been troubling issues at the EAA, the need to take bold decisive action to stem the generational failure to educate our children remains. If not the EAA, then what?

When it comes to providing the education our children need and deserve, to not merely survive, but to thrive in a fast-paced, hyper-competitive, disruptive, knowledge economy, the focus quickly deteriorates into power, control, politics and adults.

It was the desire to place the focus on TLC — teaching, learning and children —that prompted Snyder to create the EAA to turn Michigan’s most dysfunctional schools, which have been failing students for years, into learning centers of excellence. To say the EAA has had its share of start-up problems would be a understatement.

Covington and his teammates worked hard to transform 15 formerly chaotic, underperforming Detroit schools into educational centers, where students are learning at their own pace using individualized education plans instead of standard grade-level curricula. They succeeded in some instances and have yet to do so to-date in others. Turning around failing schools is not easy.

There are those who are using the departure of Covington as a reason to disband the EAA. Sadly, the reasons for creating the EAA remain. We are still failing to educate far too many of our children.

The fight brewing to disband the EAA isn’t about teaching, learning and children. It is about power, control, politics and adults. It must not be allowed to succeed.

Carol Goss, former EAA board chair and former Skillman Foundation president, was absolutely right when she said, “Real education reform takes five to seven years to show success. These 15 schools have been failing students in Detroit for generations — something had to change.”

When it comes to seeking ways to educate our children who have been failed for far too long it is wise to follow FDR’s advice when he said at the height of the Great Depression: “Do something — and if that does not work, do something else. But for God’s sake — do something!”

The work to turn around a failing institution, especially one as complicated as an urban school, takes dedication, focus, talent, energy and persistence. This was true when Covington was at the helm — and remains so today.

Snyder is to be commended for doing something to address the needs of the children of Detroit and others trapped in failing schools.

We also need a dose of reality: There are significant troubles at the EAA.

Innovate, create, change, or die. This needs to become our mantra as individuals, communities, educational institutions and as a state.

Holding onto the past and protecting the status quo are not prescriptions to help us thrive and be competitive on the world stage.

As the second decade of the 21st century knowledge economy unfolds, Michigan is going to be dependent at every level on bold leadership with the courage to cast off the anchors of the past and set sail to create a new future. Those educational and political leaders who believe we can go “back to the future” are selling fool’s gold.

While much focus has been on Michigan’s “brain drain” — students receiving a college education and fleeing our state — the greater problem is those we fail to educate who are staying behind. We can not and will not build a strong city, region or state on such a faulty foundation.

There are some who are calling to take back the EAA schools. My question is, back to what?

Being critical of the EAA is easy. Developing alternative options to assure all our kids are educated requires hard work.

Tom Watkins served as Michigan’s state superintendent of schools 2001-05.