Jacques: It may be too late, but EAA shows progress
Maybe the Education Achievement Authority wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
Two years after taking over the troubled reform district, Chancellor Veronica Conforme has crunched the numbers and students test scores are finally showing an upward trajectory.
This positive news has come too late to save the EAA as it exists now, as it’s set to return to the Detroit Public Schools Community District at the end of the school year. Once that happens, the newly elected school board will decide how the schools will operate.
They would be smart to talk with Conforme and see what’s working, and keep it in place.
The turnaround model spearheaded by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011 suffered from poor leadership in its initial years. John Covington, the first chancellor, never delivered the results for students that he promised and his tenure was plagued by financial mismanagement and corruption scandals.
Conforme came into a tough situation, but she didn’t shy from the challenge and now she’s showing real results. She hired new leaders in the schools and put in place a rigorous program of teacher training and accountability, in addition to a high quality curriculum and small learning communities. She says that as these initiatives take hold, academic proficiency will continue at a faster pace.
“Overall we’re trending in the right direction,” Conforme says. “Good performance can happen in these schools.”
The evidence: Based on 2016 state test scores, seven out of nine EAA K-8 schools showed growth in the percent of students proficient in English language arts. And eight out of nine K-8 schools showed growth in the percent of students proficient in math. One of the schools — Nolan Elementary-Middle School — doubled the percentage of children proficient in reading and quadrupled the percentage proficient in math.
That’s huge, even though the numbers themselves are still low. At Nolan, for instance, only 10 percent of students are proficient in math. But only 2.4 percent were last year.
The 14 schools that remain in the EAA, all in Detroit, were the worst-performing in the state. While they still have a long way to go, the schools offer a contrast to the lowest-performing buildings within Detroit Public Schools, which have remained basically stagnant in their student performance.
The three EAA charter schools have demonstrated some of the most progress, but the direct-run schools are also moving in the right direction, including the high schools.
“These schools have improved dramatically in last two years,” Conforme says.
The progress has caught the attention of State Superintendent Brian Whiston.
“I think the EAA has come a long way,” he says. “I have seen a lot of good things happening in the schools there in the last 18 months. I hope the good work that’s going on there will continue through some agreement with Detroit schools. I do think Veronica has done a good job.”
Whiston says he wasn’t a fan of the EAA initially, but there are some “significant improvements” taking place. In his experience with school turnarounds, Whiston says schools must start showing improvement after 18 months. If not, it’s often better to close the school and start over.
“You have to have accountability,” he says.
Conforme says she’d be willing to stay on in some form after the EAA returns to the district. But she, along with the EAA staff, are all on edge right now about their future. She’s heard little from the district and the state School Reform Office about how the transition will take place.
Interim DPS superintendent Alycia Meriweather has shown an interest in some of the work that Conforme has done, but the school board could very well hire another superintendent early next year who doesn’t want anything to do with the current model. Given the better grades the EAA schools are earning, that would be a mistake.
“The change should be one that doesn’t disrupt staffing and leadership,” Conforme says. “We need consistency so we can continue to see growth.”