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Editorial: Coalition's school plan follows old playbook

The Detroit News

The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, on Monday, released its recommendations for improving the city's public schools. While the coalition members should be commended for the three months they devoted to this project, their key findings aren't very inspiring — and not likely to boost academic options for kids.

On first look at the 30 pages of recommendations, it appears union influence on the coalition was strong.

Gov. Rick Snyder had hoped the report would provide guidance and cover for his plans for sweeping reforms of education in Detroit. This work falls well short of delivering that, and Snyder will have to struggle to find elements to dovetail with his strategy.

Some initial thoughts:

Return governance to DPS board: The coalition wants the elected school board to regain control. It's true that six years under state emergency management have not been able to erase the debt and fix academics. But simply returning control to a board that has made it clear it cares more about its own power than doing what's best for Detroit children won't help.

Focus on charter quality, transparency and coordination: Half of Detroit's children attend charter schools. Some charters could do a better job, and there is a case for more coordination of all schools in the city. Singling out charter schools for special scrutiny, however, seems misguided when the DPS is the worst urban district in the country.

Transfer DPS debt to the state: While the state is contractually liable for the district's debt, DPS doesn't deserve a bailout unless there is a strong promise of better management. That's a missing component here. In addition, the coalition's complaints of paying into the teacher retirement system aren't unique to Detroit — they are faced by every district in the state.

Create a Detroit Education Commission: The coalition suggests forming a nonpartisan commission that would coordinate citywide education. The commission would have broad authority to open and close schools, and would help direct parents to transportation and enrollment options. This is one of the coalition's better ideas, but the details will be critical.

End the Education Achievement Authority: The report recommends turning over the controversial EAA to the state Reform Office, which Snyder recently took over. The coalition also wants to end the interlocal agreement between DPS and Eastern Michigan University that formed the EAA. Given the hostility by the board toward the EAA, if the school board is restored it would almost guarantee the authority's end — in its current form.

Snyder has also been working on a plan for Detroit schools, and has pledged to incorporate as much of the commission's work as possible.

Unfortunately, this report does not give him a lot to work with.