Technology Key to Detroit School Turnaround Plan

The Detroit Education Achievement Authority, tasked with turning around the city’s failing public schools, has unveiled a plan that will ensure that in the process of change, schools will continue focusing primarily on student needs. John Covington, the EEA Chancellor, announced the plan by saying that the city’s kids are owed a good education from their city leaders — especially because the school system has so comprehensively failed them up till now.

The EEA is has the primary responsibility over 15 schools, including 6 high schools and 9 elementary schools, that are considered the lowest-performing in the district. Three of them have already been turned over to charter school operators, and will be opening as brand new charters in the fall. The number of schools under the auspices of the EEA will continue to grow, as more failing schools will be targeted for its turnaround procedures.

Covington said plans call for eliminating grade levels and having students move along “instructional levels” after demonstrating they have learned the necessary material to advance. Social promotion, where students are pushed along even though they failed, would be eliminated.

The system would rely heavily on blended learning, where students would work largely on computers with teachers given real-time information about student progress.

Covington said that the drastic changes won’t result in wholesale elimination of teaching positions, with the majority displaced from the failed schools scheduled to be retrained in new instructional methods. Nor will the new instructional model be simple about placing a student in front of the computer screen. Covington pledged that the EEA will use technology not as an education provider, but as an instructional tool that can help educators get better student academic outcomes.

Covington also hopes that eventually students enrolled in the turnaround-targeted schools will not only meet the minimum academic standards by the time they graduate high school, but actually exceed them. The schools will be offering programs more rigorous than those dictated by the state, with students being required to take four years of mathematics, science, English, and history/social studies.

Marianne McGuire, the Democratic district board member asked how the EEA planned to handle building ownership issues for the schools that have been turned over to charter authorities.

Covington said buildings would remain the property of the host district. Employees would not have a union or contract, but are free to seek representation if they desire. They would not be a part of the state’s school employee pension program.