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Civic leader, MSU scholar discuss Detroit schools’ future

David Arsen photo
Courtesy photo
MSU College of Education
MSU College of Education professor David Arsen

The end is nearing for Michigan’s controversial Education Achievement Authority. With that and urgent Detroit Public Schools reforms being discussed in the legislature, where are we and what is the way ahead? We speak with Tonya Allen of the Coalition for the Education of Detroit Schoolchildren and MSU professor David Arsen, who has studied the EAA.

The body that oversees Michigan's most challenged schools will be disbanding. The state’s Education Achievement Authority has been consistently criticized almost from its beginning about four years ago. The news adds to uncertainty about the future of public education in Detroit.

Current State talks with two guests with particular perspectives on public education in Detroit to get a better grasp on all these currents.

Tonya Allen is a Detroit native, a longtime educational activist and CEO of the Skillman Foundation. She also heads the Coalition for the Education of Detroit Schoolchildren, which last year submitted a comprehensive plan for the future of the city’s schools. Dr. David Arsen is a Michigan State University education professor who has studied the EAA.


Was it time to end the EAA?

“Yes, I think it was. One of the things that came out of the coalition’s report - which I’m fully in agreement with - is that the EAA was a workaround. We already have state policy through the School Reform Office to deal with low-performing schools. Instead of using that policy to execute it effectively in Detroit and other places, we basically decided to develop a separate district to do the same duties. I think that created a ton of confusion. [The EAA] hasn’t been effective and has negatively impacted the district significantly.” -- Tonya Allen

On the EAA’s flaws 

“We characterized the EAA as a policy trainwreck. It was a hastily designed policy arranged in private meetings. So there’s no opportunity for public venting and refinement that typically takes place in the legislative process. There were conflicting visions regarding its purposes from the start that undercut the dedicated efforts of lots of educators working hard in those schools.” -- David Arsen

On parents’ constant search for new schools in Detroit Public Schools

“I’ve described this landscape as “Hunger Games” for parents. They really have to figure out where to send their children. There’s not any good information, and there’s no unified enrollment process. You have to be a superb parent to figure out where to send your child [for school]. They’re almost like education refugees. It’s like they’re in a war state looking for the safest place they can land their children.” -- Tonya Allen

On the future of DPS

“One of the biggest challenges with the district right now is that many of us can’t suspend our disbelief that the district can get better. And I do believe it can get better. Most of the schools that are low-performing have so many different partners in those buildings trying to help them improve that the educators are not able to spend time in the classrooms. There’s no coherence. We have confused quantity with quality. One of the most important things that the district can do to affect those low-performing schools is to fix that practice.” -- Tonya Allen

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