Published Online: August 29, 2011

98 Struggling Schools May End Up in Mich. Reform District

About 100 persistently low-achieving schools in Michigan could end up in a newly created statewide reform district if they don't show significant academic improvement in the next two years.

The Michigan Department of Education cited the 98 schools as low-performing based largely on reading and math test scores, with 66 located in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.

Detroit Public Schools had 38 schools on the list—schools that likely will end up in the Educational Achievement Authority, the statewide reform district that was created this summer and will initially house Detroit schools.

In a separate move Friday, the board that oversees the reform district chose a chancellor: outgoing Kansas City, Mo., Superintendent John Covington.

The data released Friday show some schools are doing well, but too many are struggling, state Superintendent Mike Flanagan said.

"This is important information for schools, parents and communities to review," Flanagan said. "It provides a real look at how our local schools are doing."

Brandon Smith credits the second chance he got at the Southfield Regional Academic Campus for his high school diploma and now-realistic goal of a career in the medical field.

So he's not buying the alternative school's designation as one of Michigan's persistently low-achieving schools: "I don't care what anybody else has to say. It's a second-chance opportunity for anybody who wants to do the right thing," said Smith, 18, who graduated from the school in June and now is enrolled at Lansing Community College.

The school—recently named the top alternative school in the state—is among 98 schools statewide that were identified Friday as persistently low-achieving by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). Ten of the schools are charters.

Among the 98 schools, 58 were cited last year and 40 are new to the list. About 30 schools made it off the list.

More than half of the schools—53%—are located in Wayne County, and 14% are in Macomb and Oakland counties.

The low-achieving schools were identified because of low reading and math scores, a lack of academic improvement, failure to meet federal academic goals and low graduation rates.

The state also released a top-to-bottom ranking Friday of all public schools in Michigan—ranking them on a number of factors largely based on test scores.

Among the top-ranked 30 that make up the top 1% of schools in Michigan, 12 are in metro Detroit. The area also is heavily represented on the low end: Of the 31 schools that made up the bottom 1%, 17 are from metro Detroit.

What's Next

The persistently low-achieving schools now have three months to choose one of four options for turning the schools around—options that include replacing the principal; replacing much of the staff; closing the school and reopening under new management, or closing and sending the students elsewhere.

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The schools also now come under the supervision of the MDE. If they don't show improvement, they can eventually be placed in the new Educational Achievement Authority, a statewide reform district created this summer and initially focused on some of the worst-performing schools in Detroit Public Schools.

The 38 DPS schools on the list of persistently low-achieving schools have expanded options because the emergency manager has the authority to try to turn them around.

The EAA has an executive committee that is chaired by DPS emergency manager Roy Roberts, a former General Motors executive.

On Friday, the committee hired the first chancellor for the new district, John Covington, the outgoing superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools in Missouri.

DPS spokesman Steve Wasko said officials in the district are "working fast and hard" to build the new EAA.

Placing chronically low-achieving schools in the EAA "will provide principals more autonomy and conditions to succeed along with parent and community involvement," Wasko said.

Difficult Road Ahead

Identifying the lowest performing schools and allowing the state to intervene should produce results, but it'll be a tough task, said Robert Floden, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University.

"You can look at the list and see that poverty is closely associated with being in the low end of this spectrum," he said. "That doesn't mean they can't do better with these kids and they can't learn more. But it would be unfair to the education staffs to pretend this didn't make things more difficult."

The same might be said for schools like the Southfield Regional Academic Campus. Students are sent there if they fail freshman year, or if they're having difficulties any other time during their high school career.

"We'll always be deemed a failing school because it's a place where kids go to recover their credits," said Ken Siver, deputy superintendent for Southfield Public Schools. Despite that, he said, "we've had tremendous success."

It's the second year the school has been listed as persistently low-achieving, and principal Marty Bulger said the school has taken a number of steps to improve, including giving students a double dose of math and language arts courses, offering classes on Saturdays and increasing mentoring opportunities.

"I am proud of what our young people do every day," he said. "They are truly overcomers."

New Haven High School in Macomb County also made the list for the second year. Superintendent Keith Wunderlich said the school is starting to see its reading scores improve, but math remained stagnant.

To improve, the district last year chose a plan that included replacing the principal and developing a number of interventions—including tutoring during and after school and support classes for students who need them.

"The bottom line is we need to improve. We know that. And we knew that without being on the list," Wunderlich said. "We're working hard to give our kids the best education."

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