When fewer than one in six children in your state are ready for college upon high school graduation, and the school system in your state's largest city is failing both financially and educationally, it's time for drastic actions - such as a longer school day and year, a more challenging curriculum, dramatically more resources and funding for classrooms, greater parental input and more accountability for school principals and staff.
"Today, we change the game. We must change the game," Roy Roberts, the executive committee chairman of Michigan's newly-minted Educational Achievement System, said on Monday. "It's not about blaming the past, or our teachers or educators, who in nearly all cases are trying their level best to get the job done, in some cases under trying situations. We have great people working in broken systems."
Help is on the way for the debt-ridden, underperforming Detroit Public School System. Gov. Rick Snyder, R-MI launched the Educational Achievement System, a new partnership between DPS and Eastern Michigan University, at a press conference with Roberts at one of Detroit's success stories, Renaissance High School. The new authority will oversee a "statewide school district with a focus on improvement of underperforming schools," Roberts said. It's designed to help the bottom 5% of schools improve both student performance and the effective use of school funds.
During the 2011-2012 school year, underperforming schools will be tasked with trying to improve within the Detroit system, but those that fail will be moved into the Educational Achievement System for 2012-2013, Roberts said. If and when schools improve, they will be allowed to return to their local district, if they wish, or they could stay under the auspices of the Educational Achievement System, Roberts said.
Gov. Snyder said he hopes to expand the program throughout Michigan.
"If you look at it statewide, only 16% of our kids are college-ready and that's absolutely unacceptable," the governor said. "We need to focus on a new way of doing things, and how we can do that more effectively. For Detroit to be successful, it depends on successful schools. For Michigan to be successful, it depends on a successful Detroit, so we're all in this together and we're going to make this happen as a team."
Roberts has a dual role in the process, running the new authority, while simultaneously maintaining his duties as the DPS Emergency Manager.
DPS is $327 million in debt, Roberts said, and almost half the money the system spends doesn't directly help students. Snyder said currently, about 55% of school funds go to the classroom, and one goal of the Educational Achievement System is to up that figure to about 95%.
The state plans to expand the program into a wide-ranging public-private partnership, with multiple benefactors.
"It's time for us to make a commitment to those kids. So, what I'm announcing today is we're launching a major initiative to go raise funds and resources from the business community, the philanthropic community, the foundation community," Snyder said.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who appeared at the press conference via teleconference, said the whole community has a vested interest in the program succeeding.
"We're not fighting just to save children and save the public school system, We're fighting to save the city of Detroit," Duncan said.
Detroit has shuttered dozens of public schools in the past two years. Roberts said in a city that's still home to 45 of 92 Michigan schools identified as consistently low-achieving, and where roughly 80% of high schools failed to produce a single college-ready graduate, he won't let the status quo stand.
For Roberts, the quest is personal.
"Every time I walk through these several communities and I see little brown, black and white kids not being properly educated, I see myself as a child. So, this is really important. This is life's work, as far as I'm concerned."