By Carol Cain
Armed with a goal of reinventing education in the Motor City — Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and Dr. John Covington, chancellor of Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority –took to the “Pancakes and Politics” stage to explain their plan.
“‘What is needed is accountability,” Roberts said during the fourth and final “Pancakes” of the 2012 season.
The event, in its seventh season, is put on by the Michigan Chronicle each spring. The conversation about education is being aired as a special “Michigan Matters” this Sunday 11:30 am on CBS62. I have moderated the Pancakes forums since their debut.
“When I came in a year ago, there were no financial controls, just no accountability,” said Roberts.
He has spent the past year doing that, whittling down the district’s budget deficit as well as right sizing the number of schools to go with the shrinking number of students.
Covington, who was also brought in by Gov. Rick Snyder to reinvent education in Detroit and the state, is taking on 15 of DPS’ lowest performing schools this fall to raise the academic bar.
They explained to the sell-out “Pancakes” crowd at the Detroit Athletic Club that the EAA program is overseen by an 11-member board which was created to turn around the state’s 98 failing schools, 38 of which are in Detroit. Roberts is chairman of the EAA board.
Covington is starting with 15 DPS schools but will eventually add others across the state as well.
This week, DPS announced it is slashing nearly 1,900 jobs as it prepares to launch a new system of schools for a smaller set of students.
And DPS students will have to choose between one of 89 traditional schools to be operated by the central administration or one of nine self-governing schools — an innovative model being tried by the district for 2,800 of its students.
The EAA plan will include longer schools days, a longer school year and a more tailored program for students to help them learn better, Covington added.
Gov. Rick Snyder, the self described “Nerd” who was a prolific student and in college in his late teens, told me if the EAA model was around when he was in schol, he would have been able to graduate “before I was driving a car (at age 16).”
“At the end of the year when we do that final assessment,” Covington said, “I think the community will be surprised at the amount of initial growth of the children.”
When asked about the racial gap in education, Roberts mentioned the $7,200 spent per Detroit student which is thousands less than most surrounding districts. He added that accountability will help dictate how well the money is spent.
“You have to come to work every day and believe that kids can learn, will learn,” Roberts said. “We have tons of talent. It hasn’t been properly managed and challenged.”
(Carol Cain is the Emmy winning Senior Producer and Host of “Michigan Matters.” She writes a column on business and politics in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)