Buzzkill: How the EAA Exploited Detroit’s Most Vulnerable Kids
In June of 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder stepped behind a microphone at Detroit's Renaissance High School to announce the start of a revolutionary new approach to education in Michigan.
The problem of poor academic performance would be addressed in dramatic fashion.
"We do have too many failing schools in our state," he said. "If you look at us statewide, only 16 percent of our kids are college-ready. That's absolutely unacceptable.
"We need to focus on a new way of doing things."
The target would be Michigan's lowest-performing schools. The bottom 5 percent.
The stakes could not have been higher. As the governor explained it, the future of both the city and the state as a whole would be riding on this experiment in education.
"For Detroit to be successful, it depends on having successful schools. For Michigan to be successful, it depends on having a successful Detroit," Snyder declared. "So we're all in this together, and we're going to make this happen as a team."
A little more than a year after that speech, the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) opened its doors to students. Instead of taking on the challenge of lifting up all of the state's low-performing schools, or even a large number of them in different areas, decision-makers — operating in a way that was anything but transparent — decided to have as this experiment's proving ground 15 Detroit schools. Three of those would be independent charters. The other 12 would serve as the focal point for the EAA's attempt to radically reconstruct the way in which students are educated.
In all, about 10,000 students — largely poor, predominantly African American, often lagging years behind in terms of academics — would be the test subjects.
In more ways than one. The system itself would be unique, with all strings leading back to the governor.
The legal loophole through which the EAA slipped into being is a little-used state law that allows two units of government, acting in cooperation, to create a third public entity. It this case, it was Detroit Public Schools (DPS) — under the control of a Snyder-appointed emergency manager — and the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents, the majority of whom are gubernatorial appointees, that entered into what's called an inter-local agreement that created the EAA.
It is overseen by an 11-person board, with the governor appointing seven members and EMU and the DPS's emergency manager each selecting two more.
And so this became the test of a completely new system of schooling.
It turned out to be another kind of test as well.
A test of software, developed by one for-profit corporation and marketed by another.
A product named Buzz.
By Curt Guyette, Investigative Reporter