Michigan's Education Achievement Authority and the Future of Public Education in Detroit: The Challenge of Aligning Policy Design and Policy Goals

90 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2014 Last revised: 16 Dec 2014

See all articles by Mary Mason

Mary Mason

Michigan State University

David Arsen

Michigan State University

Date Written: December 13, 2014


As the City of Detroit emerges from municipal bankruptcy, the imperative for school improvement takes on an urgency rarely witnessed in a U.S. city. If the city is to experience the redevelopment boom that many now anticipate, its public schools must improve. While a variety of different reform strategies are possible, the establishment of a portfolio district in Detroit currently appears to have the greatest political salience.

This paper is primarily devoted to a detailed analysis of Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority (EAA) which was established in 2011 to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools, starting in Detroit. An understanding of the EAA is essential for informed discussion of a Detroit portfolio district for two key reasons. First, portions of a plan for a portfolio district were included in the EAA’s original design, but were not effectively implemented. Second, like the EAA, a new administrative authority for a Detroit portfolio district would face basic administrative challenges related to its financial and human resources, oversight of teaching and learning, and public accountability for its operations.

The EAA failed to reach its objectives because the policy was hastily and poorly designed. Despite the committed efforts of educators in EAA schools, the state has not established a policy framework within which their efforts could enjoy broad success. Significant problems focus on the EAA’s legal authorization, unresolved tensions in its policy objectives, inadequate funding and poorly designed provisions for public accountability. The EAA’s turbulent and disappointing track record could have been avoided with more thoughtful and open planning at the front end. It would be unfortunate, if policy makers and planners of a Detroit portfolio district failed to take full measure of the lessons learned from the EAA’s experience.

Keywords: Detroit, portfolio district, school choice, school governance, school reform, urban education, reform school districts, education reform

Suggested Citation

Mason, Mary and Arsen, David, Michigan's Education Achievement Authority and the Future of Public Education in Detroit: The Challenge of Aligning Policy Design and Policy Goals (December 13, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2536702 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2536702

Mary Mason (Contact Author)

Michigan State University ( email )

East Lansing, MI
United States

David Arsen

Michigan State University ( email )

Agriculture Hall
East Lansing, MI 48824-1122
United States

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