A Mighty Change in Detroit

Posted on July 20, 2012

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Dr. John Covington


I talked a little bit in my last post about my trip to Detroit—about the shrinking city, the abandoned houses, and most importantly, the spirit of hope and decency in the people I saw there.

This spirit was on display nowhere more than in Detroit’s public schools, which, with their traumatized students and shrinking tax base, are fighting to stay afloat every day.

But while Detroit educators are low on funds, they don’t lack for energy and innovation. Take, for example, the efforts of the Michigan Education Achievement Authority (EAA). Under the leadership of Dr. John Covington and Dr. Mary Esselman, the EAA has embarked on an ambitious new program of learning for Michigan’s struggling schools.

The primary goal of the program is to create truly student-centered classrooms. Essentially, students are diagnostically assessed at the beginning of the school year to determine their level of proficiency in subject area standards. Students are then grouped according to the results of their assessments, and advance once they master the standards in their level.

I’ve always been a proponent of well-designed programs that move students away from a system that advances based upon seat time. The most striking thing to me, though, about the EAA classrooms in Detroit, is how well they keep students engaged. In every classroom I visited I found students—every student, if you can believe it—hard at work. Children were sitting in small groups with their peers, completing tasks around a prompt or a computer screen. Teachers were either conferencing with individual students or walking the classroom, helping groups to complete their tasks and stay focused.

Within a year or two, we’ll start seeing some of the results of this newly inaugurated program. While we’ve seen plans like this fail before, I am optimistic that things are going to be different with the EAA. Dr. Covington and his team are not only innovators, but are incredibly thorough, covering every possible base. I’ve rarely seen a harder working group of administrators and teachers. This system is going to produce a dramatic upsurge in student achievement.

Mark my words: in very little time everyone in education is going to be talking about a mighty change in Detroit.

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