For the past two years, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce has been talking about introducing a New Orleans-style Recovery School District (RSD). Recently, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute proposed the same idea in a report titled “Pathway to success for Milwaukee schools.”
WPRI’s proposal describes this as an independent school district, made up of schools identified as underperforming, chartered directly by the state and answering to an independent superintendent, who would in turn report to the state Department of Public Instruction.
Recovery School District Models Adopted in Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia:
Michigan: Michigan is now in its second full year of operating schools under what it calls an Education Achievement Authority (EAA). The statewide school system, which took charge of 15 schools in Detroit, started in the 2012-13 school year.
Michigan’s EAA resembles the RSD in many respects. The lowest-performing five percent of Michigan schools, operating in a district under an emergency manager, qualify for admission. This language is clearly aimed at Detroit, with 39 of its schools qualifying at the time of enactment. The emergency manager for Detroit public schools can designate Detroit schools into the EAA; outside Detroit the decision is made by the state superintendent of education.
Schools will remain in the EAA for five years. At that point they will be evaluated and those that meet performance standards will have the option to return to district governance, remain in the EAA, or seek a charter to operate independently.
Michigan’s recovery district was authorized under the state’s Race to the Top legislation in 2009 as a joint venture between Detroit Public Schools and Eastern Michigan University (EMU), which under Michigan law is one of 10 higher-education institutions that authorize the bulk of that state’s “public school academies” or charter schools. Michigan’s EAA is governed by an 11-member board, with 2 members appointed by DPS, 2 appointed by EMU, and 7 appointed by the Governor.
Tennessee:Following the Louisiana model, Tennessee created a special state-run “Achievement School District” (ASD) encompassing five of the state’s worst-performing schools. This arrangement put the state in control of these schools and allows the state to contract the schools out to charter school networks or form partnerships with non-profit organizations. Four of the ASD’s schools are in Memphis, with a fifth in Hamilton County. Initially, the ASD schools will be operated as a mix of charter and direct-run schools; the ASD is co-managing the five schools already identified. Tennessee is now in its second full year of operating schools. The state plans to grow the Tennessee program beyond the first five, and deemed eight additional schools in Madison County, Knox County and Metro Nashville eligible for inclusion. The head of the ASD reports directly to the State Education Superintendent
Virginia: The latest state to adopt the RSD concept is Virginia, where a bill was signed into law in June and went into effect on July 1, 2013. Virginia’s version of the model is called the Opportunity Educational Institution.
Four schools—two in Norfolk, one in Petersburg, and one in Alexandria—have academic track records low enough to meet the state’s bar for taking over schools. Schools that have not been accredited by the state for four or more years are eligible to be taken over in the 2014-15 school year, and might be directly run by the state or turned over to a charter-management organization or education-management organization.