Building Buzz in Detroit

The Education Achievement Authority (EAA) is Michigan’s school improvement district (like the LA RSD and TN ASD). It operates 12 schools in Detroit and has partnered with the School Improvement Network to develop a student-centered competency-based school model. Together with the School Improvement Network and Agilix, two Salt Lake City partners, they have also created Buzz, an exciting learning platform. After an April visit, I outlined 8 things I really like about Buzz and the school model.
The EAA is building a coherent system and a performance-based culture. They are working hard to build positive climates and ensure effective learning practices in every classroom every day. EAA benefited from a $10 million grant from the Broad Foundation. Nolan, one of six of the K-8 schools operated by the EAA, won an NGLC grant and the EAA received anNGLC planning grant for a new high school design.
It’s working. Of the 124 elementary and middle schools across Detroit that provided growth data to Excellent Schools Detroit as part of the Annual School Report Cards, all six of the EAA schools ranked in the top 20 in growth with three of them in the top six in growth. The majority of students across the six high schools showed two or more years of growth. Special education students showed even stronger growth.
Deputy Chancellor Mary Esselman said, “The kids get the system now–it will be like 2 extra months of school.” She added, “We are working hard on student voice.”
The EAA is also learning how to build capacity among teachers. As the EAA launches its second year, it now has a team of 40 teachers and instructional coaches who serve on as “Innovator’s by Design” to train new staff and provide technical assistance.
The EAA has built a blended professional development course for teachers inside of Buzz that uses a variety of resources to help teachers learn how to build a strong learning environment through fostering relationships, creating a common language, developing a shared classroom vision and establishing rituals and routines. Other training modules in the course include planning for instruction, assessing mastery, and using data to drive performance. As the teachers learn how to facilitate a blended, student-centered classroom, their learning parallels how students learn including the cycles of learn, practice, apply, assess as they are expected to demonstrate mastery of learning targets from each module and provide evidence of that mastery. The teachers learn the technology tools that support students by experiencing the technology as students themselves.
Teachers also participate in virtual learning communities and book studies including School Improvement Network’s Mapping to the Core in which they were required to create an instructional unit as part of their Pay for Excellent Performance Program. “The depth that teachers are putting in and the innovative practices that are resulting is phenomenal,” said Esselman.
School Improvement Network started working with Esselman and her boss John Covington when they were in Kansas City four years ago. They are supporting platform improvements and learning opportunities for teachers.
Buzz improvements include:

• webbing standards to make it easier for students to see key concepts;

• adding playlists to individual development plans;

• tracking citizenship as well as academics through badging at the school, classroom and individual student level;

• creating an individualized success plan rather than just an academic plan so that students’ plans incorporate social-emotional and behavioral learning to gain a more complete picture of students and their progress; and

• incorporating safe search engine NetTrekker

A couple dozen districts have made inquiries about Buzz. School Improvement Network will continue making platform improvements and improve training. They are adding staff and will be ready to support wider platform adoption next year. School Improvement supports nearly one million educators with the PD360 video library of training resources. It’s possible that they have a learning platform that will be as popular as their PD services.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.