Can John Covington Save Detroit Schools?

Friday, September 2, 2011

When appointing John Covington chancellor of Michigan's Education Achievement System, a plan to transform low-performing schools that will pilot in Detroit before expanding statewide, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signaled his reliance on the new chief to help rescue the state's most distressed students.

?The future of Detroit and Michigan depends on making our education system a success," Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) said Friday, announcing Covington's hire. ?Dr. Covington?s record of achievement is just the right fit to ensure that our children get the education they so richly need."

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has previously referred to Detroit as "ground zero" in education reform. On Wednesday, he sang Covington's praises. "He's deeply committed," Duncan told the Detroit Free Press. "When you need dramatic change, you have to have that kind of leader."

But some people in Kansas City, Missouri, who feel betrayed by Covington's sudden departure from his post as superintendent there, say that he hasn't entirely proven himself -- and that Michigan's public display, which included a flattering livestreamed interview with Covington, was largely hype.

"Dr. Covington made quite a few changes in a short amount of time," said Kansas City school board member Ray Wilson. "But outside of balancing the budget, none of the other things, especially student achievement, have showed."

Wilson said he was surprised that Covington had been hired so quickly in Michigan, apparently without being thoroughly vetted. "No one reached out for any kind of background," he said. "It seems like they just took the person at his word."

"[The EAS board] didn't ask him about any of the challenges he faced in Kansas City, at least not publicly," said Yael Abouhalkah, a Kansas City Star columnist and editorial board member who has closely followed Covington's tenure and resignation.

Sara Wurfel, a spokesperson for Snyder, defended Covington's selection process. "His track record overall is fantastic and exactly what DPS needs," she said.

Covington, who has been hesitant to comment publicly since accepting the job in Detroit, says he has no regrets about his tenure in Kansas City. "Because of the work that we were able to do, we are much further along," Covington told The Huffington Post in a Wednesday interview. "I don't think that anyone can argue with the fact that our schools today are tremendously better off than they were when we first arrived two years ago."

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