The state announced Friday that 21 traditional school districts or charter schools are headed to talks about improving their achievement levels. If they clinch a deal, they will be joining 16 existing partnership districts, many in the Detroit area.
"These will be positive, yet pressing, conversations with the leaders of these districts to get their struggling schools back on track," state superintendent Brian Whiston said.
The initial agreements allowed for a delay of potential state-ordered closures provided the schools make progress at 18- and 36-month intervals. The schools tapped for this round of partnerships were also at risk of being shuttered, said the education department's director of public and government affairs, Martin Ackley.
"This is an alternative method or strategy to help them turn around," he said. "We work with the school districts to identify their urgent needs and increase achievement."
Partnership agreements first debuted a year ago under Whiston, who helped negotiate them to push certain schools away from looming closure. The deals were eked out after Gov. Rick Snyder backed off from shuttering 38 schools, including 25 in Detroit.
Snyder last spring attempted to rally support for codifying these agreements into Michigan's school accountability law but has since ceded oversight of these arrangements to Whiston's department.
Ackley said the inaugural group of partnership districts has showed steady gains. The collaborations are designed to grant districts flexibility in targeting problem areas, he said.
"We're only about a year into this but we monitor them and they're showing signs of success," he said.
Friday's announcement also said 33 schools have been taken off the state's "priority" label, which is used to identify schools in the bottom 5 percent. The categorization is being phased out after Congress repealed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2015.
The 21 districts chosen for partnership agreements represent the first time Michigan identified schools with the "Comprehensive Support and Improvement" label, conceived under the state's new school accountability system.
The affected school districts graze the Detroit, Flint, Saginaw and Lansing areas. Sixteen of the 21 agreements will concern a charter school.
The Great Lakes Education Project, a pro-school choice group created by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is encouraged by the announcement, said advocacy director Beth DeShone, adding that charter schools are already under additional scrutiny due to their independent authorizers.
"We are happy that the department is taking a look," she said. "We look forward to all schools being held accountable in the playing field."