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Arellano: Celebrate quality charter schools

Publication date: Jan 26, 2015

By Amber Arellano

The fact that our state is struggling to provide Michigan children with a high-quality education is no secret. Today Michigan ranks 42nd in the nation in fourth grade math and is one of only six states that has posted an overall loss in student performance in fourth grade reading — an important predictor of students’ future academic success — since 2003.

Every Michiganian wants the same thing for our students: an excellent education and a fair chance at success in life. Getting to that goal will require a comprehensive strategy for improving educational outcomes — and the time and investment necessary to implement those strategies effectively.

Fortunately, Michigan has strong models from which to learn. Massachusetts, for example, is not only leading the U.S. but also much of the world for student learning today.

Inside Michigan, there are high-performing schools that we can learn from, too. And these model schools include charter schools such as University Prep Math and Science Academy, which is one of Michigan’s highest performing schools for African American students in our state.

UPrep Math and Science Academy’s leaders have invested and focused on some of the most important levers for raising student learning: hiring strong principals and teachers; training and supporting their educators to teach at high levels; an academically rigorous, college-focused curriculum; and supports for students as they transition to the next era of their academic career and lives.

This week is National Choice Week — a moment to celebrate Michigan’s high-performing charter public schools. Such schools are delivering on the promise that the charter movement made more than 20 years ago in Michigan: to provide high-quality, better school options than what traditional public schools do, especially for low-income children and students of color.

Ensuring the success of our charter school system is an integral part of our state’s roadmap to becoming a top education state. Today, more than 140,000 Michigan students attend charter schools statewide.This is a testament to the significant impact of Michigan’s charter system — and its potential to do even more for Michigan students.

Michigan is positioned to take a crucial next step and implement best practices and policies that will make our charter system not just one of the largest and fastest-growing in the nation, but one of the very best, as well. Our state sorely needs an education system that guarantees a high-quality education at every public school, regardless of who runs it, traditional school district or charter operator.

All schools in Michigan need to improve dramatically. We must find pathways to encourage the charter school movement to serve as a major part of that improvement.

Many states with strong overall school systems incorporate a healthy mix of quality charter schools and quality district schools. Massachusetts, if it were a country, would rank second in the world in science and sixth in the world in math. Massachusetts has seen unparalleled gains in education performance over the past 20 years, utilizing a charter sector supported by high standards, strong accountability to students and a high-quality charter authorizing process.

Such strong charter systems are proving that if you hold charter systems to high standards, they are fully capable of achieving them. In Michigan, this is key to further strengthening our charter school system.

If our students succeed, our state and our economy will follow suit.

Amber Arellano is the executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest.

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