Charter schools need accountability
by Amber Arellano, The Detroit News
Education Trust-Midwest’s “Accountability for All” report took a comprehensive look at charter authorizing practices in the state of Michigan and released a first-ever scorecard of Michigan’s charter authorizers.
The response we’ve received to the report, both publicly and privately, has been overwhelmingly positive. From discussions playing out across Michigan’s newspapers, radio, and television stations, to a statement from Gov. Rick Snyder recognizing the need to ensure educational quality, the thought that we need greater accountability in order to make sure that our charter schools succeed is gaining momentum.
We learned that our ineffective charter authorizer accountability framework has led to wildly divergent performance amongst charter authorizers and, as a result, troublingly varied results for Michigan students. We learned that choice alone is not sufficient — our students and parents are desperate for quality choices. Most powerfully, diverse voices from both sides of the aisle, including Michigan business leaders, education advocates, parents and teachers, support our call for greater charter authorizer accountability. Organizations like the Skillman Foundation, Excellent Schools Detroit and the Michigan PTA are standing up for our students and calling for greater charter school accountability.
Even charter authorizer associations, including the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, support the concept of improving charter authorizer accountability in Michigan, for good reason. Our best charter authorizers are tired of bad actors placing an unmistakable black eye on the charter movement.
Moving forward, the next step is determining what improved accountability should look like in Michigan. Authorizers, recognizing the significant pressure to do something about the issue of authorizer performance, have attempted to preempt this process by proposing a charter authorizer accreditation plan that doesn’t go nearly far enough and assumes authorizers are capable of monitoring their own practices.
Leading education states like Massachusetts have high quality standards and accountability frameworks for charter schools. After twenty years of waiting for authorizers to improve their standards, we must assume that any promise to do so now is nothing more than an attempt at skirting real accountability.
Our students and parents are not willing to accept the status quo. Today, Michigan is one of only six states in the nation that actually posted negative growth in fourth-grade reading proficiency since 2003. It’s about time we come together and do better.
If we want to get our state back on track — if we want to become a top ten education state — we must implement changes that ensure our charter schools live up to their potential.
Amber Arellano is executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest.