News

Charter authorizer report card gets mixed reviews

Publication date: Feb 19, 2015

By Jennifer Dixon and Lori Higgins, The Detroit Free Press

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers called a new report that grades Michigan’s authorizers a “step in the right direction” as the state continues to discuss improving charter authorizing. But critics said the Education Trust-Midwest study was misleading and failed to recognize effective authorizing practices.

Gov. Rick Snyder also weighed in, calling some of the findings “concerning.” Snyder, in an interview with the Free Press editorial board, said today that he wants to partner with state Superintendent Mike Flanagan, who himself has been addressing authorizer accountability.

“Because if people aren’t doing their job right, there is a need for action,” Snyder said. “Nobody wants to see more charters being created if they’re not going to provide a quality education to students.”

Most of the authorizers that got an A have one charter. Four authorizers, including two of the largest, got a B, including Grand Valley State University, which has 63 charter schools.

Central Michigan University, with 73 schools, got a C.

In a statement, Cindy Schumacher, executive director of CMU’s charter school office, said: “CMU is confident of its authorizing practices and the strong reputation we have developed over the past 20 years on the state and national levels.”

The Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which represents charters, said the report used “flawed data and reaches conclusions that aren’t supported by facts.” The Center for Education Reform in Washington, D.C., called the report misleading because it graded only some authorizers.

Ed Trust-Midwest said it measured only charter schools with three years of academic data, which is why only some schools and authorizers were included in its report.

Michelle Zdrodowski, spokeswoman for Detroit Public Schools, which got a D, said the report measured half its charters.

“Recent rankings have listed other DPS-authorized charter schools as among the best in Michigan, and the significant improvement in the academic performance of our most challenged schools is a testament to DPS’s strong authorizing practices,” she said.

Alex Medler, vice president of policy and advocacy for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which has been critical of Michigan’s authorizers, said authorizer evaluations are “valuable tools in the larger effort to strengthen charter school oversight. Ultimately, and more importantly, they can help the state to improve charter school performance.”

Medler’s Chicago-based group has called for reforms since the Free Press published an eight-day series, “State of Charter Schools,” which found charters receive $1 billion in state taxpayer funding with little accountability, transparency or academic achievement.

NACSA’s president and CEO, Greg Richmond, sent a series of letters noting that stronger policy, stronger authorizing and stronger governance are needed in Michigan. His recommendations included a requirement that authorizers follow professional standards, such as those developed by his group, and disclosure of how they spend taxpayer dollars to oversee their charters.

In August, Superintendent Flanagan put 11 authorizers on notice that they are at risk of being suspended from opening new charters. Flanagan has said a final decision is on hold until the governor announces reforms this year.

Contact Jennifer Dixon: 313-223-4410, jbdixon@freepress or @jennbdixon

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