News

Charter school authorizers should strive to improve schools

Publication date: Mar 6, 2015

By Brian Gutman and Sunil Joy

Last month, The Education Trust-Midwest released a report and scorecard on charter school authorizer accountability, “Accountability for All.” The report aimed to provide transparency and accountability for Michigan charter school authorizers; the public institutions charged with opening and maintaining charter schools.

Not surprisingly, the report was met with some opposition. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on how to serve students better and provide an education that we can all be proud of, some have chosen to criticize our process. This unfounded criticism misses the point – that all Michigan students deserve great schools.

For example, Oakland University, which authorizes 10 charter schools, received a grade of ‘D’ because of a consistent track record of making poor decisions about which charter schools to open and maintain. Rather than recognizing that their schools can – and should – be doing better, Oakland University has pointed to high rates of poverty and English language learners to excuse poor performance.

This logic ignores other charter authorizers that serve similar populations and have much better results.

For example, charter schools authorized by Ferris State University serve a similar proportion of students from low income families and about the same number of English language learners as Oakland University. In our analysis, however, Ferris State earned a “B” grade while Oakland University earned a “D.”
To see if a charter authorizer, like Oakland University, was serving students well, we looked to see if their charter schools passed a two-step “good or better” test:
• If the school performed in the top half of schools across the state in any one of the past three school years, they passed, or

• If average student improvement was at or above the average for the state and the local school district where most students live, in any one of the past three school years, they passed.

By comparing student performance at charter schools with traditional public schools that serve the same neighborhoods and demographics, we are making a fair and comprehensive assessment of their progress. This has made some schools such as Detroit Merit Charter Academy, which performs well above the average Detroit Public Schools, stand out as successful charter school models.

Unfortunately, half of the charter schools included in our analysis and authorized by Oakland University failed to meet either prong of this test.

Michigan students from every background deserve great schools, and charter schools should play an important role in making sure that parents and students have high-quality school choice.

Instead of excusing poor performance, we hope that Oakland University — and all other charters school authorizers — will look at what they can do to improve schools and ensure that all Michigan students have access to a great education.

Brian R. Gutman is the director of public engagement and Sunil Joy is a data and policy analyst at The Education Trust-Midwest, based in Royal Oak.

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