Detroit charter schools show gains, but lag behind state
By Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press
The average Detroit charter school student is showing stronger academic improvement than peers in Detroit Public Schools, according to a report that found similar gains for charter students in many of the 41 urban regions studied nationwide.
The report, released last week by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, mirrors findings from previous reports that found charter students in Detroit showing more improvement than DPS students. The researchers looked only at improvement in test scores, however, and not proficiency rates.
“It’s evidence that charter schools are working,” said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA), a charter advocacy group. “On average, these charters are providing quality choices.”
But the improvement highlighted in the report masks extremely low performance by both charter and traditional public school students in the city. MAPSA released data last fall that showed 17% of charter students in Detroit were rated proficient in math, compared with 13% of students in traditional public schools.
Margaret Raymond, CREDO director, said Detroit charters will see faster growth than DPS in catching up to the state average, but she said it will take a long time to get there. And it won’t be as fast as it will be in places like Newark and Boston, where the impact of charters is “dramatic and large.”
“Given how far below the state average they are … there’s a deep sense of urgency. It’s all hands on deck.”
Raymond also said it’s impossible to predict with precision how many years it would take to get every child to the state average “because there’s so much variation in student progress over time.”
The focus on growth ignores the overall low performance of all schools in Detroit, said Lou Glazer, a charter advocate and president of Michigan Future, a nonpartisan think tank that funds the start-up of high schools in Detroit, most of them charter schools.
“If you care about kids, you need to care about performance, not growth,” said Glazer. Too much of the focus, he said, is on being slightly better than DPS, which has posted some of the worst scores in the country on a rigorous national exam.
Quisenberry said the point, though, is that in an environment where parents have choices, charters are on average performing at higher levels. “If I’m living in a neighborhood in the city of Detroit and I’ve got schools available to me, I want that higher performance.”
“Are they where they should be, where parents should expect them to be?” Quisenberry asked. The answer, he said, is no. “But that’s a problem Michigan has” in general, he said. And it’s why his organization has called for higher standards and an accountability system for Michigan “that will drive that overall achievement.”
The Education Trust-Midwest, in an analysis of the CREDO report, said that while CREDO found African-American charter students have greater learning gains, “unfortunately, those gains are not being shared by all students — and we should not be applauding such low achievement that is common across the Michigan charter sector.”
“The new data reinforce that school choice alone does not guarantee quality,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of the education policy organization.
“The minority of Michigan students who are getting high-quality charter school educations are the lucky few. Michigan desperately needs better public schools. Our charter sector needs dramatic reform to ensure that it is delivering high-achieving charter schools for all charter students in Michigan.”
Contact Lori Higgins: 313-222-6651, [email protected] or @LoriAHiggins