by Brian McVicar, MLive

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Grand Valley State University’s charter schools office has been recommended for accreditation by a third-party education group, an achievement that administrators say demonstrates the university’s dedication to accountability and oversight.

AdvancED, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that primarily works with K-12 public and charter schools, is expected to finalize GVSU’s accreditation on June 30.

Accreditors examined GVSU’s performance based upon six standards and 29 indicators, including financial oversight, academic performance and support and services, according to a report posted on the university’s website.

“I’m thrilled with the entire effort and the results we see today,” GVSU President Thomas Haas said during a news conference Thursday.

The accreditation announcement comes a day after State Superintendent Mike Flanagan reported that seven charter school authorizers, including GVSU, had been removed from a list of 11 charter school authorizers at-risk of suspension.

The 11 authorizers were placed on the list in August because of deficiencies in “key factors of oversight of their charter schools,” including poor academic performance, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

That followed a June series by The Detroit Free Press, which concluded that Michigan spends $1 billion on charter schools but fails to hold them accountable.

In addition, a February report by Education Trust Midwest, a nonpartisan education advocacy organization based in Royal Oak, found that Michigan’s charter school authorizers “are arguably accountable to no one – not even our state’s governor.”

On Thursday, GVSU officials, along with the head of the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers, said legislation requiring that charter school authorizers be accredited is being drafted and will “help hold authorizers accountable.”

“This system that the council has created is going to be a gold standard for everyone in the nation,” said Jared Burkhart, executive director of Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers, or MCCSA.

At this time, officials said, GVSU is the only charter school authorizer in Michigan to be accredited, although others have expressed interest in following suit.

AdvanceEd’s accreditation model for charter school authorizers was developed in cooperation with MCCSA, which advocates on behalf of authorizers.

But Burkhart said the authorizers seeking accreditation won’t simply be “rubber-stamped” for approval.

“The council of charter school authorizers is definitely wanting to partner with somebody that’s a true third party,” he said, referencing the partnership with AdvancED. “This is not going to be a rubber stamp where authorizers are just accrediting each other.”

Other areas of AdvancED’s report shows that GVSU’s charter schools office meets goals surrounding contracts, procedures for closing failing schools and that charter schools authorized by the university have links on their websites to charter contracts and the current educational service provider contract.

“What we saw was a commitment to continuous improvement, a commitment to very high professional practice standards across the charter school office, across the university,” said Angie Koppang, vice president of AdvancED’s Midwest region.

AdvancED has accredited more than 300 charter schools nationwide, as well as many traditional K-12 schools, according to a news release.

Koppang said she wasn’t’ sure whether her organization has ever denied accreditation to any school seeking it. But, she added, “Sometimes we will have a school that will withdraw their application until they can build the capacity to meet our standards and come back to us.”

Although AdvancED recommended that GVSU be accredited, there were areas in which the university could improve. One area is quantifying the effectiveness of professional development training for charter school teachers, officials said.

“It’s not enough to just say did we check mark all of the compliance criteria,” Koppang said. What’s important is “how do we become better at what we do and how do we better serve schools.”

Brian McVicar covers education for MLive and The Grand Rapids Press. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter