News

New report gives mixed grades to Michigan charter school authorizers

Publication date: Feb 19, 2015

By Kirk Pinho – Crain’s Detroit Business

A new report from a local nonpartisan research, policy and advocacy organization for the first time grades the performance of Michigan’s charter school authorizers. And the results show huge disparities in performance.

The report released Thursday by Royal Oak-based The Education Trust-Midwest shows that of the nearly 150 charter schools opened since the state charter school cap was lifted in fall 2011, about 20 percent were authorized by authorizers that received “D” or “F” grades in the nonprofit’s report.

The authorizers receiving those grades are:

  • Oakland University (D),
  • Detroit Public Schools (D),
  • Saginaw Valley State University (D),
  • Eastern Michigan University (F) and
  • Northern Michigan University (F).

The report, titled “Accountability for All: The Need for Real Charter School Authorizer Accountability in Michigan,” also says that 65 percent of charter schools in Detroit and 67 percent statewide perform worse than Detroit Public Schools among African-American students in eighth-grade math.

The highest-ranked authorizers:

  • Washtenaw Community College (A),
  • Washtenaw Intermediate School District (A),
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools (A),
  • Wayne RESA (A),
  • Hillsdale Intermediate School District (A),
  • Macomb Intermediate School District (A),
  • Lake Superior State University (B),
  • Ferris State University (B),
  • Grand Valley State University (B) and
  • Bay Mills Community College (B).

Central Michigan University received a “C.”

“For Michigan’s charter school sector to succeed, we need high performance standards and an oversight system that will hold its authorizers accountable to the Michigan students they serve,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest, in a statement. “Authorizers should be held accountable for their decisions and their performance.”

The grades were based on the authorizers’ decisions regarding charter school openings and the quality of their operators, setting performance standards for current schools and improving chronically failing schools.

Authorizers are responsible for approving new charter schools in Michigan. Charter school operators, of which there are about 90 in the state, oversee the day-to-day operations of a charter school.

Any institution of higher education, public school district or intermediate school district can authorize charter schools.

There are 40 authorizers in Michigan, although only 16 were included in the report because not all had enough available data to be analyzed. Of the 16 evaluated, their total enrollment of about 135,000 students represents about 95 percent of the total statewide charter enrollment of 140,000, according to the report.

The report cost about $400,000 to produce, Arellano said. Funding for the report came from the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation and the Battle Creek-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“(The report) allows us to see where best practices are happening,” said Kristen McDonald, vice president, program and policy for the Skillman Foundation. “They are making that transparent. It allows policymakers to make decisions. It allows authorizers to look to those A-level folks and see what they can replicate.”

Authorizers included in the report with negative marks said they questioned some of the methodology of the letter grades.

“We are looking at the methodology of this new report and haven’t had a chance to review it in much detail yet,” said C. Robert Maxfield, interim dean of the School of Education at Oakland University. “That letter grade is not consistent with our experience and track record in helping our charter schools excel.”

Similarly, a statement from Detroit Public Schools said: “Detroit Public Schools has taken on the difficult work of authorizing schools that were once among the lowest-performing in Michigan. It is unfortunate that EdTrust Midwest chose to measure only half the schools we authorize. Recent rankings have listed other DPS-authorized charters 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’ strong authorizing practices.”

Kirk Pinho: (313) 446-0412, kpinho@crain.com. Twitter: @kirkpinhoCDB

 

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