States’ charter school policies ranked for accountability
by Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press
DETROIT — Michigan has one of the worst ratings in a first-ever analysis of state policies for holding charter school authorizers accountable for their schools’ academic performance.
According to a report released Thursday by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Michigan received only three out of a possible 27 points when its state policies were measured against the organization’s own best practices.
NACSA is a Chicago-based organization that advocates for strong accountability laws for charter authorizers.
Charter advocates criticized the report for being too narrowly focused.
The report said Michigan is notable because it “lacks nearly all of” the organization’s recommended policies. The organization noted, however, that there are some individual authorizers that are following its best practices.
“We’ve learned we need statutes that do provide clear direction about school performance, about authorizer actions. If those things are not in law, sometimes authorizers can do things any way.”
Of particular note, the report said Michigan’s standards for renewing a charter are too low, the law doesn’t provide for automatic closure if a school is academically failing and doesn’t include minimum quality standards for authorizers. It also said the law doesn’t require authorizers to produce an annual report on the academic performance of its schools.
The report comes several months after Richmond called for Michigan to strengthen its oversight of charter schools. His comments came in response to an eight-day Free Press series — “State of Charter Schools” —which showed that Michigan charters receive nearly $1 billion per year in taxpayer money from the state, often with little accountability, transparency or academic achievement.
The findings were of no surprise to Lou Glazer, a charter advocate and president of Michigan Future, a think tank that funds the start-up of high schools in Detroit.
“When a national association that’s part of the sector issues a report like this, I think the sector needs to take the report seriously,” Glazer said. “It’s not coming from folks who could be characterized as wanting to kill charters or anti-charter. They are a major component of the charter sector.”
But it is the report’s focus on what’s in state law that concerns Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, a charter advocacy group.
“It’s uninformed,” Quisenberry said. “Outcomes matter. They matter a lot.”
Quisenberry, who hadn’t seen the report, said it appears to ignore the work that’s being done to hold charters accountable. That includes the advocacy group’s push for an A-F letter grading system for schools, its push to bar charters that have been closed by one authorizer from shopping for a new authorizer, and its push for a law that would automatically close failing charters.
Quisenberry also pointed to an October report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools that ranked Michigan third in the nation for the health of its charter sector. Richmond said the earlier report is “a totally different analysis” that didn’t address authorizer accountability. Much of the alliance rankings were built around charter school growth.
Still, that report and others show Michigan’s charter laws are strong, said Jared Burkhart, executive director of the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers.
Burkhart said many of the national group’s criteria is being practiced in Michigan — particularly by the 10 authorizers that are part of his organization. Each one, he said, provides regular reports on their charters to the boards that govern them.
Burkhart said they represent 95% of the charter students in the state. And he pointed to his organization’s plan to create an accreditation process for charters — something he said has been worked on all year but was released after state Superintendent Mike Flanagan announced he would suspend poor-performing authorizers.
Flanagan has yet to announce whether he will suspend any of the 11 authorizers he identified this summer as at risk of suspension, largely for poor academic achievement and transparency issues.
“Michigan students deserve the same quality assurances that leading education states provide for their students,” Arellano said. “We can and we must do better for our kids.”
One of those leading states that many often point to — Massachusetts — also fared poorly in the rankings. It earned six out of 30 points. That struck Burkhart as odd. “What’s the standard people say we should get to (in Michigan)? It’s Massachusetts.”
Richmond, though, argued that charters in Massachusetts have been strong academically.
“Their legislature has never had the need to go back in and put these things in law,” he said.
But they should, he said, because changes in leadership could erode its progress.
HOW STATES RANKED IN CHARTER AUTHORIZER STUDY
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, in a report released Thursday that looked at state policies on holding charter school authorizers accountable, broke the states into three groups for its analysis. Here’s how many points the organization awarded the states, based on how well their laws meet “best practices” criteria.
States where more than half of the charters are authorized by school districts.
• South Carolina (25 out of 30 possible points)
• Tennessee (17/30)
• Florida (16/30)
• California (11/30)
• Illinois (11/30)
• Pennsylvania (11/30)
• Oklahoma (10/30)
• Colorado (9/30)
• Georgia (7/30)
• Wisconsin (6/30)
• Oregon (5/30)
• Iowa (4/30)
• Alaska (3/30)
• Wyoming (3/30)
• Maryland (2/30)
• Virginia (1/30)
• Kansas (0/30)
States that have many authorizers.
• Indiana (23/27)
• Minnesota (20/27)
• Missouri (18/27)
• Ohio (18/27)
• Michigan (3/27)
States with few authorizers.
• Washington (30/30)
• Texas (27/30)
• Mississippi (26/30)
• Nevada (26/30)
• District of Columbia (18/30)
• Hawaii (18/30)
• Louisiana (18/30)
• Maine (18/30)
• Idaho (16/30)
• Delaware (15/30)
• North Carolina (15/30)
• New Mexico (14/30)
• New Jersey (13/30)
• Arkansas (12/30)
• New Hampshire (10/30)
• Arizona (9/30)
• Utah (8/30)
• New York (7/30)
• Massachusetts (6/30)
• Rhode Island (5/30)
• Connecticut (4/30)