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Study says many Michigan charter authorizers succeeding but poor performers have more schools

Publication date: Feb 19, 2015

LANSING — While most of the charter school authorizers studied by a Michigan-based education group received A or B grades, the ones with low scores often authorize many more schools, according to a report released Thursday.

Education Trust-Midwest — which describes itself as a “non-partisan, data-driven policy, research and advocacy organization” — studied 16 charter school authorizers in the state and graded them based on three criteria: Decisions regarding opening charter schools and quality of their operators, performance standards for current schools and improving chronically failing schools.

All of the authorizers that received A grades — Washtenaw Community College, Washtenaw Intermediate School District, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Wayne RESA, Hillsdale Intermediate School District and Macomb Intermediate School District — had less than 10 schools that they authorized, and most only had one.

Amber Arellano, executive director of Education Trust-Midwest, said those authorizers are delivering on the promise that charter school officials made almost 20 years ago: That charter schools would provide better and more innovative education options than traditional public schools.

“They’re doing a really terrific job and they’ll tell you that why they’re doing a terrific job is not because they’re small but because they’re selective about the operators they work with,” Arellano said.

The report did not take into account almost half of the state’s charter school authorizers — there are more than 40 in the state — because they did not have three years of accountability data on file. Public universities and colleges, school districts and intermediate school districts can all be charter school authorizers.

While the majority of the authorizers in the study got an A or B grade, the majority of the students who attend charter schools in the state don’t attend schools chartered by those authorizers.

Central Michigan University received a C grade, while Oakland University, Detroit Public Schools and Saginaw Valley State University all received D grades.

Eastern Michigan University and Northern Michigan University both received F grades. Northern received zero points for improving chronically failing schools and just 14 points for setting standards for current schools.

“Student performance at the schools authorized by one of our ‘F’ authorizers, Eastern Michigan University, borders on criminal,” the report states. “All nine schools ranked by the state were in the bottom third of all schools statewide. All but one school was ranked among the bottom 25 percent of schools in the state.

Most of the authorizer’s schools demonstrated low student improvement, with eight of nine schools showing significantly worse improvement in elementary math than the average Michigan school.”

Jared Burkhart, executive director of the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers, called the methodology of the report flawed.

Burkhart said the top nine authorizers in the report all received 100.0 score for improving chronically failing schools, but he said none of those authorizers ever had a chronically failing school to improve.

He said many authorizers are going into underserved areas on purpose in order to improve student achievement. That process can often lead to low overall performance, even if improvement is taking place and Burkhart said those authorizers are doing more to help kids than ones in traditionally successful areas.

“The question is which authorizer is doing more to actually improve outcomes for kids, but that’s not the question they’re asking here,” he said. “I don’t even know the question they’re asking. The methodology, it’s a bad way to get where they’re trying to go.”

The authors of the report give three recommendations for improving improving student performance: Accountability standards for authorizer decisions, accountability standards operator performance and transparent and limited charter contracts.

Burkhart said there is already state oversight of the charter school authorizers because the governor of Michigan appoints people to sit on many of the boards that control authorizing universities.

In addition, Burkhart’s group already launched its own accreditation process, which Grand Valley State — which received a B grade — will complete in March.

However, Arellano said there needs to be tougher state laws around charter school authorizer accountability because the authorizers will not police themselves.

“The authorizers have had 20 years to improve themselves,” she said. “So, self-monitoring and self-policing won’t be enough. They’ve had 20 years of data to prove that. The question is how could an accreditation system be meaningful?”

Kyle Feldscher is the Capitol education and MSU reporter for MLive Media Group. Reach him via email at kylefeldscher@mlive.com or follow him on Twitter at@Kyle_Feldscher. Read more stories here.

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