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Why Grand Rapids Public Schools earned an ‘A’ from education advocacy group

Publication date: Feb 19, 2015

By Monica Scott | mscott2@mlive.com – Grand Rapids Press / MLive

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Grand Rapids Public Schools is among six charter school authorizers that earned an “A” grade in a new report released Thursday, Feb. 19, by a nonpartisan education advocacy group which reviewed performance based on student achievement and improvement.

The Education-Trust Midwest, based in Royal Oak, released its A to F letter-grade scorecard to inform, celebrate and shed light on student performance under authorizers charged with oversight. The findings for the 16 of 40 state authorizers studied shows there is great variation among authorizers and their school’s student performance.

GRPS’ only charter, the K-5 Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center, is highlighted for a big performance change that the group says shows “the potential turnaround possible in just a few academic years.

“Michigan authorizers are a lot like our regular public schools: Some have terrific track records, more mediocre, far too many are chronically low-performing,” according to the report, “Accountability For All: The Need for Real Charter School Authorizer Accountability in Michigan.”

“Even when we accounted for the influence of poverty, these patterns were clear. Yet in practice, authorizers, unlike schools, are held accountable to no one.”

The report did not take into account almost half of the state’s charter school authorizers 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.

-1b9050cfb88fe98f.JPGDelonte Pearson was a featured soloist as students at the Grand Rapids Ellington Academy of Arts and Technology, authorized by Lake Superior State University, during a performance for student families to conclude a two week summer camp on July 27, 2012. LSSU receive a grade of B in The Education Trust-Midwest report on charter authorizers released Feb. 19, 2015.

GRPS received an A as an authorizer deemed to be making good decisions at least 90 percent of time. The data shows the Child Discovery Center has been on an upward trajectory, seeing “large school-wide improvement” between 2010-12 and 2013-14.

The Child Discovery Center moved up the Michigan Department of Education’s top-to-bottom list from a lowly 7th percentile to the 44th percentile, with 99 being the highest.

“We are really excited about our trajectory,” said Principal John Robinson, about putting supports and interventions in place that give students the best opportunity to succeed. “We use a variety assessment tools, so that we can determine learning needs for our students and focus on individual student needs.”

John Helmholdt, communications director for GRPS, said the district is pleased to see that their only charter is gaining much-deserved recognition for their academic and instructional outcomes. He said the district doesn’t see the school as competition but another quality choice for families and is exploring more ways to connect the school and district.

On the state’s rainbow color-coded system that shows how schools in Michigan stack up on five factors – including student proficiency rates on those tests – the charter received a lime, the second highest. That means at least 70 percent of possible points were met.

However, the state has designated it a “focus” school, having identified notable gaps in student achievement between different subgroups in a school’s student body. Low-income students represent 27.5 percent of the student body, which has a minority population of more than 40 percent, 33 percent of which are black and Hispanic.

Johnson said the school has made adjustments and is making good progress on closing the achievement gap.

The school, located at 409 Lafayette Ave. SE., embraces the Reggio Emilia approach to learning, which is a philosophy to teaching, learning and advocacy for children with 10 guiding principles.

15021453-standard.jpgWest Michigan Aviation Academy students fly planes during the charter high school’s annual Leaders of Tomorrow Gala at the Amway Hangar on May 22, 2014. The school is authorized by Bay Mills Community College, which received a B grade in the charter authorizer study released by The Education Trust-Midwest on Feb. 19, 2015.

Grand Valley State University, the state’s second largest charter authorizer, with 13 of its 68 schools in Kent and Ottawa counties, earned a B on the scorecard. A B reflects that the university made good decisions 80 percent of the time.

Ferris State University, Lake Superior State University and Bay Mills Community College – all authorizing local schools – were the only others to receive a B. Central Michigan earned a C. GVSU, Ferris and Lake Superior State are among 11 authorizers put At-Risk of Suspension by State Superintendent Mike Flanagan in August for various oversight issues.

Flanagan has delayed further action on the 11 until Gov. Rick Snyder issues planned education reforms that were anticipated in January.

“The governor continues looking for ways to improve transparency and accountability for all schools, not just the charter schools,” said David Murray, spokesman for Snyder, about future reforms.

Right now, Murray said much of the focus is on Detroit as the administration works with a coalition of community groups, business leaders, union leaders and educators on a potential restructuring of the city’s schools.

“Too often, charters have failed to provide the better school options for which Michigander had hoped,'” according to the report that graded authorizers on decisions regarding charter school openings and the quality of the operators, setting performance standards for current schools, and improving chronically failing schools.

Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, the state charter school association, said the group strongly supports accountability based on academic performance, including authorizer accountability. He said Michigan has too many low-performing schools – both traditional and charter.

“While we support accountability, this report uses some flawed data and reaches conclusions that aren’t supported by facts, and the recommendations aren’t clear,” said Quisenberry, who added it also ignores the effort that’s taking place among authorizers to have the state adopt a uniform accountability based on authorizer accreditation for all authorizers.

Ed-Trust points out there are consequences for poor charter schools that are felt most by the states low-income, black and Latino students. Five authorizers received either a D or F. Scores ranged from 24.8 to 100.

The group recommends formal sanctions, including suspensions and possible termination, for those that consistently do not make good authorizing decision. The group also wants to prevent authorizers with low-performing charters from approving new contracts and require authorizers to hold public meetings for community feedback before they approve new charter schools, issuing new contracts for three years or less.

“Michigan charter school laws should be reformed to increase accountability, require full financial disclosure and public transparency, establish a more fair and balanced playing field, require existing charters to be more strategic and targeted where academic need is the greatest, and ensure charters have a proven track record of success before being allowed to operate in the state,” said Helmholdt, calling the report spot-on and aligned with the school board’s platform.

The other authorizers receiving an A grader were: Wastenaw Community College, Washtenaw ISD, Wayne RESA, Hillsdale ISD and Macomb ISD. Easter Michigan and Northern Michigan universities were the F’s.
Monica Scott is the Grand Rapids K-12 education writer. Email her atmscott2@mlive.com and follow her on Twitter @MScottGR or Facebook

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