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David Zeman
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Good ones opening, too. But state must ensure quality when authorizers do nothing

ROYAL OAK, Mich. (May 23, 2013) – A new Education Trust-Midwest analysis of charter schools scheduled to open in Michigan this fall shows chronically low-performing operators are continuing to expand rapidly in the state, regardless of what’s best for students. The data demonstrate Michigan needs to seriously consider holding charter authorizers more accountable for school quality.

Our analysis found that while some strong operators have been approved to expand this fall, some of Michigan’s worst operators also are continuing to replicate. We examined the operators slated to open 32 new charter schools this fall, based on a recent Michigan Department of Education release. Authorizers have the power to rein in low-performing operators, yet many have not done so.

“The Education Trust–Midwest believes all Michigan students deserve a high-quality school, no matter its governance structure,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of the nonpartisan research and advocacy group. “That’s why we support the expansion of high-quality charter schools in Michigan. Sadly, too many of the new charter schools opening are run by operators who are failing to do right by our parents and students.”

“Some of these operators’ student achievement levels are worse than our most struggling public school districts, such as Detroit and Flint public schools,” Arellano added. “Our state holds schools accountable in Michigan. Now we need real accountability for authorizers who continue to approve the expansion of failing school operators — this is needed whether we’re talking about traditional school districts, or non-profit or for-profit operators.

The ETM analysis found there is great variation in charter operator performance. Some newly approved charter schools have operators with strong track records of student achievement. For example, National Heritage Academies is set to open the Oakland Scholars Charter Academy in Waterford this fall.

At the same time, other operators’ track records are weak, and sometimes even abysmal. This disturbing pattern follows the state legislature’s 2011 decision to lift the state’s cap on charter school expansion without regard for an operator’s performance. Consider:

• Leona Group, L.L.C., a for-profit operator based in Arizona, has among the worst track records in Michigan among traditional public districts or charter operators. It currently operates 26 schools in Michigan in Detroit, Dearborn, Melvindale, Benton Harbor, Traverse City, Flint, Saginaw, Highland Park and Warren. An example of Leona’s low performance is Mildred Wells Academy, a Bay Mills-authorized school in Benton Harbor. Open since 2005, only 6 percent of its students met state standards last year in math. That’s lower than student scores in the struggling Benton Harbor Public Schools, and far below the state average of 40 percent.

• At Leona’s Cesar Chavez Academy in Southwest Detroit, students performed worse than Detroit Public Schools (DPS) in reading on the 2012 MEAP. Chavez students, 92% Hispanic, performed worse than DPS Hispanic students by nearly four percentage points in reading. Despite these numbers, Leona was approved to open another K-5 Cesar Chavez campus in Detroit that will enroll 300 students.

• CS Partners, in Brighton, operates nine schools in Michigan, according to the state. One example of CS Partners’ low performance is Pansophia Academy, in Coldwater, which is co-operated with MEP Services. Pansophia, a Central Michigan University authorized school, has been open since 1995. About 48% of its students are low income. The school performed worse than 90 percent of Michigan schools in the state’s 2012 accountability system. On the 2012 MEAP, its students scored well below the state and Coldwater Community Schools in all subjects. Only 2 percent of its students met science standards, compared with 15 percent statewide and 17 percent in Coldwater public schools.

• Midwest Management Group is opening a new school in Flint, even though its existing schools struggle mightily. For example, its Woodward Academy in Detroit performs below the average for Detroit Public Schools in reading and math, and far below the statewide average.

“Leading states make sure their charter operators meet minimum performance standards before allowing them to expand,” Arellano said. “We need to provide such quality assurances for all of our children here, regardless of where they live or who they are. Our students deserve no less.”

The Education Trust-Midwest is Michigan’s only statewide nonpartisan policy, research and advocacy organization focused on what is best for Michigan students. Our mission is to work for the high achievement of all students, particularly low-income, African-American, Latino and American-Indian students in Michigan, and to provide honest, reliable information to our state’s families and policymakers.