Michigan’s Legislature Needs to Slow Down and Get Charter School Legislation Right
Already this year, Michigan’s legislature has approved much needed changes to Michigan’s teacher-related policies, including tenure reform, changes in lay-off priorities and teacher evaluation. “More changes are needed—stronger teachers do not alone make for better schools,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of Ed Trust-Midwest, Michigan’s only state-wide education organization that works on behalf of students to close the achievement gap. “The Legislature needs to slow down and get this right for kids’ sakes.”
“We are in favor of more high-quality school choices for Michigan parents,” Arellano continued. “Michigan has many mediocre- to low-performing charter schools, which virtually mirrors the quality of our traditional public school landscape. What our students need are many more high-quality school options. Unfortunately, the current bill drafts get several important things dreadfully wrong with regard to charter quality, public reporting and consistent accountability.”
“We are hopeful that Governor Rick Snyder, a champion of improving education, will work with the Republican-led legislature and make sure these bills are dramatically improved before they are ushered into law,” said Arellano. “Lousy school choice is no choice at all.”
One example of the bills’ problems is the proposal to allow opt-out exemptions for charter schools from the same public accountability, public reporting measures and data collections as other public schools are expected to participate in. Charter schools, like all other public schools, need high standards, expectations and accountability to ensure they are serving their students well.
That, however, is not the only serious problem. Another provision proposes to lift the cap on expanding charter schools with no consideration of quality or what is best for students.
“We have some very good public charter schools, and expanding them would be good for Michigan kids,” Arellano said. “But we also have many very bad charter schools that provide education of horribly low quality. Expanding those—including allowing them to potentially prey on poorly educated parents to “trigger” takeover of regular public schools without some quality assurances—could be seriously harmful to Michigan kids, and continue us on our downward education spiral.”
Those provisions need to be fixed, allowing the expansion—via “parent trigger,” “teacher trigger,” or any other route– of only those charter schools that meet a simple, common sense standard: they perform as well or better than regular public schools serving students with similar needs.
Among Ed Trust-Midwest’s recommendations to strengthen the bills for students’ sakes:
• Honest Information for All Parents and Students: The legislation should include explicit language that makes clear all charter schools — and public schools of any kind — must participate in state assessments, data collection, and other mechanisms that provide honest, reliable comparative information to parents and educators about the quality of their schools’ teaching and learning. The same should apply to any state accountability systems that traditional public schools participate in — and a state growth measure, which is expected to be developed by the new Governor’s Council for Educator Effectiveness by 2012. The growth measure is expected to provide valuable comparative data about all schools’ quality.
• Ensure New and Converted Charter Schools are High-Quality for Students’ Sakes: All existing operators inside of or outside of Michigan that want to open or add additional schools in our state — or convert a public school — should be required to demonstrate that their existing schools perform as good as or better than regular public schools’ state-wide average performance for students with similar needs. In addition, they should meet the “as good or better” test in achievement gap closing, or specifically, demonstrate a meaningful student improvement trajectory that is as good as or better than the state-wide average for achievement gap-closing among schools serving similar students. Such clear, broad language must be included in the legislation.
• Responsible Parent and Teacher Trigger: Ed Trust-Midwest supports the rights of parents to be a vital part of decision-making on where they send their children to school. There may be serious risks to students, however, if this trigger is enacted without restriction as the draft legislation proposes. We urge lawmakers to take a responsible approach that puts students’ needs first. The legislation should require the state board of education and state superintendent to develop an approved provider list of charter operators that meet the “as good or better” test from which parents can choose to manage their schools, as responsible states have done.
“I’m deeply grateful that both Republican and Democratic lawmakers feel a sense of urgency about improving our public schools,” Arellano added. “For too long, the leaders in our state have lacked any sense of urgency about the task of educational improvement. But we mustn’t confuse speed and volume of change with smart policy; too many of these proposed policies just do not make good common sense.”
The Education Trust-Midwest’s mission is to work for the high achievement of all students, particularly low-income, African American, Latino and American Indian students in Michigan. Ed Trust-Midwest is a non-partisan, independent watchdog dedicated to providing honest, reliable information to families and policymakers. It is Michigan’s only state-wide policy, research and advocacy organization focused on what is best for Michigan students. For more information, go to: www.edtrustmidwest.org