Press Release

Michigan Charter Authorizers’ Performance Improves Marginally, but Overall Remains Devastatingly Low

Publication date: Feb 11, 2016

New report proposes to make charter authorizing a privilege earned through strong performance – and no longer an entitlement

ROYAL OAK, Mich. (Feb. 11, 2016) — Michigan charter school authorizers’ performance overall has improved marginally over the last year, but remains terribly low compared to leading states’ charter sectors, according to a new report released today by the nonpartisan Education Trust-Midwest. The report celebrates high-performing authorizers and sheds light on the devastatingly low performance of other authorizers.

Three Michigan public universities – Northern Michigan University (NMU), Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) – are the state’s worst performing authorizers today, according to the report. Indeed, of the charter schools authorized by NMU, SVSU, and EMU, roughly one-quarter of their eligible schools ranked among the worst performing 10 percent of schools statewide, according to the 2013-14 accountability rankings. About 19,000 students attend schools authorized by NMU, SVSU, and EMU in Michigan today.

“Some of Michigan’s public universities have betrayed the public trust in them – and the investment of millions of Michigan taxpayers’ dollars – by consistently failing their students for years,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest and one of the report’s authors.

The new report proposes Michigan’s first performance-based accountability system for charter authorizers. Presently no one – not even Governor Rick Snyder – holds authorizers accountable for their academic performance, despite the fact that their authorized schools serve nearly 145,000 Michigan children, and charter schools take in more than $1 billion dollars of taxpayer dollars annually.

“We call on State Superintendent Brian Whiston and the Michigan Legislature to finally hold authorizers accountable for their schools’ performance,” Arellano said. “Charter authorizing should be a privilege — not an entitlement — and should be earned and maintained by consistently high achievement. Learning matters in the lives of children: it needs to matter for Michigan school charter authorizers, too.”

Accountability for All: 2016 includes an updated scorecard that ranks authorizers with “A” to “F” grades based on analyses of their school portfolios’ student achievement outcomes. The sixteen authorizers graded enroll 95 percent of Michigan’s charter students.

The report’s findings include:

  • About 20 percent of Michigan charter school openings between fall 2011 and fall 2015 were by “D” and “F” authorizers. While some poor-performing schools closed recently, other failing schools continue to operate.
  • New data suggest efforts to bring greater public scrutiny and transparency to authorizer performance are helping to improve authorizer practices, at least marginally. Eastern Michigan University improved its scorecard grade from an “F” to a “D” by closing a poor-performing school, for example. Oakland University improved its overall score from a “D” to a “C” when it opened a new school with a strong operator. “Despite both authorizers’ continued struggling performance, we are glad to see them taking steps to improve,” Arellano said.
  • Six authorizers – overseeing two percent of charter students statewide – received an “A” grade for their performance. They are: Washtenaw Community College, Washtenaw Intermediate School District (ISD), Grand Rapids Public Schools, Wayne RESA, Hillsdale ISD and Macomb ISD.
  • Six authorizers received a “B” or “C” grade: Lake Superior State University, Ferris State University, Grand Valley State University and Bay Mills Community College, Central Michigan and Oakland University.
  • Four authorizers received a “D” or “F” grade this year. They are: Detroit Public Schools, Saginaw Valley State University, Eastern Michigan University and Northern Michigan University.
  • Eight in 10 Michigan charters demonstrate academic achievement below the state average in both reading and math, according to a Stanford University analysis cited in the report. Among Michigan charter districts with significant African American populations, two-thirds perform below Detroit Public Schools – the worst performing urban district in the nation – in math, according to the 2013 state assessment results for African American students.

“The data are clear for tens of thousands of students. In Michigan, the charter school promise has been broken,” said Sunil Joy, the report’s lead author and a senior policy analyst at Ed Trust-Midwest. “With 70 percent low-income students and 60 percent students of color in Michigan’s charter schools, this is a civil rights issue.”

The report also features several examples of high-achieving charter schools in Michigan, including Detroit Merit Academy, where 88 percent of African American students read at or about grade level, according to the 2013-14 accountability scorecard. To put this in perspective, this is roughly 20 percentage points higher than Detroit Public Schools for African American students.

“There are terrific charter school leaders and teachers doing the hard work of closing opportunity and achievement gaps,” Arellano said. “Sadly, they are in the minority in Michigan. We need to change that – and we can, with strong state leadership and political will.”

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The Education Trust-Midwest is a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization dedicated to improving outcomes for all Michigan students, especially for African American, Latino, American Indian, and low-income students. The Education Trust-Midwest believes in the power of intelligent education policy and practices — informed by data, research, and the successes of other states — to make Michigan a top ten education state for all students.

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