Michigan Charters Making Progress, Great Option for Parents, More Work Remains

January 17, 2013 posted by Valentina Korkes

Michigan has done extensive work in recent years to set up traditional public schools and public charter schools for success – adopting teacher and principal evaluations, eliminating quality-blind teacher layoffs, and removing many caps on charter school establishment – yet there is still work to be done in improving the charter school environment throughout the state.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University recently published a report touting the success of public charter schools in Michigan, which shows that a typical public charter school student in Michigan gains an additional two months of learning in both reading and math. Even more impressive are the gains made by charter schools in Detroit – students gain three additional months of learning for each year they’re in a public charter school, as opposed to a traditional public school. Detroit is not often lauded when it comes to education, so it is especially heartening to see this city recognized for making such progress for its students.

The report, however, highlights the need for a continued commitment to improving Michigan's charter school performance: Fourteen percent of Michigan charter schools have below-average growth and below-average achievement in reading, and the same is true for twenty-five percent of the charter schools in math. This commitment begins in Lansing, where Michigan legislators must work tirelessly to improve charter accountability.

According to our State Policy Report Card, Michigan received an F in the "Increase Quality Choice" category of "Empower Parents with Choice and Information." The low grade is due primarily to the state's lack of strong accountability for charter schools. By keeping these failing schools open, Michigan is allowing class after class of students to be taught in an environment that is not conducive to learning. Policymakers in Michigan should not remain satisfied with the results of their current charter sector. Instead, Michigan can further strengthen its accountability system and raise the bar even higher.

Charter schools, in order to serve students and parents better, need annual performance evaluations by their authorizers; in turn, a statewide oversight body should annually review the performance of each authorizer and ensure they are maintaining a strong portfolio of high quality schools. Following evaluations, charter schools that are ineffective must be closed so students can seek better educational opportunities. Authorizers that fail to act responsibly should be sanctioned and suspended from further authorization.

As a native Michigander, I am proud of my home state for making achievement gains, yet more work remains to ensure all public charter schools are successful. Michigan doesn't need to look too far for an example of great charter accountability: our neighbor to the south is a national leader on this front.

Ohio requires a performance-based contract with 5-year term lengths, ensuring that charter schools will be frequently held accountable to their performance. The charter authorizer is required to conduct annual school reviews, and to submit those reviews to the Department of Education, which acts as the authorizer oversight body in Ohio. The oversight body annually evaluates the performance of the authorizers, who are prohibited from sponsoring additional schools if they have schools ranked in the lowest 20% of all schools. This is a strong authorizer sanction that will work to improve charter schools. Finally, Ohio requires the closure of any charter school that fails to improve student outcomes for two years.

We are heartened by the success charter schools have found in Michigan, as well as in other states across the country. State leaders have a great opportunity to ensure only charter schools of the highest quality can continue to serve students throughout the Great Lakes State – they can look to our State Policy Report Card as a roadmap to continue to raise the bar.

Topics: Parent Empowerment, Charter Schools, School Choice