Opinion | Charter schools have done more harm than good in Michigan.

Mitchell Robinson is associate professor of music education at Michigan State University

Why is it that every time I chat with a charter school cheerleader and issues of policy (such as privatization, school choice, competition, school closings, vouchers, teacher tenure, funding, regulations, testing) come up, they are unable to muster a defense of those policies?

Instead, they respond with something like, “We probably agree on more than we disagree. Let’s take the snobbery out of our discourse. I doubt combativeness does much to help conversation, let alone students.”

Counter point: Parents don’t consider charter schools political – why do politicians?

Kind of reminds me of conservatives who attacked President Obama for eight years in the most brutal ways, who are now demanding “civility” from liberals.

No. Just no. Public school advocates and charter school boosters don’t agree more than they disagree. We disagree completely on many issues of prime importance. And public school supporters know that many of the problems in the schools, while they may not have all been caused by charters, have been made a whole lot worse by them – and the reform movement leaders who are profiting from charter schools.

“Let’s stop pretending that competition and choice are the solutions to the problems that have been created by competition and choice.”

The most recent charter school booster I spoke to asked me, “So, what’s your solution? It’s obvious you’re not interested in seeking solutions with me, so just tell me.”

OK, here you go ….

Let’s adequately fund all of our schools, and make sure that the school in the inner city is as clean, safe and well-equipped as the one in the wealthiest suburbs.

Let’s stop allowing uncertified, unqualified edu-tourists from groups like Teach for America to be handed the responsibility of educating our children in urban and rural schools, and insist all kids be taught by dedicated, committed professionals, with the appropriate coursework, licenses and certifications.

Let’s demand that all schools offer a rich, engaging curriculum, including music, art and physical education, and let’s stop referring to these subjects as “extras” or “specials” – our children don’t see them as “extras.” For some kids, these are the things that make school worth going to.

Let’s guarantee that every publicly-funded school is held to the same standards, regulations and expectations, that all such schools are required to admit any child who wishes to attend, that “lotteries” and other similar methods of artificially “managing” student enrollment are eliminated, and that every child has access to a high quality public school, regardless of geography or socio-economic status.

Let’s stop pretending that competition and choice are the solutions to the problems that have been created by competition and choice.

Let’s stop trying to fund two parallel, “separate but equal” school systems, and put a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools until all publicly funded schools are “competing” on level playing fields.

And let’s return control for our public schools to where it belongs: elected school boards made up of concerned citizens from the communities in which their schools are located.

Let’s put an end to schools governed by unreliable charter “management companies” and state-appointed “emergency managers” and “CEOs.”

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Comments

Brett DeGroff
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 9:01am

Exactly. All the evidence shows the charter experiment is a complete failure. Well said!

Steven Camron
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 9:24am

Mitch gets it right. Just look at the history of charter development. Over 80 charter schools were deliberately but indiscriminately placed surrounding DPS. This was a neoliberal plan, pushed by Engler and his puppets at CMU, to chaotically disrupt public schools and destroy the teacher unions. Once the charters became the target of nefarious for-profit management companies, academics and curriculum took a backseat to the bottom line. In addition to Mitch’s solutions, I think significant solutions include the prohibition of for-profit management companies (phasing out their existing contracts) and shifting control over granting (& renewing) charters exclusively to only local public schools with elected school boards.

Matt
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 9:28am

Hmmmm, so while the US funds its k - 12, assignment by zip code, school system at levels that dwarf the rest of the world and simultaneously produces sub par results, and our higher Ed system based almost entirely on individual choice and merit and has the world lining up to get in, your answer is to eliminate choice and merit? How about if we change our higher ed system to assignment by ZIP code open enrollment to match our K - 12 system and see how that works out?

kspoppers
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 1:53pm

Post-secondary education is for adults, not kids. You don’t have to live at home to go to college. Neighborhood schools knit communities together, charters destroy that with their fat-flung locations.
Additionally, both public and private colleges operate as non-profits, with boards responsible for their well-being. Many charters are profit taking ventures that benefit shareholders and management, not students and families.
Plus, lower standards for staffing at charters negatively affect students and the teachers. Easiest example is staff turnover. Qualified teachers often seek positions at public schools for better working conditions.
Schools are part and parcel of the commonweal, intended to hold us together, not break us apart. What you appear to espouse is the taking apart of society.

Matt
Fri, 07/27/2018 - 8:24am

Aside from the other irrelevant points age and where one lives, the contention that schools knit us together as a community is pure nonsense! There many communities offering multiple schools nor should anyone assume that members of any communities necessarily fixate on the goings on in their community's schools, most of us have lives! Governance of charter schools no matter how organized is wholly dependent on the evaluation of their customers - the students and their parents! Sorry your boards of directors and other bureaucrats don't care for or know the kids like their parents no matter what the Teacher's union says. If teachers want to leave charters for the much higher pay of public or other private schools, fine and again not anyone's business except the schools and their customers. In this day and age the one size fits all,school assignment by zip code is an anachronism only defended by those benefiting from its maintenance.

LisaR
Mon, 08/06/2018 - 9:55am

Sorry, Matt. Just because you say so doesn't make it fact. Tenured teachers make an investment in the communities that invest in them. Elementary arts teachers and some middle and high school teachers, especially, have the same students for more than one year. Many teachers have the pleasure of teaching all or most of the siblings in one family throughout their careers. They truly get to know the students and their families very well. The last thing you want in a community is a profit-seeking teacher job-hopping from district to district just for the money. You want professionals who are part of your community. It seems you don't know this, but many state teachers unions provide successful programs of community outreach.

Teachers in public schools are about communities, not where they can make more. Emotional and physical vestment is what drives a community. Now before you say why do they want so much in the way of compensation if they're all about community, understand that having the right to bargain for their compensation and the learning and working conditions in their schools is what helps them to be able to stay in their communities.

Joe Prichard
Mon, 08/06/2018 - 10:12am

If I were still teaching 6th graders, I imagine you would be among my brightest students, who might have time for a special assignment. If so, I might assign you to study the census records of St. Louis, the population of which dropped from 350,000 in 2000 to about 308,000 now. The census provides a breakdown in how much of the loss in population was men, women, children and their respective race. Mayor Slay is not going to brag about details in the changes of population percentages. He can actually shed phony tears about the losses. He cannot brag about the effect of the charter schools after SLPS was taken over by a state board headed by an important owner of the Duck boats during the years he served. He is still a member of the state board, which is still wrestling with the question......do we have the population numbers changed to the extent necessary that we restore St. Louis' voting rights regarding the eduation of their children. Take all the time you need.......take a look at the murder story about former special education student Tim Bacon in 2006.

Christine
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 9:59am

Sure I agree with you, but how are you going to get the committed professionals to work in some of these areas? And don't doubt that some of these young people coming out of college can't do good and think outside of the box then the staid older teacher who are locked in their way of thinking.

Mary
Fri, 07/27/2018 - 7:31am

Your comment about the "staid older teacher who are locked in their way of thinking" is insulting and grammatically incorrect.

annat
Mon, 08/06/2018 - 9:18am

How did you come to those conclusions? Many committed educators work in those areas. We work hard! TFA "teachers" get five weeks of summer training. Certified teachers have at least five YEARS of preparation. I could give you many examples of ill-prepared TFA and/ or charter teachers, but I'll give you just one. Michelle Rhee taped children's mouths shut because she had no other management strategies. That's all she could think of?! Is that "doing good?" What if it was your child whose lips bled when the tape came off? And she is dumb enough to tell that story and laugh about it! It makes my blood boil.

TJH
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 10:03am

Let's also eliminate the practice of providing a full per pupil allowance for on line schools. This is just a license to rip off the school aid fund by providers of canned content with very limited support to the students who enroll in most cases. They receive the same funding per pupil as do the conventional public and charter schools. This is a disgrace that our GOP legislators need to own. Snyder Proposed to reduce the allowance for online schools by 50%, but the final budget restored it at 100%. Gov. Snyder was too weak to draw the line on this issue. The success rate for most students in these online schools is almost non existent.

Ed Haynor
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 12:00pm

I agree.

Also, consider that the majority of charter schools in Michigan are for-profit schools, who’s management companies are more interested in making money than teaching children; otherwise, why be in business as a for-profit?

Charter school teachers generally make less in wages than their traditional public school counterparts. Many charter employees don’t either have adequate health insurance or no insurance at all. Plus, charter school teachers generally have no pension benefits. But charters and traditional public schools get the same foundation grant; why? Well, I suppose you guessed it, charters are using foundation grant resources, not paid or benefitting their employees, to line the pockets of their school management corporation.

Although traditional public schools and charter schools are supposed to operate by the same rules, they don’t. Michigan’s traditional public schools are completely transparent with finances, operations and personnel. Since for-profit charters are privately owned, the public can’t access any management, operations or financial information. Citizens would revolt if their local school football team only got 3 downs to carry the ball and their opponents received 4 downs. But for some strange reason, Michigan citizens allow dual schools systems, where each have different operating rules, which cost taxpayers an additional billion dollars a year to operate. Only a psychiatrist could possibly explain why parents and average citizens don’t consider charter schools a highly contested political topic, just because of economics and fairness, if nothing else.

Readers should know, that in 2016, the National Labor Relations Board decided that charter schools in New York and Pennsylvania are private corporations that receive taxpayer dollars, which are run by unelected boards that are unaccountable to the taxpaying public. Now that the National Labor Relations Board is controlled by republicans, I suspect this decision will be buried somewhere or even reversed.

Chuck Fellows
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 10:12am

Let's do this and let's do that. Allow me to be blunt. "SOSDD"
Stop the mythical Charter school as enemy by reading PA 451 of 1976.
Recognize that all traditional public schools are not bad (Over time NAEP trends show improvement), and that Charters represent about 12% of the total school population; 10% of the foundational allowance and 0% (yes 0%) of local property tax funding that traditional public schools are allowed to collect.
If we are going to achieve learning growth we must trash the traditional education paradigm (See Ken Robinson's video on YouTube, "Paradigms". 11 minutes). Replace what we do today (Compliance, conformance, standardized testing, isolated silos of knowledge, dictating what to teach, how to teach it and when to teach it) with student led learning and sharing of integrated knowledge measured by actual performances of mastery - not test scores. (Test Scores = Data Absent Context which is meaningless).
Teachers provided with compensated time to cooperate and collaborate during regular school hours. Teacher designed curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.
Operational budgets developed at the classroom level by teachers with bureaucrats supporting (not determining). The state funding facilities and equipment for all schools using the "hold harmless" districts facilities as the standard for all schools, instead of individual district property taxes.
Re-employ all the educational bureaucrats and educational specialists in supporting individual children learning, not dictating the what, how, when and where of learning.

Chantel Jackson
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 11:57am

As a Detroit parent of two charter school students, I'm beyond offended by this commentary. My husband and I are proud DPS graduates and we're so sad to see what's become of our school district. So like more than half the parents in Detroit, we chose a charter school for our kids, and we're happy that we had that choice.

And now this white music teacher from Michigan State is telling parents of color in Detroit that that don't deserve the right to choose where their children go to school? We need to reject this kind of soft racism from people like Mitchell Robinson. I will decide where my children go to school, thank you very much. YOU don't get to decide where my kids go to school. I do!

Matt
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 2:03pm

Very curious how a bunch of board members, bureaucrats, consultants, etc etc seem to think they know and care for your kids better than you! Or maybe you're just too dumb to be allowed this choice? Orbecause we can't have people acting in their own interest if other people don't or won't? So much for that "Pro-Choice" blather.

Chantel
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 2:19pm

Thank you, Matt! Yes, how about parents get to decide where their children go to school? We're not so dumb that we need Mitchell Robinson to make that decision for us. And I love how he decided to throw President Obama's name in here. Maybe he's the one who needs to get smart. President Obama was a huge supporter of charter schools. He would have disagreed with every word this person wrote.

B King
Mon, 08/06/2018 - 1:40pm

Why have the NAACP and Black Lives Matter called for a moratorium on charters? Are they practicing soft racism as well? Studies show charters are worsening segregation. They’re not equally accessible to all students as neighborhood schools are. And they’ve gutted public school funding in order to build this dual system. No doubt there are some lovely charter schools. But they come at a cost to the children who rely on their neighborhood schools.

James Horn
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 12:28pm

A moratorium on new charters? This non-solution leaves in place 7,500 segregated, abusive cultural sterilization charter camps in full operation indefinitely. This non-solution has already offered by AFT, NEA, NPE, and the NAACP. The charter industry bottom feeders scoff as they pump more money to Wall Street Democrats and Republicans. You need to get in the real world if you are going to do anything real.

allen
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 1:16pm

Every single time? Dang, those conversations have got to be getting a bit boring, no?

Of course, we shouldn't dismiss the possibility that it's a lot easier to put words in the mouths of charter school proponents than it is to deal with their actual views.

What do you think Professor Robinson? Is there some possibility that your portrayal of charter school proponents has more than a grain of convenience in it?

I'm thinking "yeah" so let's simply dismiss your oh-so-convenient portrayals of charter school supporter's views and ask a real charter school proponent what they think.

Ever so conveniently I'm one such supporter and I'm in no need of your assistance in stating my reasons for supporting parental choice which in Michigan means charter schools.

The first and most obvious is that no one, not even you, cares as much about any child as their parents. Certainly not the members of the school board although as individuals they may take their duties seriously. But in aggregate they bow to the most powerful constituency and if that's the kids it'll be a surprise to everyone. That is how politics works and if you want to make a fool of yourself claim otherwise.

But I feel the urge to do a bit of fisking so let's look at your solutions:

* Let’s adequately fund all of our schools

We already do. In fact, they're substantially overfunded. What else would anyone expect in the wealthiest nation the human race has every seen? More practically, when asked what "adequately funded" means the response is an immediate change of subject. This indicates that "adequately funded" means "more".

* Let’s stop allowing uncertified, unqualified edu-tourists from groups like Teach for America

Why? Leaving your mud-slinging aside, the product of schools of education don't exactly cover themselves in glory once in front of a bunch of kids.

But that's understandable. School districts pay no heed to teaching skill so neither to schools of education.

* Let’s demand that all schools offer a rich, engaging curriculum, including music, art and physical education

Oh let's not. Let's prioritize the goals of schools based on what parents want since the paid help has their own agenda.

So let's put keeping kids safe first since, in more than a few public schools, it's really a big bother. After all, a kid who's beaten up is probably not going to get as much as they could out of a rich, engaging curriculum.

After that let's teach them to read.

Can I get an "amen" on teaching kids to read in the most expeditious, effective way?

Probably not.

* - Let’s guarantee that every publicly-funded school is held to the same standards, regulations and expectations

Yeah, let's do. After that let's all promise to lose weight, be kind to each other and clean out the garage. I mean, as long as we're making one promise history shows isn't going to be kept why not make a bunch?

* - Let’s stop pretending that competition and choice are the solutions to the problems that have been created by competition and choice.

As long as we're at it let's also stop pretending that contentless rhetoric is anything but an effort to derail discussion.

Contrary to your word play, in every area of human endeavor I can think of - and feel free to supply an exception - competition and choice relentlessly produces better outcomes. Why should education be an exception?

It isn't. Higher education is most surely a product of competition and choice which is why the American higher education system's the best in the world. The lack of competition and choice results in a gradual reduction in results until the results are as poor as the public's willing to accept.

* - Let’s stop trying to fund two parallel, “separate but equal” school systems

Oh look at you trying to dragoon Brown v Board to the cause of shielding the public education establishment from public scrutiny and disapproval. What's next Professor Robinson? Denouncing charter schools as racist in nature?

Yeah, that'll work. All the tens of thousands of parents of Detroit will see the error of their ways in wanting their kids to get a better, safer education than the DPSCD seems capable of providing and rush back into its welcoming arms.

* - And let’s return control for our public schools to where it belongs: elected school boards

But let's make sure parents still have a way to vote with their feet since it's those elected school boards that have provided many Michigan parents with all the reasons they need to look elsewhere.

Neil Barron
Sat, 07/28/2018 - 11:21pm

Thank you ! Noted more than succinctly. My first impression on his rant, Communism in fore front . Stop! look from whence he came, Oh that sanctum of mediocracy and of all things a Music blowhard.

Marion Aretha B...
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 1:42pm

Thank you for this article. I have taught in a charter school for 17 years and your solutions is key to ensuring student success for all.

abe bubush
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 7:29pm

Some seriously TLDR response below represent the typical bombastic techniques of rightwing propagandists to divert discussion from the plain fact that teachers are underpaid, overworked, underappreciated, and that corporate takeover of even a small part of our critical education system was and is a bad idea.

Kendra
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 9:53pm

The real answer is much simpler, fund all k12 public education equally via the federal government. Local communities can decide how to spend the monies but every student gets the same amount everywhere funded from national budget. Other countries do it and have good results and a better more educated citizenry and workforce.

Sister Elizabet...
Fri, 07/27/2018 - 12:12am

Throughout my career as a teacher and administrator in Detroit's inner city high schools, Catholic schools and public schools got along famously. We were dedicated to the education of youth and collaborated together to make this happen.

I am a lifelong educator. I retired from school teaching and administration while I was still loved and appreciated. Before retiring and since retiring I have never found a charter school to be worthy of true education. My recomendation...shut them down!

The education of our youth is the top priority in our society. Quality education is essential. Privatization of education is a joke. My recommendation...shut down all but one charter schools in Detroit. The one school to preserve is Cesar Chavis. Give priority to public education. Any public school serious about education should be supported. All others should be closed.

Christine
Fri, 07/27/2018 - 8:41am

As a fellow Catholic, I'm praying for you to find some wisdom on this issue, Sr. Elizabeth. The top eight or nine schools in Detroit when it comes to sending kids to college are all charter schools. You want to close them all down? Charter schools score twice as high as DPS schools on the M-STEP. You want to close them all down? What sense does that make for our kids?

And you're saying that if a family in Detroit can't afford to send their child to a Catholic school, they don't deserve a choice in their child's education?

Mark
Fri, 07/27/2018 - 7:24am

Talk about a lot of Hot Air from this MSU Professor, I can see why MSU has been having so many issues themselves.
Let's dig deep and realize that if Students came to School with a Higher Desire to Learn, with a Home Background that Advocated Education, and were Exposed to the Opportunities that avail them with an Education, this all would be a Moot Issue. The Demographic of Generation after Generation of Comfortable Poverty has led to much of this discourse. Money is not the issue, Culture plays a much larger role.

Dr. Richard Zeile
Fri, 07/27/2018 - 2:22pm

The good professor misses the point, that not all families accept his (or the MDE's) definition of an excellent education, and we honor their right to choose for themselves (or for their children) a school that more closely accommodates their values. This IS very threatening to those vested in the current system, who are quick to accuse charters of being "for-profit," but fail to acknowledge their own self-interest.

Laura H. Chapman
Mon, 08/06/2018 - 9:10am

Thanks for all of your excellent work on behalf of schools were the arts are routinely included in the curriculum and not regarded as some "bonus" to be earned or enrichment.

annat
Mon, 08/06/2018 - 9:11am

Yes!!!!!!!

Khem Irby
Mon, 08/06/2018 - 9:28am

This is a great answer to what is happening to our school system. We only need one system that is fully funded.

James D. Kirylo
Mon, 08/06/2018 - 9:42am

"What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy." John Dewey

Good job, Mitchell R.!

Laura Sindberg
Mon, 08/06/2018 - 10:18am

Yep, what Mitch said. Not just in Michigan, but everywhere. Charter schools are the worst thing that's happened to public education.

Arthur Camins
Mon, 08/06/2018 - 10:49am

Yes. "Let’s stop pretending that competition and choice are the solutions to the problems that have been created by competition and choice."
That not only describes that current push for charter schools and voucher, but the mostly unchallenged way be fund education through inherently inequitable disparate local and state tax basis.

Teachingecomist
Mon, 08/06/2018 - 11:41am

When the authors says "that all such schools are required to admit any child who wishes to attend, that “lotteries” and other similar methods of artificially “managing” student enrollment are eliminated", does he mean that he considers the catchment lines used by traditional public schools to manage student enrollment as somehow natural instead of artificial? I think it would be useful to think a bit harder about admission requirements for all such schools.

I also wonder if the author is in favor of closing qualified admission schools like Stuyvesant High School in NYC and Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia. They certainly fail to admit every child who wishes to attend, but are the only practical way to give those students access to an appropriate curriculum and perhaps even more importantly, access to each other.

Anthony Eller
Mon, 08/06/2018 - 3:31pm

There is an elephant in the room and we all need to be aware
I know that there are some very good charter schools doing a wonderful job,
but I also know that GREED and the thirst for POWER have gotten even worse. Hiding under a curtain where FREE PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOLS are now being managed for profit management companies . President Eisenhower in his Farewell Address told the American people to beware of the military complex and he was a 100% correct I believe we should have a strong military .....but not a carte blanche endless stream of TAX PAYERS $$.
We need to be as worried by Corporate Pharmaceutical PUSHING ADHD (suggest every parent Read ADHD Nation by Alan Schwarz)turning from $Billion business model moving to $ TRILLION business models and Publishing companies that control the testing ,online schools $750 Billion drugging our youth to a zombie state.
READING is the most important skill we can teach our children
"A thirst for Knowledge, and the gift of reading are the most important tools we can give our Children" Anthony Eller
Solutions turn The creating of test and testing back over to the exceptional teachers that know what is important
NOT corporate companies the profits are far more important than our children