We need performance-based charter authorizing system

With roughly half of Michigan’s charter schools ranking in the bottom quarter of all public schools for academic performance, it’s clear that the state has a serious charter performance problem. The challenge is particularly acute in Detroit, where the issue has wreaked market havoc and caused about 80 percent of schools – both charter and traditional – to open or close over the last seven years, according to recent testimony to state lawmakers by Mayor Mike Duggan.

The problem goes far beyond Detroit, however. Charter schools in communities such as Pontiac and Benton Harbor are so low performing, they are giving the sector a bad name. This is a terrible shame – and not at all what charter movement leaders promised when they opened charters in Michigan more than twenty years ago.

The root of the problem is the lack of accountability, especially on the part of the charter authorizers, the institutions that decide which charter schools can open, can stay open and can expand.

This month, the Education Trust-Midwest published a new report that shines a light on authorizers including grades for their schools’ academic performance. The good news is, overall the sector’s performance has improved marginally over the last year. For example, Eastern Michigan University improved its performance grade from an “F” last year to a “D.” That deserves some applause.

However, the sector is still terribly low performing compared with strong charter sectors around the country. And we know now who the chronic low-performing authorizers are in Michigan.

Three 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 ETM’s report. Roughly one-quarter of these three authorizers’ schools ranked among the state’s worst performing 10 percent of public schools statewide. About 19,000 students attend schools authorized by NMU, SVSU and EMU.

What’s remarkable is that no one in Michigan can hold these authorizers truly accountable by setting clear performance standards and shutting down authorizers that do not meet them, despite millions of Michigan taxpayers’ dollars investment in these public institutions for decades. This is in stark contrast to leading education states such as Massachusetts – and it must change.

Michigan needs a performance-based accountability system for authorizers, reflecting best practices from leading states across the country. Charter authorizing should be a privilege – and no longer a public entitlement -- and should be earned and maintained by consistently high achievement.

To that end, we are recommending the state legislature adopt a system that rewards high-performing authorizers such as Washtenaw ISD or Grand Rapids Public Schools, with additional state support to open strong charter schools by operators that meet high performance standards.

And there should be sanctions for authorizers that consistently fail to provide better school choices for Michigan children. “F” and “D” graded authorizers, for example, should have to raise their portfolios’ academic performance or face sanctions – including, eventually, closure.

Just as teacher tenure today is based on performance, authorizing should be based on performance – and come with real accountability. Learning matters in the lives of children; it needs to matter for Michigan authorizers, too.

What about Detroit? In high-challenge communities such as Detroit and others where students are especially vulnerable, and the marketplace is terribly chaotic and incoherent, we support the creation of a local entity to provide an additional lever of accountability, as Mayor Duggan and the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren have recommended.

Though new state policies will be needed to develop and implement a performance-based system of authorizing and accountability in Michigan, there’s no need to wait for legislation for the state to take the first steps toward a healthier charter sector.

State Superintendent Brian Whiston should use his limited but important authority now to suspend poor-performing authorizers, and he should act promptly: Michigan students and their families have waited long enough.

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Thu, 02/11/2016 - 10:19am
Charter schools in Michigan were initially enabled to encourage innovative and effective ways to teach children, to provide meaningful competition to existing public schools, and to use tax monies wisely. We are still waiting to see these things happen.
Buddy Moorehouse
Thu, 02/11/2016 - 1:16pm
Just check out the Academic State Champs winners on this side - you'll see just how wrong your statement is.
Sue Sue
Thu, 02/11/2016 - 12:46pm
Please do not lump all charters in with those run by colleges. EMU has a 37% graduation rate in 6 years...why would anyone ever let them run a high school?
Fri, 02/12/2016 - 11:50am
Is this EAA from EMU being Cut by Gov. Snyder read this week metro Times.. Plus HOMESCHOOL is the answer . Pay Mothers ... I know of 3 homeschooled children that at the age of 16 are in college..or just get the same BOOKS that are being used by Mothers in Homeschooling!
Buddy Moorehouse
Thu, 02/11/2016 - 1:02pm
Wow, talk about bad timing! Ed Trust-Midwest couldn't have picked a worse week to release their politically-driven report. In the same week that ETM is trying to claim that charter schools aren't succeeding in Michigan's urban cores, Bridge releases its Academic State Champs rankings - which show that charter schools are blowing the doors off other schools when it comes to academic achievement in the state's urban cores. And then that Ed Trust-Midwest uses Bridge Magazine as the platform for this op-ed. They couldn't have planned this out any worse if they tried.
Matt Korolden
Thu, 02/11/2016 - 3:07pm
Thu, 02/11/2016 - 5:44pm
Yes. And Eclectablog reported extensively on the charter school group American Classical Academies, a privately-owned group founded and headed by Pasquale Battaglia. This group has been repeatedly unsuccessful in obtaining a charter from a university, so they have turned to local school districts who are now able to charter under our lax state laws. The ACA group, partnering with Hillsdale College, seeks to open overtly political charter schools to promote their relgio-poltical crusade to reclaim America's public schools from what they condemn as evil progressivism. They have at the heart of their efforts a goal of inculcating public school students with a "Judeo-Christian," "traditional education" to influence our political future as an entire nation. ACA attempted to charter with Brighton Schools, was rebuffed. They have now signed a charter deal with Whitmore Lake Schools, who will receive up to a 3% kickback in the state funds going to ACA's school. Watch this story. It could represent the new wave in charters sponsored by financially strapped local districts desperate for any revenue flow. Imagine the monumental incompetence of local districts, lacking expertise, experience, and adminstrative structures, attempting to oversee charter schools.
Fri, 02/12/2016 - 12:26am
The problem behind a lot of things is greed. Teacher Unions have a history of greedy behavior, people building/maintaining school facilities have a history of some greedy behavior, politicians getting kickbacks for making sure business x or union y gets the job are known to be greedy, parents wanting the schools to do more babysitting after school but who don't want to pay for it are greedy, administrators wanting bigger budgets for fancy offices and golden parachutes are greedy, etc. Greed is not limited to the private sector, the investor or the banker. Greed is in everyone, myself included. Greed is human and there is no avoiding it. So as citizens we demand open books, lowest bid contracts, no prevailing wage b.s., everyone paying into their own retirement, again - open books at both public and charter schools and most important - Kids who can read, write, and do math at a minimum.
Marilee Greene
Thu, 02/11/2016 - 6:06pm
Well I took a look at the scores of the state champs and almost all of the low income Charters have terrible scores. Just because they did a few points better than other schools serving poor students, they still perform very poorly. I would not send my child to that champion school. Open up the article and LOOK at the scores. You will find that better scores are in the schools that are not serving poverty populations. The scores are directly tied to poverty and educational status of the parents. Schools try hard but until we accept the part poverty plays in the educational setting, nothing will change.
Bob Balwinski
Fri, 02/12/2016 - 7:28pm
Amen, MariLee!! Data keeps telling us over and over and over and over that supported students from well-off school districts do better than unsupported students from low income districts. Social issues need to be addressed as part of an overall solution. 30 years+ in an inner-city situation followed by 9 years at MI Department of Education did nothing but solidify my viewpoint.
Mon, 02/15/2016 - 3:31pm
Not that any factor automatically condemns a child to a life of poverty, but what do you expect when up to 70 percent of children are born to single mothers who probably didn't graduate themselves? But I'll bet if you toss a poor, 2 parent aspirational immigrant family's kid into any of these schools and you get a very different result. What do you propose?
Tue, 02/04/2020 - 12:50pm

Hello. And Bye.