Charter schools hit the extremes in academic ranking

While several charter schools are among the best in the state in outperforming academic expectations, overall, charters fare poorly in Bridge Magazine’s top-to-bottom list of Michigan schools.

The analysis offers ammunition to charter advocates and critics alike; mainly though, it raises questions about why Michigan charter schools are so wildly inconsistent, even when teaching similar students.

Bridge’s analysis for its 2012 Academic State Champs takes into account standardized test scores and the poverty level of students. Test scores typically rise with income. Through a Value-Added Matrix, Bridge measured schools by students’ overachievement and underachievement, compared to the average scores for their income level.

Bridge's VAM school rankings: From No. 1 to No. 560

Though only 9 percent of the schools in Bridge’s top-to-bottom list are charter schools, charters dominate the extremes. Three of the top five schools in the Value-Added Matrix (VAM) are charters, while four of the bottom five are charters.

Schools where students perform on standardized test scores at the average for their socioeconomic status (as measured by the percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch), would get a VAM score of 100; only 36 percent of charters scored above average.

By comparison, 52 percent of traditional public schools performed above average.

Other findings in Bridge’s analysis include:

* Schools in which a majority of the student population was of Middle Eastern descent overachieved. Four of the top 10 and five of the top 15 overall schools have large Arabic student enrollment.

* The much-maligned Detroit Public Schools is 493rd out of 560 traditional districts and K-12 charter schools. While that’s well below average, even in a ranking that takes into account the poverty level of students, Detroit still ranks ahead of Southfield, Harper Woods and a dozen traditional districts and K-12 charters in Wayne County.

* Not all affluent schools did well in the VAM analysis. Concord Academy Boyne, with only 18 percent of its students receiving free and reduced lunch (the state average is 48 percent), ranked 547th out of 560. Rogers City Area Schools, with 24 percent free and reduced lunch, ranked 542nd.

Senior Writer Ron French joined Bridge in 2011 after having won more than 40 national and state journalism awards since he joined the Detroit News in 1995. French has a long track record of uncovering emerging issues and changing the public policy debate through his work. In 2006, he foretold the coming crisis in the auto industry in a special report detailing how worker health-care costs threatened to bankrupt General Motors.

Academic State Champs -- Complete coverage

Top of the mark  Bridge Magazine set out to find which Michigan public schools do the best job in adding value – helping students succeed beyond expectations. This “Value-Added Matrix” identified some surprising results among both traditional and charter schools in the state.

Academic State Champs 2012  From Godwin Heights to Dearborn, from Baldwin to Troy, from Gaylord to Ann Arbor, see Bridge’s 2012 Academic State Champs.

Where’s your school?   Bridge applied its “Value-Added Matrix” to 560 schools across the state – see where yours ranked in this handy searchable database.

Newcomers, old practices  Charter schools in the tight-knit Arab communities in Dearborn dominated the top of Bridge’s statewide rankings in 2012. Educators credit their success in aiding students, many of them recent immigrants, to their familiarity with the culture and their commitment to making learning a family affair.

The charter conundrum  Charter schools in Michigan posted a remarkable presence at the top – and the bottom – of Bridge’s 2012 Academic State Champ rankings.

Finding what works  Education Trust-Midwest has long studied the central question of education policy: What works? Its executive director, Amber Arellano, tells Bridge that if Michigan helps teachers improve their skills, boosts in student learning will follow.

Read stories by MLive Media Group reporters on how schools in your area fared:

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