Recently, the Michigan Department for Education has called for the review of 11 charter school authorizers after poor performance and a lack of transparency (Smith). In all 11 of these charter school authorizers, there were schools present in the bottom 10 percent of Michigan schools (Michigan Gov.). The decision has brought about discussion on whether the nature of charter schools allows them to be successful. In a poll conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing, it wasn’t that people polled believed that charter schools performed more poorly (with 64% of people voting positively or neutrally in favor of charter schools). Instead, it was the lack of oversight that was concerning, with 82% of people polled responding that charter schools should be just as, if not more, accountable as public schools spending-wise. Even when charter schools perform poorly, they are still viewed positively.
It is important to note that before these findings broke, The Detroit Free Press wrote an extensive summary on charter schools’ achievements and failings. (If you want to look up further information, it is easily one of the best resources available about the current state of charter schools in Michigan. It is comprehensive, well thought out, and balanced.)
Charter schools, as defined by the Institute of Education Sciences, consist of “…a publicly funded school that is typically governed by a group or organization under a legislative contract (or charter) with the state or jurisdiction” (Institute of Education Sciences). Simply put, it is a public school that is run by a private organization. Because of this, they are subject to less regulation than the traditional public school. With Governor Snyder approving of an unlimited charter school amount by 2015 (AP), the amount of charter schools has increased substantially within Michigan. They often have little to no regulations in terms of administrative and education quality. This had led to concern among groups that the incentive of profit and growth, with a lack of regulation, has led to poor education from charter schools.
To fully understand what impact charter schools have, one must look at the demographics of those who attend charter schools. In Michigan charter schools, 70% of students are at or below the poverty line, compared to 43% in the traditional public schools (also referred to as TPS). The racial demographics are also different, with 57% of them being considered African-American/black, unlike the 17% in the TPS systems. As a result, 49% of charter schools students are considered to live in the Greater Detroit area compared to only 6% in the TPS system (CREDO). One can clearly see that the charter schools do not cater to the traditional middle-class, but rather areas that tend to be disenfranchised and lacking resources. Students who are low-income have a 7.4% chance of dropping out nationwide (NCES). As such, charter schools have a responsibility to protect their (traditionally) more vulnerable students.
This is where the lack of oversight in charter schools becomes particularly concerning. The system is currently set up in a for-profit fashion, and with that there is a lack of regulation compared to government-regulated schools (government schools follow the letter of the law, whereas private organizations proceed until the law restricts them). As it stands, Michigan’s use of university authorizers has been poorly implemented. With the lack of laws and regulations, there is a lack of financial oversight, and these authorizers have allowed schools that are decrepit and poorly functioning to remain open.
Charter schools receive roughly the same amount per district that public schools receive, but public schools must disclose more information than charter schools. These include operational expenses, vendor contracts, etc., and it all must be available to view on the Internet. Charter schools only post their summary of operational expenses. (Jesse) Although there are some that are posting detailed reports, this is not the norm by any means. This becomes problematic quickly, as the system is prone to corruption and misfire. New Bedford Academy took out a loan of 2.5 million dollars to buy what was essentially swampland (along with some equipment), of which 1/5th is usable. Southgate’s Creative Montessori Academy was discovered double dipping and was barely stopped by its authorizer (Dixon).
As a result, there are a stunning amount of schools that are considered to be failing, with their students performing either at or below the public school standard. Comparing students holding all others constant, the learning gains in Detroit (city) charter schools were significantly greater than other parts of the suburban Detroit area (ones that go to DPS), but they were comparable to the overall state. (Credo). That is best case scenario in the poorest of charter schools. Central Michigan University, as the oldest and largest authorizer of charter schools in the US, keeps failing schools open constantly and consistently. They have had 88 schools close in 20 years (averaging approximately 4.4 schools a year), but even getting poor schools to close is a challenge in and of itself. For example, “CMU reauthorized Ypsilanti’s New Beginnings Academy even though it didn’t run criminal background checks when it hired staff members, waiting, in some cases, months to run reports — a violation of state law.” (Jesse) As of late June, 2014, the school remains open and is in the bottom ninth percentile of schools.
Other examples exist as well, but there is a clear and consistent pattern towards charter school underperforming. However, there are some exceptions. Schools that are noted to perform well are not managed by for-profit companies; Honey Creek Community School receives donations from philanthropists, the community, etc. rather than taking in funds (Higgins), and it performs more highly compared to other schools (it is at the 85th percentile). Detroit Edison Public School Academy, whose students are mostly at or below the poverty line (71% receive a reduced-price/free lunch), is close to achieving a school average ACT score of 21, signaling college preparedness. While authorized by Oakland University, it is run by a nonprofit (Pratt Dawsey).
Charter schools in Michigan, as they are currently run, have proven to be a fault within our educational system. They do not achieve results beyond those of public schools, as well as underperforming. Those that do underperform are not held accountable due to a lack of stringent standards.
Smith, Brian. "11 Michigan Charter School Authorizers 'at Risk' for Suspension, Education Department Announces." MLive.com. MLIVE, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. Sep. 2014.
Michigan Government. "2014 - 2015 Authorizing Agency At Risk for Suspension List." 2014-2015 Authorizing Agency At Risk for Suspension List (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
Institution for Education Sciences. "Fast Facts-Charter Schools." National Center F or Education Statistics. Institute for Education Sciences, n.d. Web.
"Snyder Signs Bill Increasing Michigan Charter Schools." MLive.com. Associated Press, 20 Dec. 2011. Web.
CREDO. "Charter School Performance in Michigan." Charter School Performance in Michigan (n.d.): n. pag. Stanford University, 11 Jan. 2013. Web.
National Center for Education Statistics. "Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972–2009." (October 2011): n. pag. Print.
Jesse, David. "Most Michigan Charter Companies Don't Follow Financial Disclosure Law." Detroit Free Press. Detroit Free Press, 22 June 2014. Web. Oct. 2014.
Jennifer, Dixon. "5 Stories of Dubious Decisions, Wasteful Spending, a Deal for Swampland." Detroit Free Press. Detroit Free Press, 22 June 2014. Web. Oct. 2014.
Jesse, David. "CMU Blazed Charter Trail but Lets Some Poor-performing Schools Languish." Detroit Free Press. Detroit Free Press, 27 June 2014. Web. Oct. 2014.
Higgins, Lori. "Honey Creek: Mock Battles Instead of Textbooks at This Charter School." Detroit Free Press. Detroit Free Press, 29 June 2014. Web. Oct. 2014.
Pratt Dawsey, Chastity. "DEPSA a Success Story despite High Rate of Student Poverty." Detroit Free Press. Detroit Free Press, 29 June 2014. Web. Oct. 2014.