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    The following is an interview with Gary Naeyaert of Michigan Association of Public School Academies on November 14, 2008 regarding charter schools in Michigan.

    Erica: What is MAPSA in your words?

    Gary Naeyaert: MAPSA is a trade association that represents the interests of the charter school movement. We represent all 232 charter schools in the state. We represent the teachers that teach there, we represent the independent board of directors for every school. We also represent the management companies that many schools have hired to provide professional services, and the authorizers for charter schools, which are typically universities, community colleges, intermediate school districts and local school districts. We are an umbrella organization representing all aspects of the charter school movement, although the authorizers have their own trade association.

    E: What is your position at MAPSA?

    Naeyaert: I am the Vice President of public relations and legislative affairs. I am in charge of all the communication activity for the organization, both internal and external. I am also responsible to represent the organization with the media and with the legislature.

    E: What is the overarching goal of the organization?

    Naeyaert: Responsible for protecting the current charter schools that are in existence in the charter school movement because it is still, after 15 years, in some circles a controversial portion of public education. We try to protect the gains we have made. We are always looking to both expand the opportunities for chartering and charter-like environments for students, and we are always looking to improve the quality of charter school product, evidenced by an increase in student achievement. We have a terrible drop out crisis in the state. We have too many students not graduating on time. We have too many students not graduating prepared for college or the jobs of tomorrow. We won’t be happy until our achievement gets better. Even though the charter school students perform better than the host districts where the students came, there’s still a long way to go. We are raising the bar for everybody, so we are advocating an expansion of the charter school movement, but we also want to improve the quality of the charter school product.

     

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    E: What are the current challenges in pursuing MAPSA’s goals?

    Naeyaert: The charter school movement started in the mid 90s, we have had a very good growth since then. Actually, our challenge right now is we have a demand for charter school enrollment, that far exceeds our ability to provide spots in charter schools. So today we have 232 schools, just over a 100,000 students in charter schools; that is about 6% of all public school-aged children in the state, we are still a sliver of the educational pie in Michigan. If you looked at K-12 education in the last few years, traditional public school enrollment is down, parochial enrollment is down, private school enrollment is down, but charter school enrollment is up. Today, three out of four charter schools have a waiting list for kids to get in. We have over 11,000 families on waiting lists. We can’t grow because the legislature has created a cap on the number of charter schools that can be open that are authorized by universities; we are at that cap. So our biggest challenge today is how to grow to meet the demand because too many school districts are failing too many students. We provide an alternative and an option that people want, but we do not have the capacity to grow.

    E: What is the status of the attempt to lift caps?

    Naeyaert: We support lifting the cap as a general policy goal, always have. When charter schools were created in law there was no cap. The cap was added after the schools were starting. We don’t think that the legislature should cap achievement and limit choices for parents and students. It’s not that every school in the state should be a charter school or every student in the state should go to a charter school. We will not be satisfied until every parent and child has the option of going to a public charter school or a traditional school or a parochial school, or a private school or home school. Those are the 5 main options, and we think they should be available to all parents and today they are not.

    E: Is there any legislation forming to life the cap?

    Naeyaert: There have been a variety of efforts over time to lift the cap, those have been unsuccessful politically due to the strong opposition of organized labor and the teachers union, specifically the MEA and the AFT, which represents teachers in Detroit. We have found other ways to create charter schools outside of the cap with the help of the legislature. Under the state law, universities can authorize charters and they are the organizations that are capped at 150. Community colleges can authorize charters and there is no limit. Intermediate school districts can gave charters and there is no limit. Local school districts can authorize charters and there is no limit. That is why we have 232 schools today but there is 150 university authorized. We have created in law, a school called an urban high school academy, which is a charter school that can only be located in the city of Detroit and the law allows 15 of those; there are only 3 that are currently charters, so there is room for 12 more in that category. We also have a category of schools that are new and different called strict discipline academies and there is no limit to how many there can be. In order to open one, the students in that school have to of been expelled from another school. It’s only a charter school for students who are adjudicated through the courts and there are a number of those schools across the state.

    E: Is there any advantage of having a university authorize as opposed to a community college?

    Naeyaert: The role of the authorizer is the same regardless of who is the authorizer. The body that is responsible to the public, constitutionally, elected trustees, and they are responsible for the overall achievement of the school. They are the ones who give permission to open the school. They have an independent board of directors. The authorizer grants charters for a specified period of time and the schools are constantly being reviewed. So we have in the last year closed 35 charter schools that have not met expectations of their authorizer, for either academic performance or financial stability. Those charters are then given to other schools that are cropping up that are thought to be more successful.

    E: Who are your challengers or opposition to your initiatives?

    Naeyaert: In addition to organized labor on many issues related to charter expansion we are opposed by the traditional school districts, the ISD’s, and the entire traditional public school community because we are seen as a threat.

    E: How do charter school measure up on test scores?

    Naeyaert: The Department of Education puts together a group of host districts that if you put them all together would approximate the socioeconomic background as the charter schools, where they are located. It’s not fair to compare just the charter schools to the statewide average, because most the charter schools are in urban areas serving at risk youth who are at a high level of poverty. In order to compare the schools in an apple to apples comparison the department creates this list of 18 districts to compare all charters to. In that comparison: charter students to local host districts, which is determined by the MDE, charter student out performed the local districts on 24 of the 27 MEAP tests that were administered in 2007. So the charter students are doing better than their peers. In terms of graduation rate, charter high schools in Michigan have a 12% higher graduation rate, than do the high schools in the host districts, as determined by MDE.

    Our schools have open enrollment, we must accept every applicant who comes to the door, and if we have 150 applicants for 100 sports then there has to be lottery to determine who gets those spots. The vast majority of students who are in charter schools today are eligible for fee or reduced lunch, they are students who are behind grade level and our responsibility is to bring them to grade level. The longer a student stays in a charter school, the greater their academic achievement is.

    E: Do more charter school students become college bound?

    Naeyaert: The typical graduation rate is 75% around the state. Charter schools do not exceed the state wide average for all schools. A number of charter schools started as alternative education schools, for students who are not cutting it in the traditional classroom or who are having trouble with the law. The percent of students in alternative education and strict discipline academies, who would go on to college is significantly lower than in a traditional high school. But if you look at the charter schools that are set up as college prep or for mainstream education, their graduation rates exceed traditional public schools.

    The biggest distinction between a charter school and a traditional school is that traditional schools live with in the confines of the district wide policies in a large organization. A charter school is a unique school, with its own board of directors. A charter school has freedom to innovate and to be flexible and to change anything they want to change in the school to meet the specific needs of their students. So they are more responsive, more flexible, even though we adhere to the state merit curriculum, kids are going to graduate with the same content. They have the freedom to hire and fire their staff and their teachers.

    E: So I was reading on the site and it sounded like charter schools do a little bit of merit pay?

    N: Well Charter schools will offer competitive salaries, retirement packages to school districts. Many teachers that come to charter schools though are not coming because of higher pay they are coming because they have a smaller environment where the teachers are given the flexibility, the teachers are held accountable. If students go backwards in terms of learning, at the end of the year you will have a meeting with the principle or leader of the school because it is your responsibility to increase those students performance. Teachers who care more about student achievement more than they do about seniority are very welcome in the charter school movement and flourish here. We get two kinds of teachers; those that are brand new, who are young and idealistic, who have not yet been part of the organized teachers world. And we get teachers who have spent a long time in traditional education and are looking for an alternative opportunity to make a difference because they are fed up with the bureaucracy and the paper work and the inflexibility in the traditional school environment

    E: How are students and parents involved in holding students accountable for improving student achievement?

    N: There are very few things that are similar in all charter schools. Many charters require a letter of agreement between the parent, child and the schools that require that the parent is going to encourage their student to study and spend one day a year in the school. We have one school that requires the dads to be in the school three days a year to volunteer and they serve as hall monitors and to make sure that parents are involved. It helps to provide a higher number of male role models in that school. Every school does things differently, but every school develops for itself a sense of community and a culture that is unique to that school. Character development is an important part of the charter school movement. There is a greater emphasis on character, discipline and community in most charter schools.

    E: Middle Colleges of Granholm, do you think that will interfere with Charter schools?

    N: No they are not in conflict with one another. The Governor’s small high schools; 21st century schools, is a similar innovation, it is very charter like.

    Thank you Mr. Naeyaert.

    If interested in learning more about MAPSA their website is located at: www.charterschools.org

     

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