Column: Charter schools deliver results for students

Jared Burkhart

Last week, the state of Michigan released its school accountability list, identifying schools that are underperforming and those that have significantly improved. This year, there are 79 schools that earned their way off of the state’s priority list—a truly remarkable achievement—and another 38 that are now subject to performance sanctions, up to and including closure.

According to the state’s list, there is one charter school authorized by a professional authorizing agency on the list of 38 schools requiring possible sanction. This is not news to Michigan’s authorizer community, which is already hard at work to address the performance issues in play within these schools.

This awareness and intervention is a crucial point to acknowledge this week, which has been proclaimed National School Choice Week by state and federal leaders.

Why? Because the charter school promise is predicated on two key elements: choice and accountability. Choice for families who want to identify the best academic fit for their students, and accountability for the schools that provide services to them.

For nearly a quarter century, Michigan’s authorizer community has worked to foster choice and accountability for hundreds of thousands of students and families statewide. Our work has not only leveraged positive change in the lives and futures of these individuals; it’s also made a profound difference in K–12 policy ad practice.

Consider the following: Before chartering new schools came into practice, public school accountability was a vague notion, at best. The idea of school sanctions or closure for poor performance was not in the public school lexicon. The notion that “one size doesn’t fit all” when it comes to learning was a truth without an answer, since only the wealthy could afford to choose.

Now, not only do parents and students of all socioeconomic backgrounds—rich or poor, urban or rural, black, brown or white—have the opportunity to select the learning options that are right for them and obtain them free of charge, but new academic and operational models are being tested and explored in all schools. Where these options are successful they are incubated and brought to scale; otherwise they are terminated.

The practice of charter school authorizing has brought many of these changes about. Without clear-sighted leaders monitoring the performance of the schools they oversee, many new—and highly effective—accountability measures would not yet be created. And without authorizer willingness to intervene and close schools that are failing to deliver on their promises to families, state and federal leaders would not presently be engaged in a discussion about meaningful accountability for schools that have underperformed for far too long.

Today, Michigan’s authorizer community does more than ensure choice and accountability are protected for the state’s charter community. We are also deeply engaged in incubating a series of next-generation practices for the students of tomorrow. From successful school transformation and turnaround efforts to proven classroom instructional practices, Michigan’s authorizers are blazing new trails to excellence.

As we celebrate National School Choice Week, Michigan’s authorizers take a moment to reflect on what’s still ahead for students and families across the state. We look forward to the day when choice and accountability are recognized as the norm, rather than an exception to be battled by entrenched interests. When students and families come first. When all schools are performing at a level of excellence we have only begun to imagine.

That day is closer than we think.

Jared Burkhart is executive director of the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers.