Opinion: The facts about Michigan charter schools
On any given day, it’s possible to open your social media feed and wonder what’s true and what isn’t. In an era of “fake news,” many of us are beginning to wonder if we are becoming a society that cares more about rhetoric than facts.
Now, there is a new paper funded by the Levin Center that, while calling itself research, completely disregards the facts in a way that is mind-boggling. The paper presents itself as research about oversight of public charter schools; however, big pieces are missing. The authors did not meet with any of those responsible for this oversight or visit any public charter schools to learn about what’s going on. The paper ignores 25 years of research and case law, misrepresents basic structures of state government, and fails to examine or report on any key data. All said, it is little more than a very lengthy op-ed.
If we are a post-fact society, then this is a perfect example of a post-fact report.
This outcome is not just troubling, it’s tragic. Hundreds of thousands of Michigan children need urgent academic help to achieve the results our economy — and their future citizenship — will demand. More than half of Michigan third graders can’t read proficiently, Michigan high school graduates rank 45th in the U.S., and our teachers are fleeing the profession.
Parents and students need solutions. Our state’s children deserve all of us working together to help them succeed and learn. This report from the Levin Center does nothing to advance those important conversations about student achievement.
Instead, the report is a sloppy and self-contradictory rehash of 25 years of anti-charter school rhetoric, much of which has either been litigated, legislated or regurgitated before. The most accurate statement in the report is that it “did not produce evidence that the current authorizers were negligent in their activities.” Then why spend a donor’s good money on the rest of the report?
Michigan public charter schools are succeeding for the families who choose them. The highest-rated open enrollment high schools in Detroit are public charter schools.
Part of the reason for this success is the quality oversight and support Michigan’s public charter schools receive from their authorizers. As authorizers, we ensure that each school our institutions charter operates with integrity and is a good option for the students they serve. We appoint hundreds of public charter school board members that govern each school. Not only do we hold them accountable, we go one step further in providing training and supports for board members. We also work in partnership with the Michigan Department of Education to exercise our shared oversight responsibilities of our state’s public charter schools, providing an extra layer of monitoring and intervention that other public schools don’t have.
As divisions of state universities, we can go beyond checking boxes and reviewing data. Instead, we are uniquely positioned to bring the best of each of our institutions to solve problems in the public schools we charter in new and innovative ways. We can support charter teachers through our colleges of education, create on-campus opportunities to help first-generation students develop a college-going mindset, and so much more.
The simple facts are these: After 25 years, Michigan’s system of public charter schools works. The charter community is proven to be accountable to university boards of trustees, the Michigan Department of Education, the law, and the tens of thousands of parents who have entrusted their children’s education to a public charter school.
And, most importantly, charters get results despite receiving thousands of dollars less per pupil.
That’s why the parents of 150,000 Michigan students trust public charter schools every day, and that is a record to build upon.
Rob Kimball is associate vice president for charter schools at Grand Valley State University. Corey Northrop is executive director of the Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University. They are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers.