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Editor’s Note: Charters offer benefits beyond scores

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

When determining a school’s value, it’s typical to look at how well students do on tests. Education experts are particularly fond of this data.

Test scores are a decent benchmark for the caliber of teaching at a particular school. But it’s not the only measure worth considering. Parents often choose schools for a variety of reasons, which include safety and the environment.

A new report from the Education Trust-Midwest finds plenty of fault among Michigan’s charter schools, aimed largely at testing data. The state’s charter authorizers, which are the institutions — often universities — that grant charter schools the ability to operate in Michigan, are lagging compared with other states that boast higher-performing charters.

The report calls out three authorizers with the worst record of the 16 graded by Ed Trust: Northern Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University and Saginaw Valley State University.

The push for more accountability among these authorizers is worthwhile.

Yet it’s also worth noting a recent report in Education Next. Martin West, an associate professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, writes that even though charter schools and other programs like vouchers don’t always raise standardized test scores, these school choice alternatives “improve a student’s chances of graduating from high school and enrolling in college.”

“The chief beneficiaries of policies that expand parental choice appear to be urban minority students,” West observes. “And the benefits of school choice for these students extend beyond what tests can measure.”

Since most of Michigan’s charter schools serve urban students, it’s important to keep those other benefits in mind.