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Michigan Radio's Grading Michigan Schools is a multi-part series that takes an in-depth look at education in Michigan. We hear why one college student feels let down by the public school system in the state. We find out about "unschooling," an education philosophy that abandons textbooks and a curriculum. We also look at how the public school system is serving at-risk students through education for the very young and early intervention for kids with special education needs.Support for Grading Michigan Schools comes from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, a founder of the Grand Rapids Education Reform Initiative, and The Skillman Foundation, a voice for Detroit children since 1960.

Grading Michigan Schools: Charter Schools Help Education

Commentary: Charter Schools Help Education
Nov. 23, 2007
Andrew Coulson
The Director of The Cato Institute Center for Educational Freedom says public educators should not fear charter schools.

ANN ARBOR, MI (Michigan Radio) - Michigan's population has grown by half a million people since 1995, but its public school districts have lost 40,000 students over the same period. Many people committed to public education see this as a disaster, particularly since district funding is tied to enrollment.

But let's think about it. Most of these missing children have left their local districts for charter or private schools that their families prefer. Of Michigan's roughly 100,000 charter students, nearly half are escapees from the Detroit Public School District - known for its tragically poor performance. In any other field, we wouldn't think of their escape as a disaster, but as a glimmer of hope. We're happy for our friends and neighbors when they find a better doctor, so why do we fret when they find a better school?

One reason is that we've lost sight of the purpose of public education. The point of public education isn't to keep a particular bureaucracy in business, it's to educate kids. We want all children to be prepared for both success in private life and participation in public life. And if we really care about that goal, we should adopt whatever type of school system does the best job of fulfilling it.

Traditional public school districts are falling short, and their declining enrollments cannot be blamed on lower spending. Michigan public schools now spend well over $12,000 per pupil each year - that's up 28 percent in the last decade alone. Most private schools operate on a fraction of that amount.

The real education tragedy facing Michigan is that so many families lack the resources to choose the best schools for their children. If we really care about the ideals of public education, we'll stop funding school districts and start funding students, giving all families access to the public or private schools that are right for their children.