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Reports: Michigan an outlier when it comes to charter school enrollment, accountability standards

Sharon Drummond

Two reports out this week show Michigan as a stark outlier when it comes to charter schools.

One, from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, shows that 55% of Detroit public school students are now enrolled in charters—up from 51% just a year ago.

That’s the second-highest percentage of any city after New Orleans. 

Charter enrollment now exceeds non-charter public enrollment in Detroit by about 10,000 students. Flint and Grand Rapids also check in on the top ten list--Flint at #3, with 44% of public school enrollees attending charters, and Grand Rapids at #7 with 30%.

“The charter sector continues to grow,” says Gary Miron, professor of education at Western Michigan University. “And the public education system as a whole is becoming more fragmented, not only by the types of schools available, but by the demographic composition of those schools.”

A second report from another national group, The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, cites Michigan for a “notable” lack of accountability standards for charter authorizers.

The report ranked Michigan 5th out of 5 states with many charter authorizers, as it “lacks nearly all of NACSA’s recommended charter school and authorizer accountability policy provisions that other multi-authorizer states have adopted.”

The report suggests that Michigan “reform its charter school law” to implement stronger, more enforceable performance-based accountability measures, and stronger sanctions for underperforming authorizers. It also urges the State Superintendent to better use existing authority to shut down failing charter schools, and prevent poor-performing authorizers from expanding their operations.

Amber Arellano, Executive Director of Education Trust Midwest, says the report echoes what her group and others have been saying about a lack of accountability for Michigan’s charter schools.

“We have very high growth of charter schools in our state. And unfortunately, many of those operators are operators that are already running very low-performing schools,” Arellano says.

“We’re not really focused on building and opening really high-performing charter schools. We’re opening all kinds of charter schools.”

But the state’s largest pro-charter group, the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, called the NACSA report “uninformed” and “incomplete.”

The group points out that it’s pushing legislators to adopt stricter accountability measures right now, including some cited as lacking in the report.

This week, MAPSA came out in support of a bill that would prevent charter schools closed down by one authorizer from “authorizer shopping” to stay in business. It also supports an A-F ranking system for all public schools, with provisions for automatically closing any school deemed chronically failing. 

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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