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New report calls for more accountability for charter school authorizers

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Michigan is lagging behind when it comes to student achievement.

A new report out today from Education Trust-Midwest says some charter school authorizers in Michigan aren't doing their jobs very well.

The report says some of the entities that open and oversee charter schools have made marginal improvements overall, but performance remains low when compared to leading education states.

Four authorizers received "D" or "F" grades, including Detroit Public Schools, Northern Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University and Saginaw Valley State University.

Six received "A" grades, including Washtenaw Community College, Macomb Intermediate School District and Grand Rapids Public Schools.

According to the report, around 20 percent of charter school openings in Michigan between fall 2011 and fall 2015 were by “D” and “F” authorizers.

Amber Arellano, executive director of the Trust, said charter schools are important tools to provide good public education for kids who often don't have access to it.

But, she said, Michigan needs to rethink its approach.

"[Michigan is] a low performing state. For many subjects, we're actually in the bottom ten states in the country. We have charter operators and schools underperforming even the worst public school district in the country now, Detroit Public Schools,” Arellano said.

Arellano said Michigan didn't set up its charter sector to hold authorizers accountable for low performance.

"[Authorizing] has become an entitlement. Authorizers have so much power and nobody really has the authority to hold them consistently accountable. Not even Governor Snyder can close a chronically low performing authorizer," she said.

The report proposes a set of solutionsthat Arellano says would make authorizing a privilege based on performance, including a rigorous application process and high standards for school openings, renewals and expansions.

Dan Quisenberry is president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, the state charter school association.

In a statement, he said the new report is “flawed on many levels.”

“[The report] shows a basic lack of understanding of authorizer practices and ignores the achievement that’s taking place throughout the charter school sector,” Quisenberry said.

Quisenberry agreed Michigan needs an accountability system based on performance, but said the Trust refused to join when a number of education organizations in Michigan pushed for reforms last fall.

“The data and research show that charter schools are outperforming traditional public school students in every area and using nearly every metric in the state’s urban areas. Ed Trust-Midwest ignored all of that because it didn’t satisfy their politically-driven agenda,” he said.

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