Selected readings on US charter schools
Twenty years ago, parents and students in Michigan were given a choice for education. Children could attend a traditional public school, or they could choose a public charter school. Since then, tens of thousands of parents have been making the deliberate decision to send their child to a charter public school. Instead of being forced into a school based on their ZIP code — parents have chosen a charter public school that fits the needs of their child. As a result, charter school enrollment has dramatically increased in Michigan.
In 1993, Michigan’s charter school law passed, allowing new public schools to be chartered by state universities, community colleges, intermediate school districts and traditional school districts. Nine charter schools opened in the fall of 1994. Twenty years later, there are 297 charter schools in Michigan and charter schools educate about 9.5 percent of students in the Michigan public school system.
Michigan residents strongly support charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools. A poll conducted this month by MRG shows that 68 percent of voters support charter schools.
Despite early worries that charter schools would only accept “the cream of the crop,” charter schools have been actually providing education to many students who have not had a choice of where they went to school. Charter schools are an alternative for at-risk children, who are historically underserved. Some 71 percent of charter school students in Michigan are eligible for free and reduced meals.
There are many reasons why parents are choosing to send their children to charter schools. For some, they see charter schools as more accountable and responsive. For others, charters can be more innovative and flexible, and provide safe learning experiences.
Charter schools are similar to traditional schools in that they are subject to the same laws and regulations.
Yet after 20 years, charter schools currently receive about $1,400 less in per-pupil funding than traditional public schools in Michigan. When asked in the recent poll about the discrepancy in funding, 70 percent of state residents believe that all public school students should receive equal state funding.
Despite the deficit in funding, Michigan charter schools have received high marks from groups all across the country. In early 2013, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University confirmed students in Michigan charter schools are experiencing nearly two additional months per year of learning gains in math and reading and three months of additional learning gains in Detroit – which becomes extremely significant when compared to their peers in traditional public schools. Additionally, Michigan’s charter school law received one of only five A grades by the national Center for Education Reform last March.
One reason for the success of Michigan charter schools is the Michigan model of authorizing. Our model is built on multiple statewide, independent authorizers with autonomy and accountability. Universities and colleges that have the expertise and resources to provide high standards of accountability and technical assistance authorize most of our charter public schools.
Authorizers play a primary role in assuring student growth and performance in charter schools. Authorizers competitively issue a performance contract to a new charter school, and then hold the school accountable for results.
Ultimately, it is the authorizer that determines if the charter school is performing as it should and makes a decision as to whether the school should continue to operate.
The actions of our authorizers in Michigan show their accountability to the public. Some 78 charter schools have been closed over the past 20 years, due to poor performance. That is a track record that is not matched in other areas of education.
Source: The Detroit News – by Jared Burkhart