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Charter and Private School Report Card An Op-ED

Editors Note: This editorial is written by one of our members, Will Fagen. Mr Fagen is a retired educator, who lives in Grand Traverse County. Before retiring to Michigan, he was a Dean of Students and taught Physics in both Maryland public and private schools.

Charter and Private School Report Card: Why equal government oversight is essential for success.

As a retired educator with over 32 years of experience, I’m fascinated by the discussion surrounding charter school accountability in the state of Michigan. According to an article in the Detroit Free Press on June 22, 2014 “Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion a year into charter schools — but state laws regulating charters are among the nation’s weakest as the state demands little accountability in how taxpayer dollars are spent and how well children are educated.”

On March 16, 2015 U.S. News & World Report noted, “Where charter authorizers do their jobs, charters seem to outperform traditional public schools, with far less money. Where authorizers fall down on the job, letting failing charters live on, the average charter performs no better, and sometimes worse than traditional public schools.” In 2009, The Education Law Center published a report by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University that found, in general:

- 17% of charter schools outperformed their public-school equivalents, while

- 37% of charter schools performed worse than regular local schools, and

- 47% were about the same.

Another 2010 study by Mathematica Policy Research found that “on average, charter middle schools were neither more nor less successful than regular middle schools in improving student achievement. Of the charter schools considered in the study, more had statistically significant negative effects on student achievement than statistically significant positive effects.” These findings are echoed in several other studies.

Remember, though most charter schools receive public funds, they are privately run and are not always required to follow the same guidelines as their local public school counterparts. Originally charter schools were authorized by local school districts and state boards of education with strict guidelines and expectations of performance. Schools that weren’t equipped to do well were denied and those whose students didn’t perform were shut down. Schools in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Indiana, Louisiana, Tennessee and Washington, D.C. (among others) follow these rules and do quite well. However, some states such as Arizona, Ohio, and Texas don’t follow these rules and allow charters to exist in which their students were found to gain academic ground more slowly than in traditional public schools.

At present, Michigan has one of the highest percentages of for-profit charter schools in the country and is among states that require very little educational or fiscal oversight. According to a Dec 9, 2016 article in POLITICO, “Michigan ranks near the bottom for fourth and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on a nationally representative test, nicknamed the ‘Nation’s Report Card.’ Notably, the Michigan’s charter schools scored worse on that test than their traditional public-school counterparts, according to an analysis of federal data. Critics say Michigan’s laissez-faire attitude about charter-school regulation has led to marginal and, in some cases, terrible schools in the state’s poorest communities as part of a system dominated by for-profit operators.”

I’ve taught in both public and private systems during my career as an educator. When I first moved to Michigan after I retired, I substituted at both West and Central High Schools and found them to be exceptionally good schools. I’ve been fortunate enough to have taught in excellent schools, both public and private. But it is obvious from the research that for a private or charter school to be successful, there must be strong financial and educational oversight both before it is established and during its existence. Michigan taxpayers deserve better. But even more important, our students should get the quality education they deserve.

and private schools.

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