Traverse City Record-Eagle

Other Views

June 11, 2013

Another View: Time to discuss charter school standards

An advocacy group focused on improving options for public school students in Michigan recently raised concerns about Michigan’s expanded charter school offerings.

An Education Trust-Midwest analysis found that operators of poor-performing charter schools are being allowed to open new schools without regard for their problems.

That’s questionable policy for Michigan’s children, especially disadvantaged children whose parents may seek a new school only to discover too late that their choice didn’t improve the quality of their children’s learning experience.

Given that charter schools receive taxpayer funds, that should raise concerns.

Ed Trust-Midwest, which advocates for policies aimed to improve children’s achievement, reviewed operators of 32 proposed charters scheduled to open this fall and was sharply critical of several, noting that they are being allowed to expand despite having substandard schools in their existing portfolio.

“This disturbing pattern follows the state legislature’s 2011 decision to lift the state’s cap on charter school expansion without regard for an operator’s performance,” Ed Trust said in a statement.

Several of the operators challenged the report, noting that they believed their achievement to be better than nearby traditional public schools or acknowledging that they are addressing a problem school but defending their record overall. And an association of charter schools called for a focus on quality applying to all schools, not just charters.

Indeed, both conversations need to take place and they are different conversations.

Charters are, at heart, a response to the failures of traditional school districts to raise achievement to acceptable levels at every school building. Charters lure students away from traditional schools, along with the state funding that follows those students.

But the choice of a new school is worthless if the school is not of higher quality than the previous school. Ed Trust-Midwest is right to begin the discussion about more schools being opened by companies that have existing charter schools performing poorly.

The issue that must be addressed, then, is defining the standard of quality required for a charter operator to be allowed to expand. Michigan ducked that issue when it lifted its charter school cap two years ago.

Sometime in the near future, it’s going to have to face it.

- Lansing State Journal

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