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How are Michigan charter schools performing?

A recent news series by the Detroit Free Press has questioned the performance of Michigan charter schools. Unfortunately, the series fails to acknowledge or glosses over key facts. So here is a look at the evidence regarding the performance of charter schools in Michigan.

Michigan charter schools have a proven track record of academic performance.

Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has been conducting rigorous analyses of charter school performance data to determine how charter school students would have fared if they had attended a traditional public school. In CREDO’s 2013 study of Michigan charter schools, they found that Michigan is among the highest performing charter school states they have studied to date. In fact, charter school students in Michigan gained an additional two months of learning in reading and math compared to their traditional public school peers. Charter students in Detroit are performing even better than their peers in the rest of the state – gaining nearly 3 months achievement for each year they attend a charter school.

Michigan charter schools are serving higher percentages of disadvantaged students.

Charter schools in Michigan serve greater percentages of low-income and minority students, making their achievement gains even more remarkable. In the 2009-10 school year, 70 percent of charter school students in Michigan were living in poverty, compared to 43 percent in traditional public schools, and 33 percent were White, compared to 73 percent in traditional public schools. Even the students in the feeder schools (the traditional public schools from which students transfer to charter schools) had a lower percentage of low-income students (55 percent) and more White students (64 percent).

Michigan charter schools are closing the achievement gap.

The gaps in performance gains between White and Black students and between White and Hispanic students is a constant concern in public education. The CREDO study found that both of these gaps were smaller for students in charter schools than for students in traditional public schools in both reading and math. The same result was found for students living in poverty and for the combined groups of Black students in poverty and Hispanic students in poverty.

To track the achievement gap in individual schools, the Michigan Department of Education categorizes schools as “Focus” schools.  Focus schools are the 10 percent of schools with the largest achievement gaps between their top 30 percent of students and their bottom 30 percent of students. Twenty of the 347 schools identified as Focus schools in 2012-13 were charter schools. This represents 6 percent of the group, even though 10 percent of schools in Michigan are charters.

Michigan is closing poor performing charter schools.

A critical component of the charter school bargain is that underperforming schools should not be allowed to keep their doors open. Between 2005 and 2010, some 94 charter schools in Michigan were opened and 55 were closed, or about ten per year. The effort to hold schools accountable is paying off. In 2012-13, of the 86 charter schools in Detroit, only eight were in the lowest 5 percent of statewide rankings. That same year, 25 of the 129 traditional public schools in Detroit, or nearly 20 percent, were in the lowest 5 percent of statewide rankings.

We believe strongly in accountability and welcome any examination into the performance of charter schools. However, it is important that all facts are presented accurately.

Susan Aud is Senior Director of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools