DeGrow: Resistance to DeVos Has Obscured the True Record of Michigan’s Strong Charter Schools
Michigan’s public charter schools are currently facing unwarranted criticism and are not being properly recognized for their effectiveness. The political climate has changed, and there is now a partisan opposition to public charter schools, which were once seen as a lifeline for underserved children. The Obama administration’s support for charters has been replaced with a bias against any educational system that challenges the established public education system.
Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education and a proponent of school choice, has become a target of partisan animosity. Her opponents have created a narrative about public charter schools in her home state that serves their own agenda, disregarding data and experience. While there are challenges to address, there is no reason to believe that students would benefit from limiting their options and forcing them back into underperforming district schools.
Repeating the misconception that charter schools are inadequately regulated will not lead to improvements. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democratic candidate for Michigan governor, has proposed measures for charters that may sound good in theory but do not align with reality. For example, her plan calls for charters to accept all students and hire state-certified teachers, which they already do.
Whitmer also wants all public schools, including charters, to meet the same standards of accountability and have strict conflict-of-interest requirements for board members. However, charter schools are already ahead of traditional districts in these areas. They face closure for consistent failure and do not allow someone with financial conflicts to serve as a board member.
Despite operating under similar regulations to district schools, most Michigan charter schools are more cost-effective. A study conducted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found that charter schools in Michigan are 32% more cost-effective than neighboring district schools, primarily because they receive less funding per student. The difference is even more significant in Detroit, where charters are popular. The study estimated that every dollar spent by a Detroit charter school has a higher long-term educational value than a dollar spent by the local district.
This analysis, along with other well-known studies, accounted for student demographics and found that charter students outperformed their counterparts in math and English language arts. Detroit was praised as one of four urban communities in the country that exemplify a commitment to quality education.
However, critics often focus solely on achievement scores, ignoring the strong correlation between student poverty and test scores. Michigan charters may rank lower in raw achievement results, but this does not discount their effectiveness. It is important to note that 75% of charter school students qualify for federal lunch subsidies, compared to less than half in traditional schools.
Unfortunately, rigorous research often goes unnoticed. A recent study from the University of Michigan found significant improvements in student math achievement in public charter schools affiliated with the National Heritage Academies management company. Reading results were also positive, although researchers were less certain about the impact of attending a charter school.
Michigan has experienced a decline in national math and reading test scores in recent years, but there is no evidence to suggest that charter schools, which serve a small portion of the state’s public school students, are to blame. In fact, data shows that Michigan’s lower-income charter school population has narrowed the achievement gap with traditional schools in math and reading since 2009.
It’s not just objective evidence that supports the effectiveness of charter schools. Parents, on average, make informed decisions about their children’s education. A survey conducted by the Mackinac Center revealed that the most common reason for parents choosing a charter school over their assigned school was a desire for stronger academics. Additionally, many families are seeking alternative educational programs or a safe environment to avoid bullying and distractions.
These parents are highly satisfied with their choice. Over 90% of them recommend school choice to other parents, and 85% give their new charter school an A or B grade.
Ben DeGrow serves as the education policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a reputable organization dedicated to education and research, situated in the city of Midland, Michigan. In his role, DeGrow plays a crucial part in shaping policies concerning education. Stay updated with enlightening articles like these by subscribing to Newsletter and have them conveniently delivered straight to your inbox.