Declining Ratings of Charter Schools in Michigan: Where’s the Oversight?

Written by: Amy Auletto

Primary Source: Green & Write, November 2, 2015

On September 28, the U.S. Department of Education announced the 2015 winners of the Charter Schools Program (CSP) State Educational Agencies (SEA) Grant. Eight states will be awarded a total of $125 million to develop new charter schools and evaluate their effects.

Michigan was not among those chosen for the grant.

The state’s request for $45 million was rejected due to low ratings on a majority of the components of their application. Michigan’s final score was 64 out of 120 points while winning applications earned a minimum of 101 points.

Photo Courtesy of amboo who?

Photo Courtesy of amboo who?

Why the Low Ratings?

So where did Michigan go wrong?

Worth noting is Michigan’s low score on the Past Performance portion of the selection criteria, where the state scored five out of 10 possible points. This section awarded points to states for increasing their number of high-quality schools, decreasing their number of low-performing schools, and increasing the relative academic achievement and attainment of charter school students as compared to their peers in traditional public schools.

While the decision to reject Michigan’s proposal did not come down to the loss of these five points, this particular portion of the application raises some alarms about what has been happening in Michigan’s charter schools in recent years.

Recent Failures

Several years ago, the outlook for charter schools in Michigan was more positive. In 2010, Michigan was one of 12 states to receive an SEA grant through the CSP. In the five years since this grant was awarded, however, Michigan’s charter schools have failed to accomplish what they set out to do. Weaknesses cited by application reviewers in 2015 regarding past performance include the following:

  • Charter schools accounted for 10.6% of all schools in the bottom 5% in 2014.
  • The percentage of charter schools labeled as reward schools dropped from 14.7% to 11.8% from 2013 to 2014.
  • High school graduation rates for charter school students are disproportionately low amongst disadvantaged populations.

The Role of the Authorizer

While it is easy to place the blame on the charter schools themselves or the communities they serve, the role of the authorizer cannot be overlooked. Authorizers in Michigan are universities, community colleges, or school districts that oversee charter schools. In 2010, Michigan’s SEA grant application received positive ratings (81.3%) in the category of Authorizer Accountability. In 2015, however, this same section received a score of just 37.8%. This points to a potential decline in the quality of charter school authorizers in Michigan.

Earlier this year, The Education Trust-Midwest examined the performance of authorizers across the state. Using an A-F ranking system to rate 16 authorizers in Michigan, they found that nearly half of the charter schools in Michigan are overseen by authorizers that received a “C” or lower.

The Education Trust-Midwest’s report, along with Michigan’s inability to secure another SEA grant, raises some serious concerns about the current state of Michigan charter schools. While it is unfortunate that the state was unable to secure an additional $45 million to invest in education, immediate actions could be taken to ensure that all children are enrolled in high-quality schools. Despite the calls to reform the oversight provided by Michigan’s charter school authorizers, limited progress has been made. Let’s hope the loss of $45 million is a call to action.

The Governance & Finance Blog will investigate this topic in more depth at a later date. Stay tuned.

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Amy Auletto
Amy Auletto is a doctoral student in Educational Policy. She is interested in the impact that equitable funding and access to effective teachers have on the educational outcomes of disadvantaged student populations. Prior to beginning her studies at Michigan State University, she taught middle school math in Detroit. Amy earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, master of Social Work, and MA in educational studies from the University of Michigan.