charter schools

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Two reports out this week show Michigan as a stark outlier when it comes to charter schools.

One, from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, shows that 55% of Detroit public school students are now enrolled in charters—up from 51% just a year ago.

That’s the second-highest percentage of any city after New Orleans. 

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Michigan testing scores are treading water. Ron French and Chastity Pratt Dawsey of Bridge Magazine traveled across the country to study states that are getting education right. They say they discovered what it will take to pull Michigan's schools out of the mire of middling-to-poor student achievement.

Stopping in both red and blue states –  Massachusetts, Tennessee, Florida, and Minnesota – French and Pratt worked to avoided bias. 

While Massachusetts is widely known as the gold standard in education, the reporters found that Minnesota, a mid-western state comparable to Michigan, ranks No. 1 in math scores and in the top 10 in every other category.

Ten years ago, Florida and Tennessee scored lower than Michigan. In the last decade, both have ascended in the ranks and surpassed Michigan.

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This Week in Review Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss a plan to put a hold on the creation of new charter schools, Detroit mayor Mike Duggan’s idea for a new regional water authority, and Enbridge’s statement that it has fixed internal problems that lead to the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill.

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A group of Michigan charter school authorizers has come up with a system it says will lead to better oversight.

It’s a voluntary accreditation system for institutions that open and oversee charter schools. It will judge authorizers based on things like transparency and efforts to intervene in failing schools.

Jared Burkhart directs the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers.

“This process will ensure that all Michigan authorizers are following and adapting standards that are the strongest in the nation," Burkhart says. "This will lead to the best authorizing practices, we feel, throughout the United States.”

Earlier this month, state superintendent Mike Flanagan warned 11 authorizers he might stop them from overseeing new charters schools. That’s if they don’t improve the oversight of their existing schools.

A spokesperson for Flanagan says he’s interested in working with authorizers on the new oversight system, but he’s concerned the proposed standards aren’t detailed enough.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Eighteen new charter schools are opening up in Michigan this year.

And while some of them haven’t even had their first day of school, they’re already in the midst of their first controversy.

The state superintendent’s “naughty list”

In Michigan, charter schools have to be "authorized" – usually it's a public university that does that.

But last week the state superintendent put out his version of the “naughty list:” 11 authorizers that could lose their authorizing powers, because of transparency and oversight issues.

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This Week in Michigan Politics, Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry discuss how flooding in Detroit will impact infrastructure, how the Senate might vote on legislation to allow wolf hunting in Michigan, and what the state is doing to make sure charter schools are up to snuff.

You probably know that Metro Detroit was hit by an amazing rainstorm last night that completely paralyzed traffic.

I may know this better than most people, since I spent several hours in a rather unexciting Coney Island in Warren.

Sometimes, it is probably good to be reminded that there are things we really can’t control, such as the weather. But there are other things we can do something about, such as education.

This occurred to me in the Coney at one o'clock this morning, as I was reading an order Mike Flanagan, the state superintendent of public instruction, issued about charter schools.

Last month, the Detroit Free Press issued a massive investigative report on the state’s charters, a study so intensive it took the newspaper eight days to publish all of it.

The newspaper series revealed that some charter schools were indeed doing well. But it also found a pattern of widespread abuses, financial irregularities, and a lack of accountability. The reporters also found schools that had been failing for years, but which nobody moved to close down.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

​Michigan’s top education official says he might stop 11 charter school authorizers from opening new schools. 

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan says they would be able to continue to operate the charters they already oversee. It’s a reaction to a recent Detroit Free Press series that suggested conflicts of interest, a lack of transparency, and mixed academic results in Michigan charters.

Gary Naeyaert directs the Great Lakes Education Project – a lobbying group which advocates for charter schools. He says Flanagan did not evaluate the authorizers fairly before putting them on the list.

“To take all of the students of an authorizer’s portfolio and lump them all together and treat them as if they’re one big school building, that’s just not the way that it is out there,” Naeyaert said.

Some charter school critics say Superintendent Flanagan’s warning does not go far enough. They say bad charter schools and their authorizers should be shut down right away.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The state Board of Education will urge the state Legislature to revisit Michigan’s charter school law. It’s a reaction to a recent Detroit Free Press series that suggested conflicts of interest, a lack of transparency, and mixed academic results in Michigan charters.

John Austin is the president of the state Board of Education.

“We need clarity on who’s policing the system and when they pull the trigger and who’s responsible for shutting down schools or preventing authorizers from authorizing new schools.”

State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan says he’s already considering using his authority to stop some institutions from authorizing charters. Charter school supporters say Michigan already has some of the toughest regulations on charters in the country.

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There was a lengthy meeting today between the Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction and some of the state’s largest charter school authorizers. Its purpose was to review the rules to ensure the independent academies are performing as promised.

The meeting went on for about three hours. It was closed to the public, and there were few details made public. Some of the state’s largest charter authorizers, including representatives of universities and community colleges, were invited.

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Two years ago, Muskegon Heights made history by becoming the first school district in Michigan to convert entirely to a charter district, and turn the operation of its schools over to a for-profit company. 

This week, Michigan Radio's Dustin Dwyer and Lindsey Smith take an in depth look at the changes in the Muskegon Heights School district and what that could that mean for other troubled districts in the state in a new State of Opportunity documentary called Tiger Pride.

Why focus on Muskegon Heights? How does it impact other struggling school districts in Michigan?

Dwyer and Smith joined us today to give us a preview of the documentary. 

Tune in tomorrow afternoon at 3 pm to hear Tiger Pride

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Michigan’s schools superintendent wants to meet with charter school authorizers and advocacy groups this month as he figures out a way to hold them more accountable.

The vast majority of Michigan’s charter schools are set up by Central Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and Bay Mills Community College.

Earlier this month State Superintendent Mike Flanagan warned these and other entities, known as charter school authorizers, that he was not going to allow them to open new schools if their existing schools “do not measure up.”

Flanagan is concerned some charter authorizers aren’t being held accountable for the schools they run, academically or financially.

A state Department of Education spokesman said charter authorizers and other interested parties were invited to meet privately with Flanagan later this month to discuss his concerns.

Authorizers have come under scrutiny in the wake of a big investigative report the Detroit Free Press published earlier this month.

The report found some charter schools run by for-profit management companies aren’t transparent about how they spend taxpayer money.

Flanagan said the report and a meeting he had with charter advocates earlier this year have prompted him to make charter authorizers more accountable for the schools they set up.

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A recent investigation by the Detroit Free Press suggested major issues with charter schools in the state. The investigation pointed to poor financial practices, conflicts of interest, and lack of transparency by charter schools and authorizers.

Now, State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan says some charter authorizers may lose their authority to open additional schools.

Joining us now to talk about this are Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants and Zoe Clark with Michigan Radio’s It’s Just Politics.

A classroom.
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The statement comes a day after state Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan said he’s ready to use his authority to revoke that ability from charter school authorizers. That’s if they fail to meet new standards for transparency set by state education officials.

Flanagan says he met with authorizers in February about issues involving charters. He says he’s not convinced all of them will be able to meet the new, tougher standards.

“If I had to guess, just because of the candor at the February meeting, there’s probably some that we won’t extend their ability,” Flanagan said Tuesday. “But I don’t want to pre-judge that too much. That’s only hearing the anecdotal stuff.”

Late last month, the Detroit Free Press published a stunningly comprehensive look at Michigan’s charter schools.

A team of journalists spent more than a year looking at every charter school in the state. They interviewed hundreds of people, examined thousands of documents, and used sophisticated computer techniques to analyze data.

What they discovered was stunning and shocking. While some charters do an excellent job, many don’t. There is essentially no effective oversight, and bad schools stay open year after year.

How accurate are current polls that show Snyder and Schauer neck and neck?
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Former Congressman Mark Schauer says he would put tougher regulations on charter schools if he’s elected governor. The Battle Creek Democrat says Gov. Rick Snyder has given bad charter operators a “free pass.”

“We need to write into law the oversight that was left out when Rick Snyder lifted the cap on the number of charter schools,” said Schauer. “It’s the Wild West right now, and these schools see kids with dollar signs on their foreheads.”

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This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss new investigations into charter schools, the new education spending bill and the impacts after the removal of state pension plans.

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Governor Rick Snyder says he’s for more transparency in school spending, but he’s not ready to apply those standards to private companies that run charter schools.

A Detroit Free Press series on charter schools found, among other things, that private management companies that run charters are not required to explain how they spend state payments. Governor Snyder says he could support stricter disclosure requirements for all schools – not just charters – but not necessarily the private companies that run charter academies.

There are those who say newspapers are dead, a relic of journalism’s primitive days before Google, before phones in our pockets connected everyone to everyone else.

Well, there is no doubt that the traditional economic model that allowed “dead tree journalism” to flourish is in trouble. There’s little doubt that lots of us no longer have the reading habits needed for so-called “long-form” journalism.

But there’s also no doubt that this is a tragedy, because at their best, newspapers do something other media can’t. That’s on display this week in the Detroit Free Press. The newspaper spent a year investigating Michigan’s charter schools and how the state oversees them.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Updated: Emergency manager says new arrangement will be more economical than charter school company

Muskegon Heights schools will not hire another for-profit charter company to run the district. Instead, the district plans to hire its own superintendent, a staffing company and the intermediate school district in Muskegon County to run schools for the next three years.

MichigansChildren / YouTube

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan says the consequences of turning entire school districts over to for-profit charter school companies deserves more consideration from state lawmakers.

Flanagan told a state panel last week it’s not clear if the Muskegon Heights school district, or the for-profit charter company that ran it the last two years, will face any consequences for running up a deficit big enough to require an emergency loan worth $1.4 million and two cash advances to keep schools open through June. It’s unclear exactly what the deficit is for the 2013-2014 school year.

The Muskegon Heights school district is now looking for a new operator. That’s after the district and its emergency manager agreed to end its contract with Mosaica Education Inc. when the company couldn’t turn a profit.

“Now that (Mosaica) is leaving, they pretty much told us they’re not going to do (the district’s) deficit elimination plan. To follow up on that, we should wait for the new management company and deal with them,” Dan Hanrahan, Michigan Department of Education’s director of state aid and school finance, told the panel.

American Federation of Teachers Michigan

Teachers and staff at Detroit’s first unionized charter school have reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement.

Teachers at Detroit’s Cesar Chavez Academy formally joined the American Federation of Teachers in February 2013.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System is asking the state to front $191,000 to cover paychecks that are set to go out this Tuesday.

It’s the second time this month the district has asked for an advance.

The advance would come out of the district’s state aid payment April 20. Earlier this month the state advanced $231,000.

State treasury officials say the district typically gets roughly $455,000 a month after debt obligations.

School board officials have previously declined requests for comment from Michigan Radio. Reports out today say board members also declined to comment to reporters at the special board meeting today, which lasted approximately five minutes.

Charter company Mosaica Education is running the district. The company’s CEO has not returned repeated requests for comment this week.

Mosaica’s Regional VP of Operations Alena Zachery-Ross says advancements for struggling school districts aren’t completely uncommon. She says the district is working on a plan to meet payroll for the rest of the year but couldn’t comment on the details of those negotiations.

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It's no secret that Detroit schools have been failing their students for a long time.

In 2009 Detroit's public schools racked up the worst scores in the history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, and the scores haven't really improved since then.

Charter schools were launched to offer Detroit parents a choice. But my next guest believes the unregulated environment for charter schools has wound up hurting the kids who most need help and a sound education.

Robin Lake is director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington in Seattle.  She recently visited Detroit and came away with some unsettling views of the condition of Detroit's charter schools.

Nearly 80% of Michigan’s charter schools are managed by private, for-profit companies, according to a new report from the National Education Policy Center.

The report shows that when it comes to privately-managed public charter schools—those run by Education Management Organizations (EMOs)—Michigan is a stark anomaly.

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This week on State of Opportunity, Sarah Alvarez is taking a look at some radical decisions that have shaped the educational landscape of Detroit schools.

Today, families in the city are taking a gamble on brand-new charter schools, like the Detroit Achievement Academy.

The academy opened earlier this year, by 28-year-old Kyle Smitley. Smitley is the first to admit she lacks formal educational experience. "I’ve been laughed out of so many rooms coming into the education world," she says.

But that hasn’t stopped the unconventional school from getting national buzz. Earlier this year, Smitley and the academy were featured on The Ellen Degeneres Show.

Still, the odds are stacked up against the academy and other charter schools that pop up in Detroit. There are more seats in Detroit schools than students. Many students in the city haven’t met benchmark requirements in their grade levels.

So what do educational experts think about these experimental schools? Check out Sarah’s piece for more. 

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To parents who are seeking the best education for their children, it's a whole new world out there and it can be a confusing one. No longer is it an automatic choice to send your child to the public school in your neighborhood.

Today, there are charter schools. There are online classes. And, the subject of our discussion today: online K-12 charter schools.

Gary Miron is a professor of education at Western Michigan University. He recently co-authored a major piece, along with Jessica L. Urschel, for the National Education Policy Center. Its title: Understanding and Improving Full-time Virtual Schools---A Study of Student Characteristics, School Finance, and School Performance in Schools Operated by K12 Inc.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

On average, students under the state’s first fully privatized public school district are learning at a faster rate than under the old system. That’s according to data released Monday night by the charter company running the Muskegon Heights district.

Muskegon Heights schools’ emergency manager set up the charter system in the summer of 2012, when the existing district couldn’t afford to open. Highland Park Public Schools is under a similar arrangement.

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Retired sports stars sometimes like to make a social impact with their money. In the case of Andre Agassi, he's put some of his money into a fund that helps charter schools build new schools across the country.

Tomorrow, Agassi will be on hand to celebrate the opening of the Southwest Detroit Lighthouse Charter Academy. The K-5 school opened this year and is serving 300 students. The goal is to grow the school to 475 students through 12th grade.

Zak Rosen

What if something other than jobs could rebuild Detroit?

What if the purpose of education was to help children reach their highest human potential?

What if we had a conversation about the meaning of service to our community?

These are just a few of the many questions being raised at a new charter school in Detroit. It’s called the James and Grace Lee Boggs School. They opened their doors this week.

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