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For the first time, there are fewer charter schools in Michigan this year

Sep 5, 2017

A data analysis of the M-Step standardized test results from last school year, showing the percentage of Michigan third graders proficient in math at traditional public schools compared to charter schools. The results are from Education Trust-Midwest
Credit Education Trust-Midwest

There are fewer charter schools in session this year – a first since Michigan’s first charter school opened its doors in 1994.

Five new charter schools did open, but 11 charter schools that were operating last school year closed their doors, mostly for poor academic achievement or financial problems, according to a press release from the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA). One caveat is Detroit Prep, a successful first-year school that merged its administrative oversight with another charter school, but remains open.

Dan Quisenberry is the president of MAPSA. He says the first-ever net loss of charters schools operating in Michigan for this academic year is a result of charter school authorizers growing more concerned with poor academic achievement.

“It’s never the intention just to grow charter schools for no reason. When [charter schools] don’t work, there’s intervention or they’re replaced,” Quisenberry said. “And that’s what you’re seeing this year.”   

There’s been an increased amount of public pressure and reports in media criticizing Michigan’s charter school landscape. Amber Arellano is the executive director of the nonpartisan education advocacy group Education Trust-Midwest. She says having fewer charter schools operating in Michigan could be a product of charter school authorizers feeling pressured to hold low-performing schools accountable. But so far, it’s a one-year phenomenon that Arellano says would need “deeper exploration and research” before drawing any conclusions about a potential trend.

A 2016 report from Education Trust-Midwest found 80% of charter schools in Michigan scored below the state average in math and reading proficiency tests. But Quisenberry says there are charter schools that are among the state’s top academically performing districts. Arellano says charter schools are supposed to be a higher-quality option, especially for parents and communities of color, in places with struggling traditional public school districts. Because of the large number of charter schools, and a wide range of academic achievement at those schools, Arellano says choosing a school is a “crapshoot” for parents.

Proficiency rates in English and language arts for third graders in Michigan traditional public schools compared to charter schools. The scores come from last years M-Step test administered to most students in Michigan. The analysis was performed by Education Trust-Midwest
Credit Education Trust-Midwest

“Michigan is a very unusual state in that we’re one of the least regulated [states] when it comes to our charter schools,” Arellano said. “We need a rigorous performance standard and accountability system for charter authorizers, which really have the important role and responsibility of opening and closing their schools in the state. But we also need that kind of system for all of our public schools regardless of who runs them.”

Quisenberry agrees there’s a need for a new set of educational standards in Michigan. He says if Michigan adopted a new set of educational standards, left them in place for a number of years, and reported them to the public, than it would lead to improved academic performance overall.

Quisenberry says there are many instances where new charter schools have outperformed their traditional public school counterparts in the same community, even if it’s a marginal improvement on test scores.

Here are the five new charter schools opening this year and their location:

Cornerstone Jefferson-Douglas Academy – Detroit

Detroit Collegiate High School – Detroit

Distinctive College Prep. – Harper Woods

Kalamazoo Covenant Academy – Kalamazoo

Michigan International Prep School – Ovid-Elsie

Closed charter schools for 2017:

Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy – Detroit

Ross-Hill Academy – Detroit

Michigan Technical Academy – Detroit

Starr Detroit Academy – Detroit

Woodward Academy – Detroit

Taylor International Academy – Southfield

Michigan School for the Arts – Pontiac

Morey Montessori Public School Academy – Shephard

Academy of International Studies – Hamtramck

Grand Rapids Ellington Academy of Arts and Technology – Grand Rapids