Study: Michigan among the worst at improving, closing failing schools

Dec 17, 2010

Michigan has one of the worst success rates when it comes to turning around failing schools, according to a new report.

The study by the Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank, looked at the lowest-performing public schools in 10 states, including Michigan. The goal of the study was to see if a failing school could improve its test scores over a 5-year period.

Mike Petrilli is the think tank's executive vice president:

"What we see in the study is that Michigan, compared to other states, was reluctant to close low-performing schools, and didn’t have much success in improving these low-performing schools either."

How the study worked

A total of 48 charter schools and 152 traditional public schools in Michigan were included in the study because they "met the criteria for low performance."

The study identified a school as low-performing if its average combined reading and math proficiency rate in 2002-03 and 2003-04 ranked among the lowest 10 percent of the state’s public elementary or middle schools and the school also failed to meet the state’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) proficiency target in both years.

The results

  • 75% of Michigan’s worst performing charter schools showed little significant improvement after 5 years and remained open
  • 90% of Michigan's worst performing traditional public schools showed little significant improvement after 5 years and remained open
  • 10% of Michigan's failing charter schools closed after 5 years
  • 5% of Michigan's failing traditional schools closed after 5 years

Mike Petrilli, with the Fordham Institute, says the study underscores how hard it is to improve schools. He believes closing a failing school is the best choice, even if it's a hard thing to do politically.

"It’s very hard to have the political will to close down a school: In the charter sector, families have chosen those schools; in the district sector, these are often schools that have been part of neighborhoods for generations. But if we want to do right by kids we have to make those decisions."

Arizona, California, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin were also included in the study.

Michigan Radio recently did a story about how to close a failing school, where an official with New Schools for New Orleans, an organization that helps develop new charter schools, admited that closing failing charter schools is "very difficult, and it's actually been a huge Achilles heel so to speak in the charter movement.

The story was part of the station's 2-week series, Rebuilding Detroit Schools: A Tale of Two Cities