Close Failing Public Schools? Not In Michigan — Yet

Charter schools are closed for poor academic progress, but not conventional district schools

A publication called Bridge Magazine, produced by The Center for Michigan, recently posted this headline: “Michigan shuts down bad schools. Leading states build them up.”

Except, the state of Michigan has never shut down a conventional public school for poor academic progress.

In contrast, while the media and school choice critics routinely accuse Michigan’s charter schools of being under-regulated and insufficiently accountable, when these schools failed to make the grade, some have been closed. Since the first charters opened here in the early 1990s, 106 have closed their doors. Poor academic performance was listed as a reason in 27 of those closures.

This pattern could change. This year, a state bureau called the School Reform Office declared that 38 failing public schools may be closed.

For years, conventional public school district officials have resisted any move by the state to close failed schools. For example, according to recent news reports, Kalamazoo Public Schools is suing the state to halt the closure of two elementary schools, the Washington Writers’ Academy and the Woodward School for Technology and Research.

Both schools were in the bottom 5 percent of state rankings for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

That seems bad but it may not tell the whole story. That’s because the state does not adjust these performance rankings to reflect the socioeconomic background of students. Sometimes, then, the ratings hide the fact that a school is doing an excellent job of elevating the academic level of students from low-income families above that of their peers in other schools.

Ranking systems that do control for this factor, like the one produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, identify these schools. That’s the case with one of the two threatened Kalamazoo schools, but not the other.

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The Mackinac Center rankings gave Washington Writers’ Academy a C grade and the Woodward School for Technology and Research an F grade.


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