The report contains another type of inconsistency from a type of bias that is less obvious. The bias is that the public oversight provided by local school boards over traditional public schools is more effective than the public oversight offered by charter school authorizers. The only potential explanation for this special treatment provided in the report is claiming these schools have their public oversight provided through “democratic accountability” and are “inherently more accountable to the people.” Although the report notes some of the limits of this type of accountability — school board elections are notorious for their pitiful turnouts, for example — it never explains why this type of oversight should be preferred. There may be good reasons to be biased towards school board governance in this way, but the report does not explain them.
This bias become more apparent when considering the rationale provided in the report’s conclusion for increasing regulations of charter schools. It simply declares: “[T]he costs of failure are too great.” Considering that almost 90% of students in Michigan attend public schools run by local school boards, the potential costs of failure from these schools far surpasses those that could result from insufficient public oversight of charter schools.
To be fair, the focus of the report is on charter schools, and a discussion of conventional public school oversight might be beyond its scope. But because so many of the concerns the report raises apply equally to conventional public schools and their boards, this omission implies that charter schools should be subjected to higher standards. The report does not address this issue or explain why charters should be held to these different standards.
For instance, the report tries to identify a shortcoming of state regulations of charter school authorizers, pointing out that there are not “legally-binding performance or quality standards that an authorizer must meet.” It also says that the state has only a “limited” role in providing oversight of charter school academic performance, because “it is up to the schools and the authorizers to interpret [standardized tests] results and take action.” If these problems affect authorizers, they equally affect school boards.
In fact, there are whole passages of the report where the term “school board” could be substituted for “authorizer” or “charter school” and every detail would remain true. Consider the following edited passage:
School boards are subjected to limited oversight from the state government (state actors have authority to close low-performing schools). How well school boards oversee their schools by holding them accountable for meeting legal requirements and performance goals depends on the school board. It is difficult to paint with broad brush strokes as it applies to assessing the efforts of Michigan’s school boards to ensure accountability of the schools they operate because of the number of school districts and assortment of those entities. Some public schools are indeed subject to intense oversight from their school boards with systems of clear rewards and sanctions.
There is nothing inaccurate about the passage as written, but it was originally purposed as part of the argument used in the report for creating more regulations for charter schools. What appears here is only slightly modified.
Without explaining why this is necessary, the report sets higher standards for one set of public schools than for another. It says that public oversight of charter schools must focus on outcomes. Given that the report notes that charter schools are subject to all the same outcome-based accountability standards that traditional public schools are, the report is either recommending a new and higher standard exclusively for charters or an additional focus on outcomes that should apply equally to all public schools. If there is a rationale for making charter schools alone meet these higher standards, the report does not provide it.
In arguing that state bureaucrats and state statutes should have more authority over charter school authorizers, the report says that “oversight without the threat of sanctions is just monitoring” and “accountability with clear roles for state actors and explicit expectations and sanctions for authorizers is needed.” Public school boards rarely face sanctions from state officials. So, if the state is only “monitoring” charter schools and their authorizers, it’s also only monitoring all the rest of the public schools, too. If the former is a problem, the latter should be an even larger one.
 Ibid., 30, 50.
 Ibid., 58.
 Ibid., 44.
 Ibid., 29.
 Ibid., 50.
 Ibid., 51-52.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., ix, x.