The Flint public school district has adopted
Madison Avenue tactics in its drive to lure back students and school dollars
from competing local public charter schools. The district has laid out about
$18,000 for radio spots and billboards in this tug-of-war for school kids.
The advertising campaign, which began in the
summer, featured the most outstanding students and graduates from Flint
Community Schools, in an attempt to show the purported advantages of sticking
with the traditional public schools.
Bill DeFrance, chief operating officer for the
district, said "This [ad program] was our initial attempt to show that we are
the best choice. We’re focusing on the things we do well and how the competing
schools are not as well rounded as we are."
DeFrance said the school’s marketing plan
includes advertising on radio, television, billboards, daily papers, and
targeted weeklies, plus ads on safety vehicles, exit interviews of parents
removing children from the school system, and home visits by student
facilitators contacting parents.
Featured in some of the Flint school district
ads were members of the Dalaneo McQueen Family. The two McQueen children were
moved from a traditional public school to a charter school. But within a
semester, the children were returned by their parents to the original public
school. The parents maintained that their children, said to be gifted, were not
academically challenged enough in the charter school where they transferred.
The K-8 charter school, deemed to be
unsatisfactory by the McQueens, is Linden Charter Academy. It may indeed have
been unsatisfactory to the McQueens. But the school has a waiting list of 122
students, according to Tara Powers, a spokeswoman for the National Heritage
Academies, which manages charter schools across the nation. Ms. Powers said
that 90 percent of the parents with children in the Linden Charter Academy have
expressed satisfaction with the school.
Ms. Powers said, "Our shared vision is to build
a national organization of over 200 charter schools that will become the finest
K-8 schools in the country … We will achieve this by constructing rigorous
‘back-to-basics’ academics, through moral development, and a universal
commitment to all children."
Since 1999, when the first Michigan charter
school opened locally, Flint school officials reportedly figure they have lost
3,000 students to charter schools. Because state money follows the students
wherever they are enrolled, charter school competition has cost the school
district more than $21 million. Linden has 680 students.
Area charter schools reportedly have indicated
they have no intention of responding to Flint Community Schools’ ad campaign.
The unusual action by the Flint Community
Schools to launch an ad campaign appears to verify a claim by charter school
advocates: that charter schools force traditional schools to compete for students.
Some 200 charter schools are located in
Michigan, mainly in the large cities. Among the advantages of charter schools is
their smaller class sizes. Probably more important is the attendance rate,
which approaches 100 percent, according to Dan Quisenberry, president of he
Michigan Association of Public School Academies.
Scores on the Michigan Educational Assessment
Program (MEAP) achievement test still show that charters have not yet overtaken
traditional public schools in the all-important category of educational
results. But a score-to-score comparison is misleading, according to
Quisenberry. He points out that many children who enter charter schools are not
up to grade level to start with. When this is taken into account, the Michigan
Association of Public School Academies’ analysis of scores shows an even larger
victory for charter schools.
Statewide in 2003, charter schools
continued a trend that has been observed for several years: the MEAP scores of
their students rose at a faster rate than those of their traditional public
school counterparts in all but one of 10 grade-subjects (4th-grade
math, for example). And in the one exceptional case, 5th-grade
social studies, charter school students tied. In six of 10 grade-subjects
tested, 60 percent to 76 percent of all charter public schools increased their
In short, if current trends continue,
achievement levels at charters will eventually overtake those of traditional
public schools. According to Brian Carpenter, director of leadership
development for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, this year’s MEAP results,
especially for charter schools in Detroit and Grand Rapids, "…reveal the truth:
Michigan charter schools are posting a superb performance."
These results unmistakably
spotlight the value of competition among schools for students as the pathway to
tapping the full potential of each school child.
Trussell writes a weekly column for the Pioneer Group
in Big Rapids, Mich., and collaborates on occasional projects with the Mackinac
Center for Public Policy. He is the former managing editor for Nation’s
Business magazine and was vice president of the American Enterprise Institute in