Charter school advocates are questioning why a letter sent
Sept. 22 from Gov. Jennifer Granholm to the presidents of public universities
targeted their efforts in chartering public school academies, but was not sent
to public school districts or intermediate school districts that also establish
Gov. Granholm begins the letter to the presidents with a
"challenge" to take on a new role in school accountability "in relation to the
public school academies your institution has chartered."
While pointing out that recent data shows an increase in the
number of charter schools that achieved Adequate Yearly Progress under the
federal No Child Left Behind law during the 2004-2005 school year, Granholm goes
on to say, "at the same time, however, these data suggest a troubling pattern of
low performance in a significant number of PSAs."
The Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers replied to
Granholm in a Sept. 23 letter.
"Of the 488 public schools requiring corrective action this
year for failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress pursuant to federal No Child
Left Behind requirements, only 8 percent are charter schools," the letter
states. "Indeed, of the nearly 70 schools in the latter stages of corrective
actions, none are charter schools."
According to the MCCSA, 84 percent of public school academies
chartered by member organizations achieved AYP, compared with 69 percent of
those chartered by public school districts or intermediate school districts. In
total, 82 percent of charters achieved AYP, compared to 61 percent the previous
Of the 26 bodies in Michigan that authorize charter schools,
10 belong to MCCSA and account for 183 of the 216 charter schools statewide. Its
members include Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, Ferris
State University, Bay Mills Community College, Grand Valley State University,
Lake Superior State University, Northern Michigan University, Oakland
University, Saginaw Valley State University and Wayne Regional Education Service
Gov. Granholm’s letter says that because charter schools are
a district unto themselves, "there is a missing link in our chain of
accountability that compromises our ability to move these schools to higher
levels of performance."
Dan Quisenberry, executive director of the Michigan
Association of Public School Academies, disagrees.
"It’s an additional link, not a missing link," he said.
"These colleges have worked extremely hard to support the academic performance
of charter schools and there are numerous examples of testing, alignment and
Quisenberry said even the negative aspect of charter school
performance is a positive for the overall movement.
"These authorizers have intervened and restructured, up to
and including closure," he said. "How much more involved can they be?"
Gov. Granholm’s letter points out two for-profit management
companies that run 11 of the 39 charter schools failing to make AYP. Leona
Group, based in East Lansing, saw six of 19 charter schools it manages fall
short of AYP. Kelly Updike, communications director for Leona, said 13 Leona
schools did make AYP, up from seven in 2004.
"We welcome the level of accountability the governor is
talking about and we are proud of it," Updike said. "It is our hope the same
level of accountability is provided for all public education."
Quisenberry points to the Walter French Academy in Lansing, a
charter school formerly managed by the Leona Group, as evidence that charter
school authorizers take responsibility and accountability seriously.
"Central Michigan University invested significant resources
in that school for eight years," he said. "Today, that school doesn’t exist."
Gov. Granholm’s office declined to comment on why university
authorizers were singled out, but did give Michigan Education Report a copy of
an Aug. 26 letter she sent to Mike Flanagan, Michigan’s superintendent of public
The letter thanked Flanagan for sharing data regarding the
AYP results of Michigan’s conventional public schools, but did not address
charter schools authorized by public school districts or intermediate school
districts. Gov. Granholm goes on to say the Department of Education should focus
on the lowest-performing schools and work with them to put new improvement plans
"We must insist on immediate change that will make a
difference," the letter says. "In addition to helping us give credit where
credit is due, this information lets us know where we need to focus our
resources and our attention to improve academic performance in our schools."
Quisenberry suggests the governor look no further than
charter schools to find out how to make those changes.
"Charters are an excellent model for what the federal law
requires all public schools to do," he said.