News Story

State Superintendent Puts Failing Schools Ahead of Students' Choice

Superintendent Flanagan says no more charters until conventional schools 'stabilize' enrollment

Cesar Chavez High School was given a "A" grade by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy report card.

In 2014, there were 35 public high schools in Detroit, 20 of them “conventional” public schools and 15 charter schools. Of the 20 conventional schools, all but two earned an “F” on the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s student progress grading system, which unlike official state ratings take into account the effect of student family backgrounds on performance. In contrast, only two of the city’s 15 public charter high schools received a failing grade.

Nevertheless, State Superintendent Mike Flanagan says the Legislature should impose a moratorium on opening any more charter schools, so that conventional school districts like Detroit can “stabilize enrollments.” According to Flanagan, because charter schools are succeeding at attracting more students, they are stressing the budgets of conventional schools.

Flanagan’s comments take on added significance in light of a nationwide study released last week by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), considered a leader in school performance research. It found that students in urban charter schools do better at reading and math than their conventional school peers. An analysis of student and individual school data from 2006 through 2012 revealed that students in Detroit charter schools receive the equivalent of a few weeks to as much as several months of additional learning in reading and math compared to their peers at conventional public schools.

The authors suggest that Detroit charter schools should serve as a model for other communities.

Flanagan heads the Michigan Department of Education, whose spokesman suggests that a moratorium on new charters would have little impact on Detroit students, because existing charters still have unfilled seats.

“We are not aware that many, if any, charter high schools have closed their enrollment,” said Martin Ackley, MDE's spokesman. “There still is choice available for high school students in Detroit, even if there was a moratorium on opening new charter schools.”

According to Buddy Moorehouse, spokesman for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies — an association of charter schools — there are thousands of Michigan children on charter school waiting lists.

Audrey Spalding, education policy director at the Mackinac Center, said Flanagan’s priorities are misplaced, showing more concern for failing school districts than whether their students have the opportunity to attend a better school.

“He’s prioritizing the needs of ‘F’ schools over students who need a better education,” Spalding said. “That is completely backwards.”

Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, a school choice advocate, said there are still students on charter school waiting lists.

“The very essence of choice is that we provide more options and we let parents decide which options to pursue,” Naeyaert said. “The idea we should manage or regulate choice is hostile to the notion of school choice. We should be arguing that the existence of choice alone is not the answer. We should have quality choices.”

Note: This story didn't include the Detroit high schools that used academic criteria to limit enrollment.

See also:

National Study: Detroit Charters Should Serve as a Model for Other Communities

Charter Schools Serve More Low-Income Students Than Conventional Students

Charter Public Schools Give Detroit School Children Hope

Detroit Shows that Poverty is not Stopping Parents from for School Choice