More funding won’t fix failing schools
In some circles, the myth persists that more money automatically translates into better education results. At a recent legislative hearing to explore changes to the state’s failing-schools law, one education official made a claim that collapses under a brief examination.
According to MIRS News, Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor, posed a question to a panel of witnesses about the relationship between funding and performance. But if the implication of his question was failing schools need more money before they can be fixed, the evidence is against him. The recently released final evaluation of the U.S. Department of Education’s $7 billion School Improvement Grant program showed that it “failed to produce meaningful results.”
At the hearing, Saginaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Kathy Stewart responded to Hopgood’s question: “If you ranked the schools in the Saginaw area one through 12 based on funding, they'd probably rank pretty much the same in proficiency.”
There are 12 conventional school districts within the Saginaw ISD. Of those, Saginaw Public School District and Bridgeport-Spaulding Community School District have the ISD’s only four schools rated among the state’s bottom 5 percent. The two districts, specifically highlighted in Stewart’s testimony, include 15 open enrollment schools. All but one is in the bottom 20 percent of the rankings.
Yet no district in the ISD receives more general fund dollars per student than Saginaw or Bridgeport-Spaulding. If you count all revenues, the districts rank first and third, respectively, within the ISD.
On the other hand, two of the Saginaw ISD’s lowest-funded school districts — Swan Valley and Freeland — operate some of the county’s highest-performing schools on the state of Michigan’s Top-to-Bottom Rankings. Only the Frankenmuth School District outshines them, with its high school and middle school both rated in the top 10 percent. Frankenmuth ranks fourth out of 12 in terms of spending.
Whether we count general fund or all revenues, Saginaw ISD districts show a stronger relationship between more funding and lowing ratings than less funding and lower ratings. Of course, this cursory analysis is neither rigorous nor statistically significant. And the state’s Top-to-Bottom Rankings represent a better proxy for poverty than for quality.
But even a more rigorous evaluation shows the same result. A 2016 Mackinac Center analysis revealed no connection between increased spending and 27 of 28 different measures of student achievement.
The Michigan Education Finance Study (or “adequacy study”) delivered to legislators last June reached a slightly different, but not very promising, conclusion. It found that for each $1,000 per student in additional spending, schools could raise mathematics and reading achievement scores by one percentage point. By those calculations, an additional $5,000 per student, or $7.5 billion statewide, would ensure that only 55 percent of Michigan third-graders could read on grade level and one-third of Michigan high school juniors were proficient in math.
Taking the adequacy study’s generous assumptions to heart, reaching critical educational goals for the state’s students would require breaking the bank. That isn’t going to happen. Yet even if the money were magically available, the dubious relationship between greater spending and achievement — not only in Saginaw County but statewide — should give citizens and lawmakers a reason to pause.
In the pursuit of ways to rescue failing schools and improve outcomes for students all over Michigan, the answer is not “more money.”
Due process is an important part of an immigration system
The authors believe in free markets and free people, and therefore, peaceful choice in association through legal immigration. The millions of immigrants to the United States every year are powerful evidence that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is still an unattainable dream for the average person around the world.
Although immigration is primarily a federal issue, we believe the evidence shows that legal immigration from around the world is a net positive for the United States — and for Michigan, too. The state’s employers need highly skilled and educated immigrants to fill open positions in information technology, engineering, finance, health care, education and other industries.
Still other immigrants come with experience in skilled trades, or the entrepreneurial drive to start and run a business that they could not fulfill in their home countries. These men and women help develop good companies that create good jobs. They become our co-workers, friends, neighbors, vendors, customers, fellow taxpayers and even, at times, our relatives.
Nations must have the ability to control their borders and our federal government must make decisions in the interest of national defense that may limit an individual’s access to the United States. But however important those responsibilities may be, they cannot override the fundamental need for due process and the rule of law in setting immigration policy. Americans — both current and prospective — deserve no less.
We are concerned that President Trump’s recent executive order halting some refugees bound for the United States from specific countries was instituted in a clumsy and almost haphazard fashion. Government should never exercise its power in an arbitrary or capricious manner, regardless of what ends it means to accomplish.
People who have abided by the law and gone through the process to receive green cards have the legal right to reside in the United States and come and go as they wish. The government should not bar them from doing so without due process of law. People who hold a valid visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate that declares them eligible for entry to the United States should not suddenly be made ineligible without due process simply because of their national origin.
Immigration is one of many federal policy issues with broad and deep implications for states. Good policy that protects our nation’s borders and the people of Michigan while interfering as little as possible with free markets and free people is unlikely to result from arbitrary and haphazard executive rule-making.
Gov. Snyder’s interest in seeing legal immigrants freely choose Michigan over other options is a long-standing and laudable one. We would caution, however, that the decision to move to the Great Lake State should be done so without subsidies or other targeted state efforts. That is, the government should not create special offices or programs to lure people from anywhere. Any changes to policy should be guided by the goal of having a “fair field and no favors” approach that does not distort the decision to move here.
Michigan can be a magnet for people in the United States (and from elsewhere too) when it makes sound policy choices. International immigration is a federal issue, but it clearly effects what happens with and to Michigan and her citizens. We hope to see federal immigration reform that is less haphazard and arbitrary — and encourages greater legal and peaceful, voluntary association.
Recent report has been misinterpreted
Michigan’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission recently came out with a report that made 107 recommendations to improve the state’s telecommunications networks, energy, transportation, drinking water and sewers. Media and state pundits jumped on it, claiming it says that Michigan needs $4 billion each year in additional infrastructure spending. But that’s not exactly what the report actually says.
The bulk of the report’s recommendations center around improving the management of existing infrastructure. There are 74 recommendations that will not require new spending, such as comprehensive planning, more coordination among agencies that control infrastructure, and many others. To this end, the report wisely recognizes that improving infrastructure is more than just spending money on building new stuff.
But some of those recommendations seem empty or just plain confusing. Consider this one: “To enhance community resiliency and optimize costs, the Michigan [DEQ] and [DNR] should facilitate the development of tools that enable stormwater and wastewater system owners, managers, and operators to fiscally and operationally manage green infrastructure through asset management plans.” It’s unclear to me what this means or what it calls on the DNR and DEQ to do, let alone why this recommendation will help.
When spending is called for in the report, it is often for projects that aren’t really infrastructure. For example, it asks for $20 million annually to “promote Michigan as the focal point of the global intelligent vehicle industry.” Marketing a niche industry is much different from reconstructing roads.
Related, it also calls on the Department of Transportation and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to “advance Michigan’s intelligent vehicle industry.” It provides no details about how that should be done, but it will cost $2 million. Altogether, of the 33 recommendations to spend more money, only 11 actually call for spending more money on infrastructure.
Other parts of the report are objectionable. It says that the state has targeted itself to produce 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources. That’s odd considering that voters rejected a proposal to increase this mandate to 25 percent in 2012 by a margin of 62-38.
Where the report does call for more spending, it’s important to remember that most new revenue to pay for it should not come from general taxes. The second largest area of spending called for in the report is to improve the Soo Locks. But funding for such an endeavor should come from enacting fees on the ships that use the locks. As William B. Newman and Jarrett Dieterle write, “User fees are appropriate under a beneficiary-pays principle, which recognizes that commercial lakers like the 1,000-foot vessels transporting iron ore through Sault Ste. Marie derive special benefits from the locks beyond those enjoyed by the general public.”
Indeed, little of the state’s infrastructure is paid by general tax dollars and most is paid by user fees. Local water and sewer entities have no limits on what they can charge their users, provided that they abide by user fee principles in their billing. The communications towers are paid by charges on the people who use them. The costs of erecting and maintaining power lines are paid by the people who use electricity.
Regulators and managers ought to prioritize ways to keep the costs they pass along to consumers down, but the costs should be paid by the people who actually make use of the infrastructure. Likewise, the costs assessed upon end users can be an appropriate economizing feature: The infrastructure that gets built only can be sustained if enough people use it at the prices it takes to maintain it.
The largest area of spending called for in the report, however, is the exception. The report asks taxpayers to spend $2.2 billion more on road funding, above what was generated by the recent gas and registration tax increases. The report’s recommended figure is odd though, because even tax increases proposed in the ill-fated Proposal 1 of 2015 wouldn’t have generated that much new revenue for roads. Plus, the major roads that carry half the state’s traffic already have good ratings — 84 percent of these roads are in good or fair condition. That’s not to say that the state ought not improve roads, but it does bring up the question of urgency.
Michigan funds its roads with a loose user fee principle. The bulk of payments come from fuel taxes and vehicle registration taxes, which tend to be generated by the people who use the roads. But Michigan has spent general taxpayer dollars on the roads and the federal government borrows money to give to states to spend on the roads, all of which get paid jointly by all taxpayers. State lawmakers have leveraged this loose user fee principle to get a tax hike and redirect some of the general taxpayer dollars that were spent on the roads to other budget priorities.
All this goes to show that this report makes a very weak case for taking $4 billion from taxpayers and spending that money on infrastructure. There may be room for improvements, but much can be provided under the policies currently in place, and residents should be skeptical that general taxes need to pay for further infrastructure.
When worldviews clash
As the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee moves closer to a vote on sending President Trump’s nominee to lead the EPA to the full Senate, the battle over Scott Pruitt’s record is being reinvigorated. His Jan. 18 hearing and the responses to his written testimony were predictably combative and just as predictably hyperpartisan. Earlier today, Senate Democrats took a strong stance against Pruitt when all ten members of the Environment and Public Works committee boycotted the vote in an attempt to stall his nomination process.
Those watching Pruitt’s seven-plus hour hearing in mid-January might have hoped to see senators posing reasonable questions to a well-qualified nominee to help them assess his ability to serve as EPA administrator. What they actually saw was an increasingly divisive battle between two worldviews governing energy and environmental policy.
Those views are easily described. The first has a foundational principle of working to improve human lives and manage the natural environment using the health and wealth gained from access to affordable, reliable energy. The second is a commitment to protect the natural environment from what is believed to be the inherently damaging influence of humans. Generally, Senate Republicans and Pruitt's supporters work from the first view, while Senate Democrats and Pruitt’s detractors work from the second.
It is clear that Scott Pruitt has the legal and technical knowledge as well as the experience to competently carry out the duties of EPA administrator. Pruitt has ably served as the Oklahoma attorney general since 2010. Before that, he served as an Oklahoma state senator and as president of the Republican Attorneys General Association.
While some disagree with his actions, his track record as his state’s attorney general demonstrates an ability to accurately discriminate between matters of law and matters of policy or preference. Additionally, support from other attorneys general, elected officials, environmental groups and business leaders reveals broad, bipartisan support for his nomination.
Pruitt has outlined five key ideas to help policymakers and the average American understand where he would take the agency during his tenure.
First, he believes that “we must reject as a nation the false paradigm that if you’re pro-energy, you’re anti-environment and if you’re pro-environment, you’re anti-energy.” The past several decades make it clear that, on this measure, Pruitt is correct. The United States has a track record of producing abundant, reliable, affordable energy to power the nation while also consistently improving the quality of our air and water.
For example, from 1980 to 2015, concentrations of major air pollutants have been drastically reduced – carbon monoxide by 84 percent, lead by 99 percent, nitrogen dioxide by 60 percent, sulfur dioxide by 84 percent, and ozone by 32 percent. From 2000 to 2015, particulate matter levels were reduced by 37 percent. This happened even as per capita energy use grew by almost 2 percent from 1980-2000 and then became much more efficient, dropping by over 10 percent below 1980 levels by 2013.
Second, Pruitt noted, “We should celebrate the great progress we’ve made as a nation since the inception of the EPA and the laws that have been passed by (the Senate), but recognize that we have much work to do.” As demonstrated by Pruitt’s written answers to senatorial questions, suggestions that he would abandon environmental protection and turn a blind eye to unchecked pollution are nonsensical. In his answers, he commits to prioritizing clean up of Superfund sites and to working to meet the requirements of federal environmental law – such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Third, he argued that rule of law matters and that government regulators should not be choosing winners and losers. Instead, he said, they should “follow the law in setting up the rules so that those who are regulated can plan, allocate resources to meet the standards, versus operating in a state of uncertainty and duress.” Free markets work, and the numerous legal setbacks the EPA has experienced for overreaching its legal and constitutional bounds makes obeying the law an obvious goal for the federal agency.
Fourth, he stated that federalism matters and a partnership of state and federal governments is necessary to “achieve good outcomes as a nation for air and water quality.” Our nation and legal system are based on a principal of cooperative federalism. Pruitt’s desire to limit federal overreach into the realm of the states would serve him well in his new job.
Fifth, he affirmed the importance of public participation and said it is essential that government officials “hear all voices as we make decisions on behalf of our country with respect to environmental laws.” It seems odd that any groups would resist efforts to seek out stakeholder opinions.
In each of these areas, Pruitt has demonstrated a commitment to the idea that human well-being will be best served by the controlled use of natural resources, governed by reasonable environmental regulation and adherence to established legal principles. This is hardly the idea of a fringe radical, unless one believes the primary task of the EPA is to stop the human impact on an imaginary concept of pristine nature.
In reality, Pruitt’s nomination process should be an entirely unremarkable effort to vet a clearly capable nominee. But it has become something far more acrimonious and involved. That acrimony is much easier to understand when you realize the process is actually the front lines of a battle between two opposing worldviews.
Stadiums are a bad investment for taxpayers
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans has issued an ultimatum to the people who propose to build a professional soccer complex in exchange for the “Fail Jail” site in downtown Detroit. Evans said that the project must not cost taxpayers any more than simply finishing the jail as originally planned would. That’s simply not good enough.
While Evans’ defense of his constituents’ interests is laudable, he and the Wayne County Commission should go further. They should prohibit any and all subsidies, incentives, tax breaks or other public funding for the proposed stadium project. Public subsidies of professional sports stadiums don’t benefit local residents, and this plan already calls for enough additional sacrifice by the people of Wayne County. Residents should not have to pay for any other public investment in a privately owned, billion-dollar project.
The proposal is tied up with the construction of a new county jail annex, which was stopped after estimates of its cost ballooned, through mismanagement and alleged corruption, from an initial $220 million to $391 million or more. The Wayne County Commission approved $300 million in bonds for the project, and an astonishing $151 million has already been spent, with little to show for it.
Last April, NBA team owners and business owners Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores announced plans to apply for a Major League Soccer expansion team in Detroit. Gilbert and Gores identified the jail site and surrounding court complex as their preferred location for the team’s stadium and associated mixed-use residential and commercial developments. Their representatives made statements about building the county a new jail and courts elsewhere in return for the Gratiot property, but they have not presented a formal proposal to accomplish this swap.
Evans has visibly had enough of this state of affairs and has set deadlines for restarting the construction process. Speaking at the Detroit Economic Club in mid-January, he identified finishing the jail as his top priority for 2017 and set a deadline to resume the construction process. He has said publicly many times that any deal to transfer ownership of the Gratiot site must include a new jail being built at no extra cost to the public beyond what finishing the existing, partially built jail would incur.
Evans’ line in the fiscal sand was the first piece of good news to come out of the fail jail debacle in years. But he and the members of the Wayne County Commission could make even more good news by taking a principled stand on behalf of their constituents and extend this protection of local taxpayers by banning any form of public funding for the proposed soccer complex.
As we noted when Gores announced the Pistons’ move to Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit and the Detroit Downtown Development Authority pledged $34.5 million to assist in the move, sports facilities are not “transformational” or “catalyst” developments. Nor do they improve the business climate in a city. A hot dog or beer purchased in a stadium or nearby bar isn’t a new economic impact. It’s simply a hot dog or beer that is not being sold by an existing restaurant in different part of the city.
The economic impact of a soccer stadium would be even more limited than most projects, as open-air stadiums in the upper Midwest sit empty much of the year. Nearby Comerica Park is largely silent from November to April, driving no traffic to local businesses. It’s also worthwhile to note that the closest MLS team to Detroit, the Columbus Crew, were only active in their stadium between May and October of 2016, playing just 19 games.
There’s also a cost to local businesses to moving the entire court and jail complex. Many local law firms and attorneys, as well as bail bondsmen and others, have offices within walking distance of the existing court and jail complex. Moving everything miles away will force them either to uproot or suffer the inconvenience of extra travel. They shouldn’t have to subsidize a development that will already be forcing them to incur additional costs.
These are not simply the observations of two frugal, taxpayer-friendly soccer fans. Research by academics shows that on balance, professional sports teams and stadiums do not create jobs and wealth.
That’s why Wayne County’s elected officials should stand firm, requiring project developers to forgo any form of public subsidy from the usual suspects: the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Michigan Strategic Fund, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the Detroit Downtown Development Authority or Wayne County’s own Economic Development Department.
Barriers to employment can prevent some prisoners from reintegrating successfully
States that make it harder for someone to work legally, typically through licensing requirements, tend to have higher levels of unemployment. Two studies released this past November show how these barriers are a particular problem for ex-offenders, thereby increasing their likeliness to reoffend.
Scholars from Arizona State University and the Kaufmann Foundation studied the relationship between occupational licensing and recidivism. They discovered that states that require licenses for a greater number of jobs also experienced a higher recidivism rate. This suggests that efforts to reduce recidivism rates and other criminal justice reforms should take into consideration the impact of occupational licensing laws.
The authors note that many states are like Michigan in that they are working to improve their prison inmates’ re-entry preparedness by offering high school diplomas, college degrees and vocational training. But they point out that these programs are pointless if an inmate’s criminal record makes him ineligible for a license to work.
Many licensing laws contain morality clauses that prohibit anyone with a criminal conviction from ever receiving a license, even if their crime was nonviolent or completely unrelated to the type of work they would do. Other states do not use these morality clauses but allow their licensing boards to deny licenses to people with a criminal history. In Michigan, a felony record often makes a person ineligible for a license, and even a misdemeanor could damage someone’s chances of obtaining a license.
Making it harder for ex-offenders to be legally employed makes it more likely they’ll reoffend. As Stephen Slivinski, one of the authors of one of the studies, explains, “For ex-prisoners who have an unusually difficult experience scaling the barriers to entry in the labor market, returning to crime could be the better alternative.”
In other words, employers often refuse to hire anyone with a criminal record, which is their right. But if a person then wants to go work for themselves and cannot obtain a license to do such work, they could be permanently barred from re-entering the workforce in their most preferred profession.
In Michigan, about 88 percent of our 43,000 prisoners will eventually return to society. The Department of Corrections reports that only about a third of the formerly incarcerated who are n parole are currently employed, which is down from 2001 when over half the parolees had jobs. Reducing the burden of occupational licensing laws is one clear option for helping ex-offenders matriculate back into society, reducing the likelihood that they’ll reoffend.
And don't look too hard at the record of those promises
Every week in Lansing, big businesses lobby Michigan legislators for more and larger tax breaks and subsidies. As they do, regular taxpayers shouldn’t forget that Michigan already pays out hundreds of millions of dollars to favored firms.
Politicians justify those wealth transfers by pointing to promises of big employment gains in the future. But citizens should take note that the state’s job picture is already strong — and for reasons that have nothing to do with corporate welfare handouts for a few lucky developers and business owners.
People who watch the economy look at the numbers for employment and unemployment. Those monthly snapshots hide the significant amount of job turnover that occurs. The most recent monthly report said that in 2016, Michigan employment increased by 5,000 people from November to December. But even more people were hired, fired, retired, transferred or found employment elsewhere in those two months. A lot more.
The most recent figures show Michigan’s private sector employers added 218,793 jobs in the second quarter of 2016. They also shed 194,637 jobs. That’s a turnover of one out of every 19 jobs in a three- month span.
Compare these figures to the job announcements made by the state agency that administers the business subsidies. In the same three-month period, the agency announced subsidy agreements with companies that pledged to create 2,679 jobs.
The number of real jobs created was 81 times the number of subsidized jobs promised. The number of real jobs lost is 72 times more. And those promises need to be taken with a grain of salt: Companies rarely create all the jobs promised in the press releases that announce their subsidy agreements.
And even if they did, there is no evidence that taking money from many taxpayers and giving it to a relatively few favored firms creates more jobs than letting taxpayers keep it in the first place.
Real economic growth does not come from political deal-making. It comes from the thousands of people figuring out how to best look out for their families’ prosperity. State policies that make broad-based improvements to the business climate, like lowering taxes or decreasing the burdens of state occupational licenses, can help them.
Senate introduces some important proposals on day one of 2017 session
The first 50 bills introduced in the Michigan Senate this year contain many proposals dealing with criminal justice.
These are the latest iterations of ideas that have been hotly debated in Lansing for several years. All of the following bills also appeared within a bundle of 2016 Senate proposals that occupied lawmakers and lobbyists well into December.
They didn’t pass, but they’re already on the table for this year. Several of them echo last year’s focus on data collection.
Three bills define the word “recidivism” as it is used in various places in Michigan’s law books. They also make a distinction between some violations of parole and probation — “technical” violations — and others and then describe how data about the former violations should be gathered.
A “technical” parole or probation violator is someone who hasn’t committed a new crime but has broken some rule of his parole or probation. Fully one-third of the people committed to Michigan prisons are there for technical violations, costing the state $160 million between 2008 and 2012.
Another proposal is the Parole Sanction Certainty Act. It would create a new parole system based on the same principles as a successful new probation system Michigan courts have implemented in many parts of the state over the last couple years. The idea is to build accountability by immediately punishing rule-breaking with short jail stays, reinforcing an attitude of discipline and a commitment to productive re-entry.
Another measure would offer incentives to parole and probation departments that reduce the number of offenders who re-enter prison. Still another measure would give money to businesses that hire parolees and probationers. A final proposal would require the Michigan Department of Corrections to create separate housing for younger prison inmates.
By failing to account for poverty, Michigan unfairly puts some schools at bottom
The Michigan School Reform Office has once again released a school rankings list that only tells part of the school-performance story.
The 2016 Top-to-Bottom rankings assessed schools only on students’ test scores, which can be problematic for schools with a high percentage of financially disadvantaged students. The state’s system is better at measuring the student poverty rate of a school than its performance and should be improved to provide context to raw test scores.
Anticipating this release, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy published The 2016 Michigan Public High School Context and Performance Report Card, which evaluated schools both on test scores and the socio-economic status of their students. This is the third time the Center has published such a report for high schools.
“By grading schools on both performance and student poverty, we are closer to measuring the impact that individual high schools have on student performance,” Ben DeGrow said in an article published by the Midland Daily News.
The Times Herald explained that the report used each school’s four-year average of standardized tests to determine if a high school “was performing as expected considering the economic background of its students.” DeGrow spoke about the method to WSJM news:
We want to look at and see how are they doing compared to where you would expect them to do with the poverty, and some schools are getting better success compared to other schools with similar demographics, and those schools get higher grades on our report card.
By considering poverty, the Mackinac Center’s report shows that some schools are defying the odds and performing better than expected given the great challenges their students face at home. Saginaw’s Arthur Hill High School, for example, is on the state’s 2015 “Priority List,” qualifying it for closure, but it is performing in the middle of the pack when student poverty is considered.
"There's room for improvement there. There always is, but compared to some other schools that have a lot of students in poverty they're doing a pretty decent job. And that deserves some recognition from the state," DeGrow told WNEM News 5.
For the third consecutive time, Dearborn’s Star International Academy – a charter school – ranked highest in the state, Local 4 News reported. Charter schools make up less than 12 percent of the schools in the report but account for one-third of the schools in the top 20.
DeGrow told WJR’s Guy Gordon that Detroit schools, overall, did not score well on the Mackinac Center’s report, even when poverty is considered. “The few bright spots are some of the charter schools in Detroit as well as some of the schools with selective admission,” he said.
According to Michigan Capitol Confidential, every school taken over by the Education Achievement Authority received a failing grade. But many Detroit charters met or exceeded expectations.
When measured by the 2015 elementary and middle school report card as well as the 2016 high school report card, the 76 Detroit charter schools earned an average CAP score of 99.16, just below the expected performance level. Roughly 30 percent earned an A or B, in line with state averages, while nearly 40 percent received a D or F.
The report relied on public data and the methodology is detailed in the study. DeGrow told The Times Herald he hopes such transparency reinforces the need to improve the state’s approach.
Read about the Context and Performance Report Card.
Read the article in the Midland Daily News.
Read the article by The Times Herald.
Read the article by WSJM news.
Read and watch coverage by WNEM News 5.
Read the report by Local 4 News.
Listen to the interview on The Guy Gordon Show.
Read the article by Michigan Capitol Confidential.
Read DeGrow’s Letter to the Editor in The Times Herald.
Additional coverage by:
Kids deserve more options, not fewer
As families across the country celebrate National School Choice Week, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are considering the nomination of Betsy DeVos, a leading advocate for educational freedom who is positioned to be the next U.S. secretary of education.
In an op-ed for The Hill this week, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Ben DeGrow, director of education policy, corrects the inaccurate narrative that some opponents of choice have presented in response to her nomination. He explains why Detroit exemplifies the need for school choice.
Some have tried to twist the best available research to claim that Detroit’s many charter schools are no better, or even worse, than the city’s school district. Research by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that half the charter schools perform the same as district schools, while most of the rest provide better results. On average, attending a charter means three extra months of learning per year. According to CREDO, Detroit was one of four urban charter communities that were “essential examples of school-level and system-level commitments to quality.”
A highly regarded CREDO study found that students at almost half the charter schools outperformed students in district-run schools in reading in math, Michigan Capitol Confidential reports. Approximately half performed at the same level as students in traditional schools and only a small percentage did worse.
The Mackinac Center’s recently released Context and Performance Report Card has findings consistent with these results. It considers both student test scores and socio-economic status in evaluating school performance to ensure that schools with a concentration of disadvantaged students are not graded unfairly.
As reported by Michigan Capitol Confidential, “Overall, the city’s charters perform solidly on average, but stand head and shoulders above district schools.” Each failing school that has been taken over by the state’s Education Achievement Authority, in contrast, received a failing grade.
While some opponents of school choice have tried to paint Detroit’s charter schools as the “Wild West,” alleging a lack of oversight and accountability, it’s anything but. In an op-ed published by education news site The 74, DeGrow and Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute explained that Detroit charters are held accountable and consistently poor performers are subject to closure.
An A-to-F accountability system will still be launched to inform parents. ... Charter schools that rank in the bottom 5 percent of all schools for three straight years will be subject to automatic state closure.
Furthermore, charter authorizers will need to earn accreditation by proving they can give meaningful oversight before they’ll be permitted to open a charter school in Detroit. Failed charters may no longer shop for a new authorizer, and they won’t be given a second chance without substantially changing their leadership and curriculum.
Additionally, the Citizens Advisory Board was created to improve charter school transparency and efficiency and parents’ access to that information.
Detroiters see the value in educational options. A 2016 survey found Detroit voters overwhelmingly want more choices in schools, not less. DeGrow notes that while many students in Detroit have indeed been helped through school choice, many others in need could benefit from more options, such as tuition and transportation scholarships.
Read the full op-ed in The Hill.
Read the article by Michigan Capitol Confidential.
Read about the Context and Performance Report Card.
Read more about the 2016 school choice survey.