Charter school authorizers told: Michigan will hold you accountable

LANSING — State schools Superintendent Mike Flanagan told a group of charter school authorizers Tues that the Michigan Department of Education is working on a system to hold them accountable for the financial and academic performance of their schools.

The Education Department framework will initially focus on charter contracts, transparency, academic performance, school finances and the way authorizers are assessed, according to Malverne Winborne, who oversees the charter office at Eastern Michigan University.

“It was a very cordial meeting. There are some tough issues … we need to address, but I think it’s being done in a very cooperative spirit,” Winborne said. “It was a preliminary conversation … there will be additional conversations. I think it’s a valuable process. I think good will come out of this.”

About three dozen representatives of the state’s larger authorizers — those with three charter schools or more — attended Tuesday’s meeting, which was prompted by a Detroit Free Press eight-day series titled “State of Charter Schools.”

It was the first of two meetings this week as Flanagan shapes his plan to monitor the authorizers’ oversight of their charter schools.

The Education Department said Flanagan will consider commenting after the second meeting, set for Wednesday.

In Michigan, local and intermediate school districts, community colleges and universities can authorize charter schools.

Tim Wood, who oversees the charter office at Grand Valley State University, said Flanagan opened Monday’s meeting by saying that “we’ve been doing this for 20 years and it’s time to look at our practices, and on that everyone agreed.” Michigan’s first charter schools opened in 2004.

Wood said the meeting was a start, and “there’s going to be more to come … We’re going to meet and sit down and get some good work done. I think everyone in that room was concerned about quality schools and I think the end game on this will be quality schools.”

Authorizers who attended said they are willing to be evaluated by the state — but they want the process to be fair. And they don’t want the Education Department to have a chilling effect on their decisions to charter schools in communities where the student populations are challenging — high rates of poverty or non-English speakers, or large numbers of new immigrants.

Don Bachand, president of Saginaw Valley State University, said it is important not to shy away from “difficult populations. It’s not going to be easy to produce the outcomes and achievement test scores that you’re looking for … One of our challenges is helping students across a range of abilities.”

Bachand said the three-hour meeting was “very candid, very informative … We talked about serious issues — oversight, documentation and transparency.

“It was a very good, very open exchange of information across both sides of the table,” he said.

Earlier this month, Flanagan said he intends to use his statutory authority to ban poor-performing authorizers from issuing new charters. His decision came in response to the Free Press series.

The “State of Charter Schools” reported that Michigan charters receive nearly $1 billion per year in taxpayer money from the state, often with little accountability or transparency on how those dollars are spent.

The series also reported that academic performance is mixed, and charter schools on average fare no better than traditional public schools in educating students in poverty. Many poor-performing charter schools are allowed to continue operating for years by their authorizers.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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