November 30, 2011

Avoid past mistakes in Michigan charter school expansion

Dan Varner
By John Austin, president of the state Board of Education, and Dan Varner, a member of the state Board of Education and director of Excellent Schools Detroit.

The Michigan Legislature looks committed to pass charter and school choice expansion legislation, going even further than proposals made by Gov. Rick Snyder this spring. Given the likelihood of passage, it is important that this legislation as proposed be improved to prevent the same mistakes that were made when public school academies were first created, and that have continued to polarize debate on this issue ever since.

John Austin
When public school academies were first enacted in the 1990s, there was a massive fight. The fight was largely won by Gov. John Engler and charter proponents, and Michigan ended up with one of the more freebooting charter school regimes -- any school district, intermediate school district or community college can sponsor an unlimited number of charters. The plan did, however, include a cap of 150 on the number of university-sponsored charters, those institutions at the time that were most eager to facilitate charter school expansion.

As a result, the charters that have been created run the gamut from the good (innovative schools that help students achieve in new ways), to the bad (mediocre or poor-performing schools that don't offer anything different except a label), to the ugly (schools created essentially as fronts for management companies to make money, without the same transparency and accountability of public school). Read more in the Detroit Free Press.


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