Commentary: Detroiters deserve the best from their schools - even if they're charters

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this
Publication date: 
August 3 2012

It's midsummer but school bells will ring again across the city in a few short weeks.


Families are busy choosing schools for the fall, and there are good things happening in Detroit, which is quickly becoming one of the epicenters of innovative education reform.

Education reform in Detroit has been difficult to sustain for a variety of reasons: a revolving door of school leaders, dysfunctional school boards, poor management of resources, and too many adults more interested in partisanship and winning political arguments than in educating kids. But encouraging signs that reform is taking root abound.

Sadly, the picture of Detroit's traditional and charter school sectors is all too similar. There are a few high-performing schools in both sectors. Many more are mediocre to weak performers, and far too many are chronically low-performing — again, in both sectors.

In June, a report from charter advocates was released which claimed that African-American students in charter schools outperformed those in traditional public schools in the last round of state MEAP tests. It is troubling to see what some are counting as success. A mere 15.4 percent of African-American students who attend charter schools were judged proficient in math.

You don't have to be steeped in education policy to know that 1-in-6 students being judged proficient is not acceptable in any district. The black-white achievement gap in Michigan is among the worst in America and it continues to widen.

Not all charter schools are performing poorly. Charters in many parts of Michigan perform admirably. But research over nearly two decades has shown that most charter schools in Michigan perform at about the level of their local traditional public schools.

State lawmakers recently failed to pass legislation that would require charter operators' portfolio of schools to perform as good or better than similar traditional public schools in Michigan, or first improve their existing low-performing schools before opening another school. This common sense policy would help protect children from bad operators who stand to make a profit on the backs of children, regardless of performance. We also need to make the same demands of traditional public schools.

Leading states, such as Ohio, make sure quality is a deciding factor in authorizers' ability to open additional charter schools. Students in Detroit and across Michigan deserve those same quality assurances.

Everyone involved in education in Michigan has a moral responsibility to be straight with the numbers and raise the bar for what success looks like. Until that happens, school children will continue to fall behind.

Shame on all of us if we let that happen.

Carol Goss is president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation.

Courtesy of The Detroit News, Copyright 2012
www.detnews.com