NEW YORK TIMES TAKES ADVOCACY JOURNALISM TO NEW LOWS WITH STORY ON MICHIGAN CHARTER SCHOOLS

The story in this week’s New York Times on charter schools in Michigan represents advocacy journalism at its most biased and inflammatory. Not only does the story blatantly misstate many of the facts about Michigan’s charter public school sector and the institutions that authorize them, it also willfully takes the entire story out of context, misrepresenting the broader picture of school improvement and growth statewide.

Charter schools are an important piece of a very large, coherent policy framework for boosting K–12 results in Michigan. Charters are subject to all the same laws, rules and regulations as any other public school, and are overseen not just by the same entities that govern all Michigan schools, but by an added layer of accountability: the authorizer.

This added accountability drives results. The top 3 high schools in the state, according to US News and World Report, are charter schools. A Stanford study found that students in charter schools in Detroit gain 3 months more academic growth than their peers per year. Charter schools also performed better on average on the state M-Step test than their traditional school counterparts.

These are facts that did not serve the agenda of the writer or publisher of this article.  They are, however, facts that are important to parents, students and policy makers, and if the author had been interested in fairness and accuracy as opposed to advocacy, would have been included in his piece.

 

From Jared Burkhart, Executive Director

Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers

The consequences for failing our students

There is an expression that rings true throughout the entire world. It is that actions have consequences. What you do, or fail to do, today will impact your tomorrow. Students who don’t study will fail classes. Employees who don’t work will face repercussions at work.

How can we know this? We know it because that is how the world works. You take a test, you earn the consequences of your performance. Students across the globe understand and work with it every day. So do adults and businesses, only the stakes are typically much higher.

Now, evidently, a group of Michigan schools have decided they — and they alone — are exempt from the rules that govern not just their own students, but the rest of the world. And worse still, they have talked many of our state’s policy leaders into agreeing with them.

When the state’s School Reform Office, prompted by state and federal accountability policies, began to take action against chronically low-performing schools, those schools filed a lawsuit. They argued anything they could to deflect attention from their own failure and avoid the consequences.

Now those schools have reached a settlement with state leaders, who — as in years past, through various iterations of statute and accountability — are willing to let them off the hook. What does this mean?

It likely means future generations of Michigan students are going to be failed by their schools. They will graduate unprepared for college, career, or life. Local employers will struggle to find the skilled, educated workers they need. Regional economies will be harmed.

Why?

Because state and local leaders are unwilling to take action and do what’s right.

Within the Michigan charter school sector, we have done right when needed. When one of our schools has been identified by its authorizers as a chronic underperformer, our authorizers have taken action to intervene, and then — if necessary — close the school. Charter closure has happened 103 times during the past 25 years. These are hard choices, but we are committed to ensuring Michigan students continue to be educated, whatever it takes.

The real irony here is that it is Michigan’s charter sector is routinely accused of lacking accountability. In truth, we are the ONLY truly accountable K–12 school structure currently operating in the state. Everyone else up and down the state’s traditional accountability structure is playing games, filing lawsuits, and negotiating in support of continued failure.

As authorizers, we call foul.

This unwillingness to change, this failure to perform on behalf of Michigan’s children, absolutely must stop. And today’s policy leaders must stop engaging this level of failure, or face unimaginable economic and social consequences in the future.

For the recurring nightmare for too many generations of Michigan students is happening again. And this time there appears to be no waking from it.