New charter schools open with no track record of success

This year, the Legislature allowed for the expansion of cyber and charter schools, despite concern from education experts that too many charter school management companies had questionable success records and were only out to make a profit. While the new law requires charters to meet academic goals, there’s no guarantee that the new schools will be operated by companies with proven academic records.

This fall, 31 new charter schools opened, with number 32 opening in January. This is the largest number of charter school openings since the late 1990s. A report by the Education Trust-Midwest showed that only 14 already had schools operating in Michigan and had a measurable track record.

Charter companies whose schools are in the top third of the state’s top-to-bottom ranking are considered “quality” by the Trust. Only eight out of the 14 operators in Michigan earned that rating.

If more than half of an operator’s schools were below the 33rd percentile in the top-to-bottom ranking, they were considered “struggling” and the companies were to improve the performance of the schools currently operating before opening any new ones. Among all the operators opening charter schools, only 22 of the 47 met the Trust’s criteria for quality.

As for cyber schools, the National Center for Education Policy reported in July that students in K12 Inc., the nation’s largest online education company, were falling behind students in traditional programs and less likely to stay in the system.

Western Michigan University professor Gary Miron co-authored the report, “Understanding and Improving Full-Time Virtual Schools.”  In it he says, “Children who enroll in a k12 Inc. cyber school, who receive full-time instruction in front of a computer instead of in a classroom with a live teacher and other students, are more likely to fall behind in reading and math. These children are also more likely to move between schools or leave school altogether—and the cyber school is less likely to meet federal education standards.”

The Legislature is currently looking at getting school districts more involved with technology and online courses. The House Education Committee is debating a bill which would encourage public schools to use technology specializing in a specific subject area that would appeal to a particular group of Michigan students and be available to tuition-paying students from around the world.