Unlimited charters: not smart updated

Nearly two years ago I wrote a post entitled Unlimited charters: not smart. Using data for charter schools serving Detroit students –– then and now the epicenter of charters in Michigan –– it made the case that authorizers had not earned the right to charter an unlimited number of new schools. Student achievement was too low.

I wrote then:

From their inception in the Nineties Michigan Future, Inc. has been an enthusiastic supporter of charter schools and public school choice. Still are. We have been involved in helping create charter schools for more than a decade. But our support is tempered by the reality of student performance in charter schools. It is mixed at best.

The ideological rhetoric is that traditional public schools with elected school boards, strong unions and big centralized bureaucracies face permanent gale force winds that make it almost impossible to deliver effective teaching and learning leading to high student achievement. And that freed from all those evils plus having parents and students choose their school, charters will get far better student achievement. And that university authorizers, not having local elected schools boards, will police quality far better so only high quality charters will be allowed to operate long term. Sounds great in theory, but the reality is much different.

Two years later there is little if any progress. Lets look at how all the charter high schools either located in Detroit or with substantial number of students from the city to be ranked by Excellent Schools Detroit are performing. The data are a three year average ACT score for those opened that long. When you look at the scores remember that an ACT score of 21 is a surrogate for admission to a four-year university without remediation and 16 is 8th grade competency.

  • Detroit Edison Public School Academy: 18.8
  • University Preparatory Math and Science: 17.1
  • Cesar Chavez Academy: 16.9
  • Crescent Academy: 16.7
  • Chandler Park Academy: 16.4
  • Advanced Technology Academy: 16.3
  • Winans Academy: 16.3
  • HEART Academy: 16.1
  • University Preparatory Academy: 16.0
  • Conner Creek Academy East: 15.9
  • Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative  Studies: 15.8
  • W.A.Y Academy: 15.8
  • Universal Academy: 15.8
  • Old Redford Academy: 15.6
  • Bradford Academy: 15.4
  • Plymouth Educational Center: 15.3
  • Allen Academy: 15.0
  • Oakland International Academy: 14.9
  • Detroit Community Schools: 14.8
  • Academy for Business and Technology: 14.6

Is an ACT score –– or even a three year average –– the only way to evaluate whether a charter school is of quality? Of course not. And an ACT score is not the only measure universities use to determine who is admitted and who needs remedial courses. And these are March of the 11th grade scores –– which ignores progress that students can and should make in the last 1.5 years of high school. But it is the public data we have available for all schools. And these scores are so far below college ready that they provide a compelling case that the charter high schools –– except DEPSA (see previous post here) –– serving Detroit students are not preparing most of their students to meet what I believe is a reasonable minimum standard for charters: that students meet the requirements to be admitted by the authorizer to their university without remediation.

The excuse for years has been that no urban school –– traditional public or charter –– can meet a college ready standard. Here the DEPSA Early College of Excellence –– with its first 11th grade class –– is starting to take that excuse off the table. And in Chicago the Noble Network of now 12 charter high schools with an average ACT score of 20.7 is demonstrating that open enrollment choice urban high schools can prepare students to be college ready.

I concluded the post two years ago with an alternative to eliminating the cap. I wrote:

A better idea, that we proposed nearly a decade ago, is to give authorizers the ability to earn the right to exceed the cap based on the student achievement of the schools they authorize. The better their students do, the more schools they can authorize. We want innovation and new entrants so a fixed cap is not ideal. But we also want schools vetted for quality before they are allowed to open and held accountable for student achievement once they are open so no cap is not ideal either. We need something that gives us the best chance of more good schools and fewer bad schools. Seems to us that a system that rewards authorizers for good student achievement gives us the best chance of doing that.

With two more years of experience still seems like a better alternative.






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