Low performing Detroit charter schools

Nearly four 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 the charter sector had not earned the right to charter an unlimited number of new schools. Student achievement was too low.

Two years ago I updated that post. Very little had changed in the performance of Detroit charter high schools. Although, by then, lawmakers had eliminated the cap on charters.

Unfortunately the data recently released by the Michigan Department of Education for the 2014-2015 school year shows a continuation of the same pattern: low performing Detroit charter high schools.

I wrote four years ago:

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.

Four years later there is little if any progress. Lets look at how the charter high schools located in Detroit are performing. (Some of the schools have received/are receiving funding and/or capacity building from Michigan Future Schools. So far our involvement has not been effective enough to change the pattern.) When you look at these ACT 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 (DEPSA): 18.6
  • University Prep Science and Math: 16.8
  • Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative  Studies: 16.4
  • University Prep Academy: 16.3
  • Cesar Chavez Academy: 16.3
  • Marvin L Winans Academy of Performing Arts: 15.8
  • Cornerstone Health + Technology High School: 15.7
  • Jalen Rose Leadership Academy: 15.6
  • Universal Academy: 15.5
  • Old Redford Academy: 15.4
  • Consortium/Voyager 15.2
  • Detroit Community Schools: 14.9
  • Plymouth Educational Center (now closed): 14.7
  • Oakland International Academy: 14.5
  • W.A.Y Academy: 14.3
  • Allen Academy: 14.0

Is an ACT score 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––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 to their authorizer’s 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 is starting to take that excuse off the table. And in Chicago the Noble Network of 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.

The other excuse has been that charters are better than the alternative: the Detroit Public Schools. According to most pundits, policy makers and business leaders, here and nationally, DPS is the worst school district in the country. So you can’t have an easier environment for charters to demonstrate their superiority. But they haven’t.

DPS’s district wide average ACT score is 16.5. The closest you can get to an apples-to-apples comparison are the DPS non-neighborhood and non-test-in high schools. The average ACT scores for those high schools look nearly identical to the charters in the city. (You can find ACT scores for all high schools here.)

(In another example of reality not matching ideology, the Education Achievement Authority had an average ACT score of 13.5.)

Sure seems like it time to reflect on why charters have not lived up to their promise for Detroit students.

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