BY KATHY HAYES
It strikes me as odd that leaders in Lansing herald the virtues of data-driven decision making but press forward with legislation like Senate Bills (SB) 618 and 619. SB 618 lifts the cap on university authorized charters in the state and allows for unfettered expansion in a time when lawmakers urge consolidation.
Proponents speak of the virtues of successful charter schools, but what’s not mentioned is the fact that many of these schools are on the Michigan Department of Education’s Persistently Lowest Achieving list. Of those schools identified as persistently low achieving, nearly one third of them are charter schools. Further, nearly one third of all charter schools are in the bottom 20 percent in terms of top-to-bottom rankings.
If one were to make a data-driven decision, logic would dictate that there needs to be a quality standard for charter schools to expand. What’s the sense in providing more options and choices if those choices aren’t quality? This legislation should be strengthened to include safeguards to ensure that only the best of the best are allowed to replicate. If we allow the aforementioned failures to expand across the state, we leave an entire generation of students behind all in the name of the free market.
Also on the agenda for the legislature is Senate Bill 619. SB 619 removes all limits on unproven cyber schools. These schools have existed in Michigan for only one year; not nearly enough time to demonstrate success. What also strikes me as odd is that last week the legislature voted to remove the requirement that cyber schools report successes and failures to the Department of Education, and the requirement that operators of cyber schools have any experience with online learning. So, we have legislation that expands an experimental program and strips those programs of any responsibility to demonstrate success.
These bills are part of an agenda; a political hill to climb that puts quality educational choices second to special interests and out-of-state vendors. The Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) supports education policy that will improve student achievement and public education. These bills do neither. We call on legislators and Gov. Snyder to reject these bills and invest time and resources where research and data demonstrate success, like early childhood education. Early childhood education isn’t only a good investment for our children; it’s an investment in economic development for our state. Research from the National Conference of State Legislatures indicates that the long-term return on investment for every early childhood dollar is $17 in benefit to society.
MASB agrees with Gov. Snyder. We need to use good, sound data and research to support education reform. Let’s duplicate what we know works and not risk the future of our children on experimentation.
Kathy Hayes is the executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards.
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