Charter school evaluation reveals major impact, unmet expectations
February 18, 199
KALAMAZOO -- Michigan's charter schools are making a substantial
impact on their public school competitors but use few innovative
practices and have not yet achieved the goals state legislators
had in mind when they approved their creation three years ago.
That's the conclusion of a statewide study of Michigan charter
schools just completed by researchers at Western Michigan University.
The study is one of two such studies commissioned by the Michigan
Department of Education and conducted between October 1997 and
December 1998. The study was presented to the Department of Education
at a Feb. 18 meeting in Lansing by Dr. Jerry Horn and Dr. Gary
Miron, both principal research associates with WMU's Evaluation
Center, who conducted the study and prepared the report.
"As a form of choice, an opportunity for visionaries to
develop schools with considerable promise and as a viable competitor
for the regular public schools, the movement is having an impact,"
says Horn. "However, as a laboratory for innovation and a
demonstration of exemplary instruction and educational programming,
there is still much to be accomplished."
The WMU study covered 51, or about half, of Michigan's charter
schools in existence at the time the study began. Public Sector
Consultants Inc. of Lansing conducted the second study, covering
charter schools in Detroit and Southeast Michigan.
The following conclusions are among the WMU study's major findings
about charter schools, also known as public school academies:
- Considerable diversity exists among charter schools, but
they are generally characterized by exceptional commitment on
the part of founders and teachers, and parents and students who
are happy and convinced the academic climate is superior to that
in the public schools.
- Financial difficulties plague charter schools, beginning
with difficulty in obtaining start-up money and continuing with
lack of facility funding and a poor pay level for teachers. Some
charter school teachers make only a third of their public school
counterparts. Most schools have, however, been able to work within
the financial parameters of their per-student state allocation.
- Minimal instructional innovations are reported or observed
in charter schools and many are offering the same curricula and
materials used in neighboring public schools. Although student
and teacher perception of academic achievement is high, there
are not substantial test data to validate these perceptions.
The authors noted, however, that it is too early in the charter
reform process to attribute high or low test scores to the influence
of the charter schools.
- Charter school administration is emerging as an area of significant
difficulty, with administrative
boards being generally weak, charter authorizing agencies' role
and authority being poorly defined and management companies rapidly
emerging as a major power in the charter school movement. Control
issues have been emerging in schools where management companies
have come to play a stronger role.
- Charter schools are clearly drawing students away from the
state's public schools, pulling more than two thirds of their
students from public schools and resulting in financial setbacks
for some districts with a high concentration of charter schools.
Those same districts also experience some positive results from
the existence of charter schools. Among those positive effects
are increased emphasis on customer satisfaction and marketing,
increased efforts to involve parents, and more emphasis on such
programs as foreign language instruction and before- and after-school
- In some cases, charter school authorizers attempt to conceal
rather than reveal weaknesses and problems at their schools.
Oversight of K-12 schools is a rather new activity for these
agencies, and it is fair to say that authorizers are learning
as they go. Also, it is apparent that weak schools may not suffer
enrollment declines or be forced to close, since aggressive recruitment
activities tend to replenish students and teachers who have "voted
with their feet."
- While charter school teachers and parents are generally positive
in their perceptions of charter schools, their initial expectations
were significantly higher than what they are currently experiencing.
- The charter school reform movement is polarized between proponents
and opponents. In the schools themselves, where there are many
with strong points of view (visions) and vested interests, there
is more than ample opportunity for conflicts to occur among stakeholder
groups. Often times, these situations result in broad-based turnover
of board members, school staff, and students.
- Over the last two years, the proportion of minorities enrolled
in charter schools has decreased by more than 20 percent. This
may largely be due to the establishment of new charter schools
that enroll fewer minorities.
Report co-author Miron notes a number of other issues surfaced
during the study that deserves further attention. They include
a number of legal issues, questions surrounding service to special
needs students and concern about charter schools segregating students
according to race, class or ability.
"Clearly there are some potentially strong PSAs with potentially
bright futures but, at the same time, there are PSAs facing major
challenges and the expectation of success is quite limited,"
Miron says. "There are strong PSAs and there are weak PSAs-a
situation not dissimilar among traditional public schools."
Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, firstname.lastname@example.org
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA