Highland Park students improve math, reading scores after charter public school company took over
A year after taking over the troubled Highland Park School District, the charter school management company now overseeing the district is reporting improved scores in reading and math.
The Leona Group cited improved reading and math testing scores for grades 2 through 8 from the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2013 in the new Highland Park Public School Academy System.
The improvement is significant because Highland Park is at the center of an ACLU class-action lawsuit that claims the state failed to ensure students were reading at grade level and the state "should know" the Leona Group "is incapable of producing appropriate results."
The ACLU filed its lawsuit July 12, 2012, and then amended it Aug. 8, 2012, to include The Leona Group, which had just taken over the school district.
"It was important that The Leona Group was included in the complaint because it is one of the entities legally responsible for these students and the reforms we may come to," said Rena Elmir, deputy director of the ACLU-Michigan, in an email. "It's vital that the entity in charge of delivering quality education to the students of Highland Park has a seat at the table as we craft solutions."
But the ACLU did more than just add the charter school company as a defendant. The ACLU said the state was "cavalier" when it didn't ensure The Leona Group had a track record to ensure "all students could achieve basic literacy skills."
The lawsuit uses The Leona Group’s Saginaw Preparatory Academy as an example of potential issues and cited unsatisfactory MEAP test scores at that school as evidence.
However, the state of Michigan included Saginaw Preparatory Academy as a "real success" story as one of its "Beating the Odds Schools" in 2010-11 for overcoming barriers to learning such as low economic status and proficiency with English.
When factoring in such things as socio-economic status of the students, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy gave Saginaw Preparatory Academy an "A" grade on its performance report card, and ranked it as the 22nd best elementary/middle schools in the state in an analysis looking at 2009-2012.
Elmir said being cited by the state as a "Beating the Odds Schools" doesn't constitute a "track record."
"However, our criticism was and continues to be about the process and the quality controls surrounding the bid process or, in the case of Highland Park, the lack of one," Elmir said.
Audrey Spalding, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s director of education policy, said the ACLU alleges that its lawsuit is motivated by past performance at the district, but the conventional district is no longer in charge of the schools.
"Is this lawsuit about poor performance, or is it about charter companies running failed public schools?" Spalding said.
As a conventional public school, Highland Park was spending nearly $20,000 per student, but not performing basic upkeep at schools. Students said the school was so dirty, mice were seen running around the classrooms.