News Story

Conventional Schools in Anti-Charter Public School Legislator’s District Have Little to Brag About

When students’ backgrounds considered, local high schools score 'D's and an 'F'

Rep. Roberts

Democratic State Rep. Sarah Roberts of St. Clair Shores has become the most recent face of opposition to charter public school expansion in Michigan. She was the primary sponsor of House Bill 5852, which was cosponsored by all but three members of the House Democratic caucus. The bill would impose a moratorium on new charter schools, based in part on claims of poor academic performance.

However, when students’ socioeconomic background is considered, the conventional public schools serving Rep. Roberts' home city fare no better academically than charter schools.

That key information is not apparent in the much-publicized school rankings the Michigan Department of Education calls its “Top To Bottom” list because the list does not take into account students’ socioeconomic backgrounds. The unadjusted ratings are based on student achievement, student improvement and achievement gaps as well as graduation rates.

To give a better idea of how much value schools are adding when student backgrounds are considered, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy created a rating system that adjusts for socioeconomic status. It reveals that when student outcomes are adjusted to reflect their families’ situation, not one of the 16 conventional public schools in the three school districts serving Rep. Robert’s home city of St. Clair Shores scored better than a C grade. Two schools received grades of F, eight received a D and six received C.

Rep. Roberts did not respond to an email seeking comment.

According to Audrey Spalding, the Mackinac Center analyst who compiled the adjusted school rankings, by not controlling for student backgrounds the state’s list provides little basis to assess how much learning a particular school's students are actually getting compared to peers in other schools. Instead, it mostly just confirms that students who don’t have to struggle with low family incomes tend to do better in school.

Looking at just the three high schools in St. Clair Shores, when student socioeconomic status is factored in, two earned Ds and one an F.

“Clearly high school students in that district could use a better option,” Spalding said. “Why would you make it more difficult to provide them a better choice?”

A large percentage of the people living in Rep. Roberts’ district depend on the public “schools of choice” program started by former Gov. John Engler in the 1990s, which allows parents in a school district send their children to a school in an adjacent district. For example, 45 percent of the 4,010 students in St. Clair Shores’ Lakeview Public Schools reside in a different district.

“A large number of parents there already have the opportunity to choose a school for their child,” Spalding said, adding that charter schools are just another form of choice.

Many observers have pointed out the important political and financial context in which the current debate over Michigan charter schools is taking place. For example, the Michigan public radio network acknowledged these factors when it wrote that charters schools overwhelmingly are not unionized and don’t make contributions to the state teacher pension fund (from which their employees also do not benefit).

“Which, taken together, explain a lot of the controversy and political fighting that have happened around charter schools,” Michigan Radio stated.

Intensifying the conflict, until recently Michigan charter schools’ ability to compete with conventional public schools (and their unionized workforces) was limited by an artificial cap on the number of charters. In 2011, legislation opposed by all but one Democrat was enacted that gradually increased the charter cap, and eliminates it starting in 2015.

Teachers unions — in particular the Michigan Education Association — had successfully turned back previous efforts to expand the number of charter schools, very few of which are unionized. The MEA is at the forefront of the current effort to shut down charter school expansion in Michigan.

In 2013, campaign finance records show Rep. Roberts received $2,500 from the Michigan Education Association’s political action committee and another $155 from a MEA UniServ Director (union negotiator) who lives in her district.


See also:

Challenging the Rhetoric in the War on Charter Schools

A Democrat's Reasons For Supporting School Choice

From Detroit to the Ivy League: One Students Journey

Michigan Lifts Charter School Cap

State School Rankings Mostly Measuring Race and Income

Flawed State Rankings Mean Some Principals Are Out of a Job

State Education Department Gives a Pass to Failing Districts; Punishes Charters

New Report Card Compares High School Test Scores and Adjusts For Economic Status

New Report Card Measures Elementary and Middle School Performance By Adjusting For Student Family Income

Almost 220,000 Michigan Students Rely On School Choice