ACLU Joins DeVos Assaults By Ignoring Inconvenient Charter School Truths

Charters do better, and outcompete conventional unionized schools when parents can choose

The Michigan ACLU has become the latest organization to join teachers unions, the public school establishment and others against Betsy DeVos as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be the U.S. secretary of education.

The Michigan ACLU released a statement from Executive Director Kary Moss that read in part:

“She (DeVos) has ardently supported the unlimited, unregulated growth of charter schools in Michigan, elevating for-profit schools with no consideration of the severe harm done to traditional public schools. She’s done this despite overwhelming evidence that proves that charters do no better at educating children than traditional public schools and serve only to exacerbate funding problems for cash-strapped public districts.”

ForTheRecord says: The ACLU has sought to make itself a player in education policy here since at least 2012 when it filed a “right-to-read” lawsuit against the state of Michigan and Highland Park public schools. The lawsuit claimed the school system didn’t take steps to make sure students were reading at grade level, violating both state law and the state constitution. The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected the ACLU’s lawsuit two years later.

The ACLU is also one of many organizations to align themselves with teachers unions, the conventional public school establishment and the Democratic Party in opposing school choice and charter school choice in particular.

Like those other interests, it refuses to acknowledge what the most qualified independent researchers have concluded. That is, in peer-to-peer comparisons between students with similar backgrounds, Michigan’s charter schools do an overall better job at improving student learning than conventional public schools.

In 2013, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) undertook a statewide study of Michigan charter schools. Its researchers found that on balance and with some exceptions charters provided a better education than traditional public schools. In 2015, CREDO examined public education in Detroit, with similar findings. Its report concluded that Detroit’s charter schools should be a model for other urban communities.

Arne Duncan, who was President Obama’s secretary of education until this year, recognized CREDO’s authority on education research in a 2013 speech on the status of charter school education.

Yet the interests aligned with the status quo public school establishment misrepresent CREDO’s Michigan findings, or like Moss, simply ignore them. This is the only way Moss can claim there is “overwhelming evidence” that charter schools are not working.

It should be noted that CREDO does not rubber-stamp charter schools. Three of its recent studies in other states had an unfavorable view.

A 2015 report found that Texas charter schools do worse than regular public schools there. CREDO found in 2014 that charter schools in Ohio on average produce smaller learning gains than conventional school districts. And a 2014 CREDO study of California charters found that charters did worse in math but better in reading when compared to districts.

This nuanced yet positive evaluation of charter schools is ignored by critics aligned with a Michigan public school establishment, including unions, that is losing market share to charter schools that parents regard as a better choice for their children.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.