News Story

Best Schools In Michigan Would Vanish If For-Profit Charters Were Banned

Two top-tier Democratic candidates for governor say that’s what they would do

The four highest-performing Michigan school districts — a term that in state law includes public charter schools — are charter schools. That’s according to the most recent statewide tests given to public school students. And all four schools would be closed if it were up to two Democratic candidates for governor.

Bill Cobbs and Abdul El-Sayed told the news site MLive that if elected, they would stop state funding for charter schools that have contracted with for-profit management companies to run the school. Cobbs said he would stop state funding for all charter schools.

A spokesperson for El Sayed provided a clarification in an email to Michigan Capital Confidential: "Abdul is not talking about shutting down schools. He is talking about providing an off-ramp so that charter schools that are run by for-profit operators have a chance to be run without a profit motive. Our children's education should be in the hands of families, educators, and communities - not corporations."

The top four schools are Plymouth Scholars Charter Academy, Achieve Charter Academy, Canton Charter Academy, and South Arbor Charter Academy. The board of each charter school has hired a for-profit education management company called National Heritage Academies to operate their school. NHA is the state’s largest education management company.

Across all grades and in all subjects, a higher percentage of students at these four schools scored “proficient” than in any Michigan school district, according to calculations by the National Charter Schools Institute. Rounding out the top ten were six conventional public school districts. The institute is a consulting company that serves charter school authorizers, including universities and state education departments nationwide.

Cobbs didn’t respond to an email from Michigan Capitol Confidential seeking comment.

Another Democratic candidate for governor- Gretchen Whitmer - has not said she wants to ban for-profit charter schools. She does say they "have broken our education system." 

Students at Plymouth Scholars Charter Academy had the highest overall proficiency rate on the statewide tests, called M-STEP, at 73.2 percent. East Grand Rapids Public Schools had the highest proficiency rate of any conventional school district at 68.8 percent. The average proficiency rate for all public school districts in Michigan across all subjects and grades was 35.2 percent.

Even though charter schools often have only one building, the state of Michigan defines each one as a school district. Some charter school districts include multiple campuses.

The M-STEP is Michigan’s annual statewide standardized test, intended to track student progress in English language arts, math, science and social studies. After taking the test, students are ranked as either “advanced,” “proficient,” “partially proficient” or “not proficient” in a subject. Students ranked as either advanced or proficient are deemed to have met standards, while students ranked as either partially proficient or not proficient are deemed to have not met standards.

Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, praised the results.

“This is one more piece of evidence that the innovation and accountability you find in charter schools is working,” Quisenberry said. “If anyone questions whether charter schools in Michigan are working, just look at the scoreboard.”

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which publishes Michigan Capitol Confidential, has databases with scorecards of Michigan elementary and middle schools, as well as high schools, which include socioeconomic factors in addition to raw academic scores in their rankings.

“Raw test scores tend to say more about the challenges students bring with them than the value the school adds to their learning,” said Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center. “Even after factoring for poverty, these schools are doing a comparatively good job. But the state’s highest proficiency numbers are not the result of performance alone.”

State Rep. Ronnie Peterson D-Ypsilanti, who represents the area containing South Arbor Charter Academy, didn't respond to attempts to get a comment by either phone or email.

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.