News Story

Charter School Association: Sports Reporter Shouldn’t Have Taken Unfair Swipe At Charter Schools

Michigan reporter Mick McCabe has been one of the most respected high school sports writers in the country. McCabe is a member of the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame who had been a full-time sports writer for the Detroit Free Press, starting in 1970. He broke several big stories in his career and now covers high school sports for the daily metro as a freelancer.

In a Nov. 22 column, McCabe opined on the news that for the first time a charter school — Michigan Collegiate in Warren — will be playing for a state high school football championship. Michigan Collegiate plays Lansing Catholic Nov. 26 in the Division 6 state championship game. But McCabe implied that charter schools routinely cheat when they participate in high school sports.

McCabe wrote:

“People often look at you cross-eyed when you mention charter schools and athletics. Many charter schools have checkered reputations when it comes to academic performance, and it is even worse when athletics is involved. It is believed that some charter schools view Michigan High School Athletic Association rules as mere suggestions.”

McCabe cited one example in his article of a charter that did break the rules in athletics, Chandler Park Academy in Harper Woods. The rule at issue then was whether a player who transferred was eligible to play.

“What I wrote was not unfair nor was it inaccurate,” McCabe said in an email. “In addition to what happened at Chandler Park goes with the school’s actions a couple of years ago when the school pulled out of it's Week 9 game because it had qualified for the state playoffs after Week 8. Had it played Week 9 and lost, it probably would not have made the state playoffs. While that may not have been illegal, it goes against everything high school athletics are supposed to be about. A few years ago Melvindale AB&T had to forfeit a state championship it had just won because it used an ineligible player. Detroit Community had to forfeit games because of ineligible players. The Detroit Edison football team had several football games forfeited because of ineligible players.”

McCabe added: “Those are examples I came up with off the top of my head. Had I needed to, I am sure I could come up with many more examples.”

McCabe’s examples include multiple sports and go back as far as 2009.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association investigates numerous cases of player eligibility every year.

There have been media reports this year of conventional public schools using ineligible players, such as in the Roseville and Ann Arbor football programs.

What is not known is whether charter schools are more prone to violating MHSAA’s rules than standard public schools.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association stated in an email it doesn’t track violations based on if the school is public or nonpublic and doesn’t keep a database of violations.

But McCabe’s claims that charter schools have checkered record of academic achievement is not supported by academic studies on charter schools nationwide. The Center for Research on Education Outcomes, at Stanford University (CREDO) has documented a higher level of academic performance by Michigan charter schools compared to traditional public schools in the state that serve the same population or demographically similar ones.

The Michigan Association of Public School Academies issued a Nov. 15 press release reporting that in academic performance, the 13 highest-ranking Detroit open-enrollment elementary and middle schools in Detroit were all charter schools, according to the U.S. News & World Report.

On the other side, the conventional Detroit Public Schools Community District has been ranked as the worst public school district in the country by the National Assessment of Education Progress in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019. That’s every time Detroit has participated in the analysis over the past 11 years in the biannual findings that are described as The Nation’s Report Card.

McCabe’s claim of widespread cheating angered charter school proponents, who believe the Detroit Free Press used the news event of a charter school in the running for a state football championship to carry an attack the charter school system, to which it it has a history of hostility.

Michigan Collegiate, a charter school in Warren, is playing for a state championship, and neither McCabe nor anyone else has claimed the team cheated on player eligibility.

“It was uncalled for. He uses that to inaccurately and unfairly attack all charter schools,” said Buddy Moorehouse, vice president of public relations and media for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.

“Mick McCabe, better than anyone, should know there are bad actors at every level of high school sports. If he is trying to say charter schools cheat more than traditional schools, that is news to us and we would like to have that conversation with him,” Moorehouse said. “We don’t view any rules as mere suggestions. We follow the rules and to imply otherwise is untrue and has no place in an article like this.”

For decades, public and private schools have been accused of cheating by using illegal transfers. Jack Roberts, then-president of the Michigan High School Athletic Association, once called a Lansing State Journal reporter in the 1990s to ask if a player who had been interviewed for a story told the reporter anything that would help the MHSAA’s investigation of claims the player was an illegal transfer.

Jackson Public School officials were upset when Waverly High School in the Lansing area won the 2000 state championship in basketball with a player who had moved from the Jackson school district to play with prep star Marcus Taylor. The MHSAA did not declare the transfer student Kortney Scott, ineligible, and Scott later went on to play at the University of Iowa.

In 1996, Walter French Academy was a new Lansing charter school that hired Jerry Ernst as its basketball coach. Some of the top players from around mid-Michigan came to the school in its first year. This created an uproar in the high school basketball community, with Ernst accused of improper recruiting.

But Walter French Academy did not have plans to play under the MHSAA rules or be affiliated with the association. Ernst said at the time that the goal was to have a national traveling team that played all across the country, not unlike Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, which had produced many NBA players.

But the funding never materialized for an elite traveling high school team, and Walter French later had a standard high school basketball team and started participating in the MHSAA tournament until it closed in 2004.

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.