News Story

National Charter School Critic Paints Flawed, Muddled Picture Of Detroit Education Landscape

Invalid to lump Detroit charter performance in with Detroit's district schools

A nationally recognized education researcher and writer who is a long-time critic of charter schools recently made misleading comments about Michigan’s public school landscape. The comments appeared in a Washington Post video, and included a claim that the charter school movement was a hoax.

Diane Ravitch is a professor at New York University and a former assistant secretary of education for the U.S. Department of Education under President George H.W. Bush. She made her comments in a Nov. 29 panel called Education 360: Debating the Future.

Ravitch stated that red states in the U.S. have cut school funding — something that is not true in Michigan. She also lumped Detroit charter schools’ performance in with the abysmal performance of schools operated by the conventional Detroit public school district.

These claims do not stand up to close scrutiny.

Ravitch stated, “If you look at Detroit, half the schools in Detroit are charter schools, most of them are for-profit charter schools, it’s the lowest-performing district in the country.”

It is, though, the conventional Detroit public school district that has been branded the worst-performing school district in the country, not independent charter schools located in the city. The National Assessment of Educational Progress ranked Detroit’s conventional public school district as the nation’s worst urban school district in biannual reports released in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017. This means Detroit’s conventional district has been the worst in the country for going on a decade.

In a follow-up email to Michigan Capitol Confidential, Ravitch persisted in conflating charter schools located in Detroit with the city’s public school district.

“With all those charters, Detroit remains the lowest scoring urban district in the nation (including charters),” Ravitch said in an email.

Ravitch also criticized Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes. In 2013 and 2015 reports, CREDO said that charter school students in Michigan perform better than their peers in conventional public schools.

CREDO’s 2015 report stated that Detroit’s charter school system could serve as a model for other communities to follow.

“Sorry but I don't know anyone who would cite Detroit as a model for education,” Ravitch said in an email. “I suppose it might help to know that CREDO is Walton funded.”

Ravitch has stated that the Walton family does not like public education.

“Dr. Ravitch is correct that we receive funding for our work from the Walton Family Foundation,” said Macke Raymond, director of CREDO. “We also enjoy the support of several foundations that are on the ‘blue’ side of the spectrum. All our funders — and our state education agency partners, too — know that our work is impartial and independent. Our aim is to provide neutral analysis of important issues, policies and programs in U.S. K-12 education using the most rigorous analytic techniques we can apply. We take no advocacy positions on any of our work — and we think that makes us both unique and the trusted source for clear insight into ed policy today. Lots of foundations use our work to guide their decisions. Walton is one among many.”

Ravitch stated that 80 percent of Michigan charter schools are operated by for-profit education management companies. When contacted by email, she cited a New York Times article as the source of her information.

According to a 2016-17 breakdown by the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, that number is erroneous.

There were a total of 380 charter school buildings in Michigan that year.

Of these, 183 schools (48 percent) contracted with a for-profit, full-service educational service provider (ESP), or management company. Another 46 schools (12 percent) contracted with a nonprofit, full-service management company. Other schools used an ESP for only specific functions: 71 schools (19 percent) contracted with a for-profit ESP just to manage their staff and 26 schools (7 percent) contracted with a nonprofit ESP for human resources services. Still other schools — 54 in all (14 percent) — did not contract with an education service provider for any service.