The goal: Making all schools accountable for students By Dan Quisenberry President, Michigan Association of Public School Academies There’s a terrific school in Hamtramck called Hamtramck Academy, where 81 percent of students tested proficient for reading by the end of third grade this year. That’s up from 69 percent just three years ago, and it’s 33 percentage points higher than the citywide average in Hamtramck for the past school year. An elementary school that’s beating the local average by 33 points. Wow. H a m tramck Academy is a charter school, and the school’s success shows that innovation and accountability will lead to student success. With too many students still stuck in schools that aren’t performing, this is what we need more of. There will be 18 new charter schools opening in Michigan this fall (including six in Detroit), and while it’s great that parents will have more quality educational choices, choice alone isn’t enough. We’ve always said that Michigan doesn’t need more schools – Michigan needs more great schools. Every child deserves a quality education in a quality school, and the way to achieve this goal is for all public schools – charter and traditional - to be held to the same high standards of accountability and performance. MAPSA recently asked every public school official in the state to take a School Accountability Pledge. You’ll find it at www.isupportthepledge.com. This request was e-mailed to every school district in the state, inviting them to live under the same – and additional – accountability standards that charter schools have to follow. The pledge includes these tougher standards that charter schools operate under: • Charter public schools operate under a performance contract that says they’ll be shut down if they fail to operate to a level satisfactory to their authorizer. All schools should be this accountable. • Charter public schools have to accept any
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student in Michigan, no matter where they live. Traditional public schools do not. • Charter public schools have an automatic closure provision if a school is in the bottom 5 percent for 4 or more years. Traditional public schools do not. If the goal is to have every public school in the state operating under the same standards, then we invite all traditional public schools to sign this pledge. Charter schools agree to hold themselves accountable for their performance. The state’s traditional public schools should agree to, as well. In fact, this is why MAPSA has supported legislation that creates a new, single, state-wide accountability system that focuses on student outcomes. Parents need an easy-to-understand A-F letter-grading system. We hold students accountable by grading them; let’s do the same for schools. Schools failing to meet the grade should then be subject to closure. We need to close bad schools – charter, traditional, whatever. One of the hallmarks of charter schools is that if they aren’t working, authorizers do change them and close them, and the current charter school law contains an automatic closure provision for charter schools. That doesn’t happen with traditional public schools; not a single one of them has ever been closed for poor academic performance. Ever. That needs to change. Finally, we also need to pass a bill that requires our schools to put an emphasis on early literacy. If a child can’t read by third grade, we’re condemning that child to a bleak future. What we need to be talking about is how to make sure that every child receives a quality education in a quality school, like Hamtramck Academy. Dan Quisenberry is the president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, the state charter school association.