LOCAL COMMENT: No logic in
adding charter schools
by David Hecker, Detroit Free Press, June 17, 2003
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The other day, I was helping my fifth-grade son do his math
homework. For the math problem 2 5/6 times 3 2/3, he initially
got an answer of 4 and a fraction. But he realized it had to be
wrong. He knew that just 2 times 3 equals 6. He applied logic.
Logic, unfortunately, does not seem to be incorporated into the
arguments of those seeking to dramatically increase the number
of charter schools. A current Senate bill provides for lifting
the cap on the number of schools universities can charter by 300
over the next 10 years.
What's the flaw in the logic?
Charter schools are fraught with problems. The problems were
noted in research performed by Western Michigan University,
Stanford University, Brookings Institute, Public Sector
Consultants/Maximus, Michigan's Auditor General, the American
Federation of Teachers, and former Gov. John Engler's initiated
Commission on Charter Schools, chaired by Michigan State
University President Peter McPherson.
Charter schools, initially designed to be incubators of
innovative teaching, are not innovative at all. Public Sector
Consultants/Maximus found that "Michigan's charter schools are
more an experiment in organization than an innovation in
Charter school students are not performing up to the level of
their host public school districts, according to a Western
Michigan University report. The Brookings Institute found that
"charter schools score significantly below regular public
schools on achievement tests," while also reporting that charter
schools in Michigan were the lowest achieving schools in their
This being so even when charter schools may determine their size
and limit enrollment, and when regular public schools must
accept every student.
Charter schools serve a signficantly lower percentage of special
education students and limited English students, the Commission
on Charter Schools reported. Why? Because educating special
education students is more expensive. That reason also applies
to why most charters are elementary schools; the per-child cost
is less, the commission reported.
The bottom line for 70 percent of charter schools is profit, as
they are run by private-for-profit companies. That's right. Your
tax money is supporting a corporation's profit margin. By the
way, company-run charter schools spend $1,000 per pupil more on
administrative costs and less on instruction than the regular
school district, the American Federation of Teachers found.
Furthermore, there is a lack of oversight and, therefore,
accountability over charter schools. Michigan's auditor general
confirmed that the Department of Education is not able to
perform its oversight responsibilities adequately because of the
lack of financial resources. So while accountability may be a
part of a charter school bill -- without proper funding for
oversight -- they are words with no impact.
Moreover, since charter schools are funded out of the School Aid
Fund, they take money away from traditional public schools and,
therefore, from the students. Due to the commitment of their
teachers and staff there are some successful charter schools.
However, where is the logic to expand the number of charter
Logic would say look at all of the positive things going on in
our public schools, schools that educate 90 percent of the
children in Michigan. Logic would say dedicate our limited
resources to lowering class size, enhancing infrastructure,
providing meaningful professional development and using
research-based education programs proven to work so that every
school is providing the education every child deserves.
As logic says that 2 5/6 times 3 2/3 has to be more than 4,
logic also says there should not be an expansion of charter
DAVID HECKER is president of the Michigan Federation of Teachers
& School Related Personnel -- AFT, AFL-CIO. Write to him in care
of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI