MIDLAND—Michigan’s public charter schools are increasing the proportion of students meeting state standards for reading and math faster than traditional public schools, according to new research from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an independent research institute in Midland.

While Michigan’s charter schools (also called public school academies) have seen lower achievement compared to traditional public schools, the proportion of students meeting state standards for reading and math has increased substantially between 2000 and 2001. According to data from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), Michigan’s official state assessment test, the average charter school (that was open and had test scores available for the 2000 and 2001 MEAP cycles) saw test scores rise by 28 to 55 percent, dwarfing public school gains.

Percent Increase in the Proportion of Students Meeting State Standard,
MEAP Test 2000 to 2001

Type of School

  4th Grade Reading

  4th Grade Math

  7th Grade Reading*

Charter

43.0%

28.3%

55.0%

Traditional Public

10.1%

0.5%

28.8%

                                 

Sources:  U.S. Department of Education, Michigan Department of Education, The Education Trust
*  Scores for 7th grade math were not available in 2001.

This research, which is being released in the Early Fall 2002 Michigan Education Report, comes as the Brookings Institution released a report noting that achievement in the nation’s charter schools is lagging. “Achievement in Michigan’s charter schools may have been low relative to traditional public schools, but charter schools are improving achievement at a much higher rate,” said Dr. Kirk Johnson, the Mackinac Center’s director of education policy who conducted the research on charter school gains.

The authors of the Brookings Institution report caution that the low achievement of charter school students may be a reflection of the kinds of students selecting charter schools. “Students stuck in low-achieving schools are the ones who would choose alternatives like charter schools first,” noted the Mackinac Center’s Johnson. “Both our research and Brookings’ research show that there are low-achieving students in charter schools, which suggests that the charter schools are not taking the best students away from the traditional public schools. At the same time, year-to-year achievement in the charter schools is rising faster than the traditional public schools.”

The implication of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy research is that charter schools provide a viable option for parents who are dissatisfied with traditional public schooling. “Charter schools are an innovative idea that should be expanded in Michigan and throughout the nation. Children who are not being well-served by their local public schools should have the ability to attend a charter school alternative,” Johnson said.

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