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Michigan's Charter Authorizers Earn Mostly Average Grades in New Report

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CORRECTED

The groups in Michigan that approve and oversee charter schools are now getting their performance graded.

Education Trust-Midwest, a nonprofit advocacy and research organization focused on closing achievement gaps, released a report Thursday saying that there's little oversight for charter school authorizers in Michigan.  

The report says this is the first time anyone has created a scorecard for the state's authorizers, and that Education Trust spent over two years "mining hard-to-access data." The final grades were based on student academic achievement and growth in the schools that authorizers oversee. 

Out of about 40 active authorizers statewide, several were not included in the scorecard because of lack of available data. Six earned an A from Education Trust, while four got a B, one a C, and six D or F grades. However, the authorizers earning Ds and Fs are overseeing 20 percent of the charter schools that opened between 2011 and 2014. The report also says that low-income and minority students are most affected: "About 72 percent of Michigan's charter school students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch—an indicator of poverty—and more than 60 percent are African American or Hispanic." [CORRECTION: The original version of this post said the majority of authorizers received C grades.]

You can dig into the full report from Ed Trust here.

This is one more example of a larger shift in the charter school movement to hold authorizers more directly accountable. Supporters say that's becuase charter schools often reflect the quality of their authorizers. 

Greg Richmond, the head of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, told me for a story I did last summer that a few bad operators could undermine the entire movement: "If parents keep seeing negative stories in the media, attitudes could change," he said. "If authorizers don't do their jobs well, we'll have more problems and the public will lose confidence in these schools."

Michigan has had firsthand experience with that: a year-long Detroit Free Press investigation released in June found that many of the state's charters were not held accountable for wasteful spending, nepotism, and poor academic performance despite costing taxpayers around $1 billion annually.

Michigan isn't the only state where the heat is getting turned up on authorizers. In Minnesota, the state plans to evaluate its authorizers starting this year, according to the Star Tribune.

Related:

Achievement Gap Growing in Minnesota Charter Schools, Analysis Finds

Interactive Map: Who Oversees Charters in Your State?

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