According to a 2009 study conducted by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, 42 percent of Michigan’s charter schools outperformed traditional public schools in math and 35 percent outperformed them in reading. Only 6 percent underperformed relative to their traditional public school counterparts in math and only 2 percent did so in reading.
Results were even more impressive in Detroit. The typical Detroit charter school student made annual gains worth about three additional months of learning in both reading and math compared with their peers in nearby traditional public schools.
A recent op-ed penned by Michael Van Beek – Director of Education Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy – in The Wall Street Journal helps explain why Michigan charter schools are succeeding.
He cites three specific reasons:
- Michigan allows a variety of public entities to authorize charter schools. By allowing more charter schools than most states, Michigan has developed a fully functioning charter school market.
- Michigan’s charter schools aren’t subject to teacher tenure laws and have the flexibility to retain or release teachers based on performance.
- Michigan has several strong networks of education-management companies that run charter schools. These perform better than charter schools run by nonprofit boards.
Illinois does have many high-functioning charter schools, as shown in a report we released last year. But it still has a long way to go to create an education atmosphere like Michigan – a place where innovation is encouraged.
Other than school districts – which are notoriously stingy in approving charter school applications because they fear competition – Illinois only has one independent authorizer, the Illinois State Charter Commission. And even that body is under increasing pressure by anti-charter school forces – specifically, those that oppose creating a virtual charter school in the Fox River Valley.
There is a lot to be learned from Michigan. The Illinois General Assembly should follow that state’s lead and institute reforms that increase the number of charter school authorizers, retain charter schools’ flexibility to hire and fire teachers, and allow for-profit companies to directly run charter schools.
Josh Dwyer is Director of Education Reform at the Illinois Policy Institute