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Politico: Betsy DeVos’ Michigan Charter Schools Get ‘Poor Grades’

President-elect Donald Trump’s education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos has contributed both her wealth and influence to the creation of more charter schools in her home state of Michigan, but national test scores show the state has not fared well as a result, says a report in Politico.

The report, published Friday, says, “Despite two decades of charter-school growth, the state’s overall academic progress has failed to keep pace with other states.”

It continues:

Michigan ranks near the bottom for fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on a nationally representative test, nicknamed the “Nation’s Report Card.” Notably, the state’s charter schools scored worse on that test than their traditional public-school counterparts, according to an analysis of federal data.

MI NAEP by Breitbart News on Scribd

From 2009 to 2015, for example, Michigan’s state average score on the NAEP mathematics assessment was below the national public school average, and from 2003 to 2007, the state’s average score was “not significantly different from the national public school average.” Michigan fared better in math on the Nation’s Report Card from 1996 to 2000.

DeVos’ supporters, however, point to research from Stanford University’s CREDO, which scrutinizes education reform and student performance:

Compared to the educational gains that charter students would have had in a traditional public school (TPS), the analysis shows that, on average, students in Michigan charter schools make larger learning gains in both reading and mathematics. Thirty-five percent of the charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their TPS counterparts in reading, while two percent of charter schools have significantly lower learning gains. In math, forty-two percent of the charter schools studied outperform their TPS peers and six percent perform worse. These findings position Michigan among the highest performing charter school states CREDO has studied to date.

Charter students in the city of Detroit (27% of the state’s charter students), are performing even better than their peers in the rest of the state, on average gaining nearly three months achievement for each year they attend charter schools.

Despite the “three months achievement” progress in Michigan, it is noteworthy to look at CREDO’s assessment of charter schools in Massachusetts, which rate the highest in the nation:

Compared to the educational gains that charter students would have had in a traditional public school (TPS), the analysis shows on average that students in Massachusetts charter schools make larger learning gains in both reading and mathematics. At the school level, 44 percent of the charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their TPS counterparts in reading, while 13 percent of charter schools have significantly lower learning gains. In math, 56 percent of the charter schools studied outperform their TPS peers and 17 percent perform worse.

The impact of charter schools in Boston are also analyzed separately. Compared to the educational gains that charter students would have had in TPS, the analysis shows on average that students in Boston charter schools have significantly larger learning gains in both reading and mathematics. In fact, the average growth rate of Boston charter students in math and reading is the largest CREDO has seen in any city or state thus far. At the school level, 83 percent of the charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their TPS counterparts in reading and math, while no Boston charter schools have significantly lower learning gains.

What we can learn from this is that there are good charter schools and bad charter schools, just as there are good public schools and bad ones. States should be able to make a difference in the quality of their schools.

The Politico report then moves to the issue of school vouchers, which is a totally different issue.

School vouchers are the transfer of taxpayer funds from a public school to a private or religious school. Most on the left who oppose DeVos – particularly teachers’ unions – do so for several reasons, not the least of which is the claim that vouchers will suck taxpayer funds from traditional public schools and destroy them. Some on the other side say public schools are already destroyed, despite billions of taxpayer dollars poured into them over the past several decades in the name of “education reform” and “closing the achievement gap.”

Additionally, however, the left takes significant issue with public money going to religious schools.

Grassroots constitutionalists, who have been fighting against establishment Republicans and Democrats over federal intrusion into education through Common Core, know that school vouchers, as a means to bring about “school choice,” are associated with the greatest amount of regulation for the private and religious schools that agree to accept them.

In some states with hefty voucher systems, private and religious schools that accept vouchers have been forced to use the same Common Core standards and have their students take the same Common Core-aligned tests as their counterparts in the public schools. This is done in the name of “accountability” for use of public money. This situation, however, begs the question, “Why bother, then, to move a child from a public school to a private school?”

Neal McCluskey, education director at Cato Institute, says his concern about DeVos is that she will attempt to direct “school choice” from Washington, D.C. At a time when most grassroots parents groups across the country had hoped to find a Trump administration finally getting rid of the U.S. Department of Education, DeVos could still be running the show from D.C. – though from a different angle.

“Even though choice is great, it is not something people should want Washington providing,” McCluskey, said in an interview with Caffeinated Thoughts. He added:

Nor—outside of the DC voucher program, military families, and maybe Native American reservations—is it something that the feds can constitutionally provide. My fear is that DeVos and Trump might not recognize the myriad problems with taking private school choice national.

More concerning, the American Federation for Children, which DeVos chairs, has tended to favor more rules and regulations on choice than I would prefer. That could become a much bigger concern were rules and regs attached to national-level vouchers.

Writing at the American Spectator, Robert Holland of the Heartland Institute echoes that same concern:

Although the Constitution empowers the judiciary to determine the constitutionality of laws, it does not provide for Congress, the White House, or federal agencies to control education by statute or regulation. Under the Tenth Amendment, sway over education is left to the states and to the people.

The strongest step the Trump Administration could take on behalf of real choice in education would be to devise a plan for dismantling or phasing out the U.S. Education Department (USED), which came into being in 1980 as President Jimmy Carter’s payoff to the largest teacher union, the National Education Association, for supporting his election campaign. USED has done nothing but impede educational progress with senseless No Child Left Behind edicts and costly Race to the Top boondoggles.

Finally, Oklahoma parent activist Jenni White writes about DeVos’ nomination that school vouchers are only part of the problem.

“Part of the reason we fought so hard against Common Core was the seepage of its tentacles into every nook and cranny of the education world – including source materials,” she says. “There is no such thing as “school choice” –including those using traditional education methods such as homeschool – when federal policy is allowed to dictate state education function.”

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