Debunking the “Michigan Charters Stink” Canard

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

In The Detroit News, JayBlog’s own Matt Ladner and Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute highlight further evidence that the narrative painting Michigan charter schools as uniquely awful. Actually, as Ladner and Eden show, studies consistently find that they are outperforming Michigan’s district schools:

The first shot fired came from the opinion pages of the New York Times, where Tulane University professor Doug Harris declared that DeVos’ nomination represented, “a triumph of ideology over evidence.” He held her responsible for charter schools in Detroit, which he called “the biggest school reform disaster in the country.”

Oddly, Harris linked his claim to a Stanford study showing that Detroit’s charter schools significantly outperform its traditional public schools. He, and the rest of Michigan charter critics, also ignored studies from the Mackinac Center and Excellent Schools Detroit that also showed a substantial charter edge.

But no matter. The narrative was set. The Atlantic, the Washington PostPoliticothe New RepublicNewsweek, and others piled on: it’s the Wild West out there, there aren’t enough regulations, there isn’t enough accountability, there are too many for-profit operators. Never mind the best evidence at the time, from another Stanford study, that showed that Michigan’s charter schools outperform its traditional public schools on 52 of 56 metrics.

Add to this pile of evidence the results of the NAEP exam, showing that Michigan’s charters consistently outperform Michigan’s district schools, and a new random-assignment study finding that students enrolled in major for-profit charter network in Michigan scored higher in state math exams and reading exams than the control group.

Will the technocrats care about the empirical evidence? Ladner and Eden suspect not:

Some reformers, who claim to care solely about evidence, have already and will likely continue to ignore the evidence of Michigan’s charter school success. The reason has less to do with data, and more to do with the fact that Michigan’s charter sector isn’t tightly controlled by “experts.”

In addition to Michigan, technocratic reformers have a difficult time explaining charter school success in states like Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico and Oregon. Whereas pro-regulation charter advocates give these states low grades for policy, charter schools in these states show either very high NAEP scores, very high rates of academic progress, and sometimes both. Maybe that’s because parents and teachers, given the freedom and flexibility, can do more to open good schools and close bad ones than the self-proclaimed experts. The “experts” who claim to follow the “evidence” may claim that Michigan is a failure. But the “evidence” of success makes you wonder whether these “experts” aren’t actually just ideologues.

Indeed.

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2 Responses to Debunking the “Michigan Charters Stink” Canard

  1. Matthew Ladner says:

    The ball is on Shady McTechnocrat’s side of the court…

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