By Dan Quisenberry
President, MI Association of Public School Academies
If you care about education, you may be like most Americans – concerned by the lack of results and frustrated by the constant arguing by adults about possible solutions. Parents want to be involved. Taxpayers want to pay for what works. When do we begin seeing the remarkable outcomes our children deserve? What is the vision?Where are the solutions?
There’s hope at the end of the tunnel, and charter schools are leading the way out of the darkness. But the first step towards “better” needs to be agreeing that there’s work to be done in order to improve our schools. Academic measures show Michigan routinely in the bottom third when compared to the rest of the country. Too many students’ lives are in disruption as they experience poverty, homelessness, family turmoil, violence and abuse.
Funding is both debated and stretched thin. Solutions offered are vehemently opposed and personally attacked. To get to solutions, we must agree that doing more of the same will NOT lead to remarkable, different results. Our students deserve more, and society demands more.
A vision for better education is where parents are engaged with educators, where solutions are built with choice, per-pupil funding and accountability for meaningful academic success.
More than 20 years ago, visionary parents, educators and civic leaders had a dream – a dream for what public education could be, a dream for our children. That vision led to charter schools, a partnership between educators, their community and parents. It’s an idea in which schools are given a measure of expanded freedom in return for a commitment to meet higher standards of academic accountability and student success. They would be funded on an equitable per-pupil basis and parents would decide which school is best for their child. It’s a dream where students are the focus of education.
The next step towards real solutions is recognizing that we have a responsibility to celebrate and promote what’s working in public education. There is growing evidence of innovation and success. This evidence can be seen:
- In small towns where a charter school was created to maintain a quality school in their hometown.
- When schools are able to celebrate cultural diversity that welcomes refugees from war-torn countries across the globe and to meet their unique academic needs.
- When tribal charter schools honor America’s first citizens, where language and culture are preserved.
- When homeless kids can literally find safety and support in the midst of their traumatic life circumstances.
- When schools embrace the arts and sciences, music, engineering, environmental preservation, and robots, where students thrive in their passions.
- When the African tradition of taking “a village to raise a child” is practiced for real at a Michigan charter school.
Evidence of solutions can also be seen in data. Students who attend a Michigan charter school are more likely to be proficient, more likely to graduate, and more likely to continue that success beyond high school than their traditional public school peers. The three best high schools in Michigan and the four highest-performing school districts are all charter public schools. There is additional data and research at these links:
- “Finley: Data busts ‘charter no better’ myth” (Detroit Free Press)
- “The line to apologize to Michigan charter schools forms to the left!” (Jay Greene Blog)
Yet this is not about charter schools, these are merely examples of schools and data that, when given the opportunity to change even in small ways, can and will perform remarkably with their students. Any type of school can and does succeed when given the right circumstances to focus on kids and outcomes.
Parent choice, equitable per-pupil funding and meaningful measures aren’t magic. Education is much more complex than that, but they do provide an environment where innovation can happen, where educators can be treated like professionals and where kids, and their success, are the priority.