I have been working in education policy for almost seven years. I often hear quotes like this recent one from a Michigan Radio interview with Ed Trust-Midwest’s Amber Arellano:
“Michigan is a very unusual state in that we’re one of the least regulated [states] when it comes to our charter schools,” Arellano said.
Except we aren’t. Evidence would say the opposite of what Ms. Arellano and others frequently claim. Michigan is not one of the least regulated states when it comes to charter schools. Not at all. Michigan has tons of rules and regulation. Since the charter school law was first passed in Michigan more than 20 years ago, the charter school law has gone from 6 pages to 50 pages and the first charter school contract from 152 pages to a staggering 1,095 pages today.
Additionally, charter schools in Michigan must also comply with nearly all of the laws, rules and policies that any other traditional school has to comply with. Other states have blanket waivers for charter schools. They allow most of the regulations that apply to charter schools to be waived in exchange for accountability related to student performance. Regulations are, by definition, guidelines on how a person or entity should act or do something. They have little to do with outcomes. Regulations set the path for the inputs.
Accountability, on the other hand, is the output. All Michigan schools have less accountability than they do regulation. Michigan has been inconsistent, chaotic in fact with its accountability systems. The tests, the metrics and reporting have changed constantly over 20 years.
Today, it’s a mess of confusing and contradicting laws. For all schools in Detroit, charter and traditional, must follow three different accountability measures: the top-to-bottom list (a ranking of schools in the state), an A-F system that applies only to Detroit, and the Michigan Department of Education’s (MDE) recently submitted, but not yet approved, ESSA system.
There are automatic closure provisions in law based on the top-to-bottom list and the A-F system, but to date, only charter schools have closed under this provision (one) while the Detroit traditional schools have been given dispensation from this law by the MDE. For schools outside of Detroit, schools will have the top-to-bottom list and the MDE’s ESSA system, but only charter schools will be subject to automatic closure provisions based on the top to bottom list.
We cannot regulate schools to quality. We need to look at academic outputs and ways to loosen the stranglehold of regulations in Michigan to move the performance needle for kids. This will do much more than adding 10 more pages of rules to abide by.