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Failing charter operators keep expanding in Michigan  

In 2012, Leona Group took over the three schools in the struggling Highland Park district. The photo above is shown on the Leona Group’s Web site. It is not the Michigan Highland Park High School.   COURTESY PHOTO

In 2012, Leona Group took over the three schools in the struggling Highland Park district. The photo above is shown on the Leona Group’s Web site. It is not the Michigan Highland Park High School. COURTESY PHOTO

Submitted by Education Trust-Midwest

ROYAL OAK, Mich. — A new Education Trust-Midwest (ETM) analysis of charter schools scheduled to open in Michigan this fall shows chronically low-performing operators are continuing to expand rapidly in the state, regardless of what’s best for students. The data demonstrate Michigan needs to seriously consider holding charter authorizers more accountable for school quality.

The organization’s analysis found that while some strong operators have been approved to expand this fall, some of Michigan’s worst operators are also continuing to replicate.

ETM examined the operators slated to open 32 new charter schools this fall, based on a recent Michigan Department of Education release. Authorizers have the power to rein in low-performing operators, yet many have not done so.

“The Education Trust–Midwest believes all Michigan students deserve a high-quality school, no matter its governance structure,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of the nonpartisan research and advocacy group. “That’s why we support the expansion of high-quality charter schools in Michigan. Sadly, too many of the new charter schools opening are run by operators who are failing to do right by our parents and students.”

According to Arellano, some of these operators’ student achievement levels are worse than the state’s most struggling public school districts, such as Detroit and Flint public schools.

“Our state holds schools accountable in Michigan. Now we need real accountability for authorizers who continue to approve the expansion of failing school operators — this is needed whether we’re talking about traditional school districts, or nonprofit or for-profit operators,” she said.

The ETM analysis found there is great variation in charter operator performance. Some newly approved charter schools have operators with strong track records of student achievement. For example, National Heritage Academies is set to open the Oakland Scholars Charter Academy in Waterford this fall.

At the same time, other operators’ track records are weak and sometimes even abysmal. This disturbing pattern follows the state legislature’s 2011 decision to lift the state’s cap on charter school expansion without regard for an operator’s performance. Consider:

– Leona Group, LLC, a for-profit operator based in Arizona, has among the worst track records in Michigan among traditional public districts or charter operators. It currently operates 26 Michigan schools in Detroit, Dearborn, Melvindale, Benton Harbor, Traverse City, Flint, Saginaw, Highland Park and Warren.

An example of Leona’s low performance is Mildred Wells Academy, a Bay Mills-authorized school in Benton Harbor. Open since 2005, only 6 percent of its students met state standards last year in math.

That’s lower than student scores in the struggling Benton Harbor Public Schools and far below the state average of 40 percent.

– At Leona’s Cesar Chavez Academy in Southwest Detroit, students performed worse than Detroit Public Schools (DPS) in reading on the 2012 MEAP. Chavez students, 92 percent Latino, performed worse than DPS Latino students by nearly four percentage points in reading.

Despite these numbers, Leona was approved to open another K-5 Cesar Chavez campus in Detroit that will enroll 300 students.

– CS Partners in Brighton operates nine schools in Michigan. One example of CS Partners’ low performance is Pansophia Academy in Coldwater, which is co-operated with MEP Services. Pansophia, a Central Michigan University authorized school, has been open since 1995.

About 48 percent of its students are low income. The school performed worse than 90 percent of Michigan schools in the state’s 2012 accountability system. On the 2012 MEAP, its students scored well below the state and Coldwater Community Schools in all subjects. Only 2 percent of its students met science standards, compared with 15 percent statewide and 17 percent in Coldwater public schools.

– Midwest Management Group is opening a new school in Flint, even though its existing schools struggle mightily. For example, its Woodward Academy in Detroit performs below the average for DPS in reading and math and far below the statewide average.

“Leading states make sure their charter operators meet minimum performance standards before allowing them to expand,” Arellano said. “We need to provide such quality assurances for all of our children here, regardless of where they live or who they are. Our students deserve no less.”

The Education Trust-Midwest is a Michigan  nonpartisan policy, research and advocacy organization  that works for the high achievement of all students, particularly low-income, African American, Latino and American Indian students in Michigan. For more information, visit

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