Unified Charter School Application Website

PRE-PROPOSAL

1. Media Artifact

Link to media artifact(s) giving background on the issue. Please list the title of the artifact(s) and then make the title(s) a link to the page in the MSC site where the artifact has been posted. You may include media artifacts made by other MSC members, if relevant, even if they are not authors of this proposal.

Charter School Infographic (sources) *updated*

2. Persona and POV statement

Persona:

Issue: Across the state, charter schools are not regulated well enough to protect students and their families from mismanagement or disclosure.

Name: Sheila Jackson

Age: 40

School/Occupation: Works two jobs: elder care aide and corner store cashier at night. Son Carter, 12, attended a recently-closed charter school.

Location: Detroit

Quote: “The last thing I should have to worry about in the middle of the year is finding a new school for my child!”

About:
  • Sheila has just had to take shifts off of her cashier job so that she can attend information sessions about the new schools her son may attend for the rest of the year, as well as sessions about lotteries and applications for next year.
  • Sheila is worried about whether her son, Carter, will be able to adjust to a new school in the middle of the year since he is pretty shy. She also doesn’t know how it will affect him scholastically.
  • Sheila enrolled at Wayne State after high school but wasn’t able to finish the degree due to financial concerns. She remains a proud Detroiter and is optimistic about revitalization.
Goals:
  • As someone who is passionate about education and her child, Sheila hopes Carter can get settled in a new school as soon as possible, with friendly students, effective teachers, and safe facilities.
  • Sheila wants to receive a more detailed explanation from Carter’s previous school, the charter authorizer, or the state as to why the school shut down in the middle of the academic year with little to no warning.
  • Sheila hopes to get a job somewhere in the education sector that pays enough so that she won’t have to work two jobs. That way she will have more time to help Carter with his schoolwork, as well as just more time for herself.

 

POV Statement:

  • User: Sheila, a caring, determined single mother,
  • Need: needs a less stressful way to find her son a well-regulated school 
  • Insight: because the time spent finding a new school for him adds to her financial pressures and detracts from Carter’s ability to pursue a quality education without facing inequitable institutional barriers.
 

 

3. Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

Solution 1: Eliminate non-traditional public schools (removing choice)

               With almost 100 charter school options in the limits of Detroit proper alone (Detroit Chamber), the amount of choice can be overwhelming for families looking to find the best option for them. Without a single website or resource where all application or enrollment information can be found, families are swamped with information that may end up hurting their selection process. With the population of Detroit and the state on the whole declining, it is counterintuitive that the number of schools open in Detroit continues to increase. Increased selection with a smaller number of students is a good recipe for schools that struggle with their overhead or providing a wide spate of curricular and extracurricular offerings. Frequently, charter schools close, with over 40 closing in Detroit in the last decade (MDE).  Student outcomes are hurt by changing schools whether it’s in the summer or during the year (MIT), so this turnover is detrimental. It’s worth noting that charters aren’t required to implement a procedure for helping students find a new school for 4 weeks after a dissolution agreement is signed (Dissolution). A solution to this instability, caused by demographic shifts as well as “financial and academic viability” concerns, would be to close all charter schools and mandate that all public schooling is offered through traditional neighborhood schools. This would eliminate certain barriers to entry present when applying to charter schools, as well as have every parent confident in knowing where their children will be attending school. This would take a large reorganization in Michigan since about 10% of the student population attends some form of charter school. There would also need to be a large rezoning effort to allocate an appropriate number of students and teachers to the newly-designated neighborhood schools. This is an extreme solution, but it would eliminate uncertainty and make sure if schools need to be closed, they go through a thorough, publicly reviewed process in order to protect families and students.

 

Solution 2: Create a common application and website for all public schools within the city limits, regardless of district/authorizer. (facilitating search)

               Since there are dozens of charter and application-based schools in Detroit, families are faced with the monumental task of parsing through the myriad of options and then filling out an application for every school that their students are interested in. Even the six charter schools authorized by DPSCD do not share a common place to find the application for each school. There is a “Charter” page on the DPSCD website that holds links to all six school homepages, but each school still has their own process for admissions. The effort needed to sort through so many charter options as well as application options within DPSCD can feel like a “full-time job” (Free Press). Many cities such as Chicago, Denver, and Washington, DC have a central website to house all application and lottery submissions. They also employ common enrollment, which tries to match students with their first choices across all schools. Such a system would be much harder to implement in Detroit since there are so many authorizers and charter districts (for reference, all Denver and Chicago schools are still under the purview of DPS/CPS, respectively). Common enrollment also gives schools a clearer estimate of how many students will end up enrolling in their school each year, which is helpful for budgeting and stability. While that type of system may be very costly and hard to collaborate on, at the very least the city could mandate that any public school in the city would need to have a common form for personal information so that it only needs to be filled out once regardless of the number of schools being applied to. Every school should also have to have a webpage on the common site that lists application requirements and provides a link to their full website to simplify the process. Each school can have different essay requirements and whatnot, but submission of materials should be centralized so there is an equitable process for every family when finding a school for their children. There will be costs associated with maintaining such a large website and portal system, but I think the bigger challenge would be getting agreement between all of the schools. While this doesn’t directly address school closure or mismanagement, it does simplify the process of selecting schools, giving more times to families and making sure the benefits of choice can actually be experienced equitably. This system could be applied for municipalities across the state, Detroit just serves as a good example of where the issue is the largest.

 

Solution 3: Create a stronger regulatory framework so that authorizers are incentivized to approve charters that will be financially and academically viable. (improving what can be chosen)

               As schools that technically can be closed at any time after approval from the authorizer or the school board (depending on the system), charter schools should be held to a higher standard in order to ensure they remain stable, quality options for families and students. There was a law passed in 2016 that prohibits authorizers from granting new charters unless they’ve been accredited by a “nationally recognized accreditation body,” which is never actually defined in the law however (Law, BridgeMI). This is meant to ensure authorizers are following the recommended procedures and practicing effective oversight for the schools they’ve approved. This is because there was no actual application process for authorizers, and there still isn’t. Any public school organization (traditional school district, intermediate school district, community colleges, public universities) could become an authorizer by simply announcing they are accepting applications for charter schools (FAQ). I think we need fewer authorizers to make sure that only the best applications are being approved upon. Local districts could recommend a new school to a smaller number of university-only authorizers so that local communities still have a say. It would also be better for local communities to not be authorizers because authorizers are entitled to a 3% fee of all state money received by each school they authorize (Auth. Handbook). This can create a “perverse incentive” (QualityCharters) for authorizers to keep schools open even if they are low-performing, or approve too many schools. Universities have the resources to pay for an authorization team, while local districts may be burdening already-booked employees. Eliminating the ability to collect the fee would ensure that schools are only being opened because multiple groups of people think it will help students learn better. A more regulated authorizer system would ensure that better schools are being opened, protecting students from having to move schools repeatedly. This increased stability helps with educational performance and reduces strife within families that is experienced when a school must be closed.

 

BACKGROUND AND RESEARCH PROCESS

Context

Reference a current Michigan bill that relates:

Revised School Code Act 451 of 1976, Section 380.507(9): “If an authorizing body revokes a contract, … shall work … to ensure a smooth transition for the affected pupils.”

Section 380.504(2): A public school academy shall not charge tuition and shall not discriminate in its pupil admissions policies or practices on the basis of intellectual or athletic ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, status as a student with a disability, or any other basis that would be illegal if used by a school district.

Wind Up and Dissolution Procedures Form: “Establish a follow-up procedure to determine where any student who has not attained the age of 16 will be continuing his or her schooling.  MCL 380.1561.  The follow-up procedure should begin no later than 28 days after adoption of the resolution to dissolve the PSA.”

These laws and procedures indicate an overall lack of attention to detail for students for students who are enrolled in schools that have their charters revoked. “Ensure a smooth transition” is exceptionally vague, and the procedure document only mandates that procedure to happen within four weeks of the school closing. These policies leave students and families at risk while trying to find a new school, and Section 380.504(2) of the Revised School Code prohibits discrimination only de jure. Michigan’s school system has de facto discrimination by not having all schools of choice have all of their information easily accessible in a single location.

Why will this proposal make a difference in the lives of students?

Creating more equitable access to charter school applications in the state of Michigan will allow students to take full advantage of a system that is supposed to give students the opportunity to choose the best educative option available to them. Unfortunately, since there are so many options across the state with no unification, students and their families face a huge selection, which favors families that have the time and resources to sort through and apply to many schools. Almost every state in America believes that providing some element of school choice to students will be beneficial, but it is important to make sure every student has full access to learn about and apply to every school that they are eligible to attend, otherwise that choice is not helping those who it is most meant to help.

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

I have been pursuing information about public education and charter schools since high school, when I realized education was a passion of mine. From reading books like The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch, How Schools Work by Arne Duncan, What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith, and many more books, articles, and publications, I have built up a general knowledge about the American education system over the last three years. I am also pursuing a minor in Education Policy from the School of Education, so my coursework over the last two years has built up my knowledge as well. I have specifically sought out information about charter schools in my free time because I have such an internal debate about their place in American education. On one hand, the innovation and passion shown by charter school leaders is so inspiring, and students often benefit tremendously. At the same time, traditional public schools will always be provided by the state, so should there be more effort put in to making those the best they can be? There are many pros and cons to school choice, and I think it is one of the most interesting and engaging debates within education, especially since equity is so often at the core of those discussions. Once I decided on this general topic for the policy, I went to education-focused publications, Michigan Department of Education’s own resources, national policy centers, and academic research to learn more about how students are affected by school churn and what solutions are present to fix equity disparities in school choice.

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

For my service activity, I became a reading coach at the Family Learning Institute in Ann Arbor. Since this is an after school program where the primary interaction is with elementary schoolers, I don’t encounter a lot of high level education policy or regulation directly, but I do see the opposite end of the system firsthand: students and their families. I see when students have to wait an extra hour for their parents to get off work and are antsy from no having enough food during the day, even with their pre-tutoring snack. I see when students aren’t able to practice reading at home because their parents aren’t English speakers. I see when students are frustrated when they move here during the year and are facing an uncomfortable new experience. These issues all point to how students and their families could struggle if they needed to find a new school in a hurry: working parents, non-english speaking parents, or even just being a new family trying to assess the educational landscape of the area. Since Michigan offers school choice, there should be more accessible resources to help all families find the best option for their students, not just families that have the time, privilege, or resources to perform a thorough search.

 

Consultations

Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1:

Brian Jacob, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Education Policy, Ford School of Public Policy

Professor Jacob recently published a study about the academic achievement about students enrolled in a national for-profit charter school network that has dozens of locations across the state of Michigan. I spoke with him about the state of charter regulation in general as well as in Michigan. Our conversation also touched on for-profit versus non-profit charters, but that is less relevant to my proposal. His main points were that charters provide benefits to students since there is the opportunity to try unique educational models. However, he did say that Michigan definitely needs more oversight and regulation – more specific criteria for shutting down bad performers, potentially simplifying or unifying the application process, and most importantly, authorizers having a stricter vetting process before schools open in the first place. Professor Jacob also recommended more strict academic and financial benchmarks for charters than traditional public schools because they are able to close at essentially any time. Since there are no barriers to exit, it is important that students are protected from school churn. His final takeaway is that while choice is a benefit to students, that choice needs to be equitable and available to all students.

CONSULTATION 2:

Nikhil Kawlra, Founder and Head of School of Collegiate Hall College Prep Charter in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Nikhil was a Teach for America Corps member after graduating from the University of Michigan and built his educational experience through work in Philadelphia and Denver in addition to receiving master’s from Columbia and UPenn in education. He became a fellow for Building Excellent Schools in 2014 and has been running his charter school in Tulsa since finishing his fellowship. Collegiate Hall focuses on academic growth and getting their students not only to enroll in college, but also graduate. For his top of the line thoughts on charter schools, he feels that charters are most effective when they are in a community that welcomes them and can find a specific need for a unique schooling model, as well as when there is effective oversight for the charter. There should be consistent and clearly defined oversight from a school specific board of directors and from the authorizing body. These processes should be employed from the application process – he said that the biggest problem is that there isn’t enough regulation in deciding who can open a school in the first place. A clear definition of what excellence looks like, stronger oversight, and genuine community support for the school are the needs for an effective, well-run school, whether or not it’s a charter. Regarding the benefit to students, Mr. Kawlra noted that charters can “more nimbly adjust to the needs of their communities” in comparison to traditional public schools, which have more complex bureaucracies and regulation.

Tulsa Public Schools utilizes a program called unified enrollment, where students rank their preferred schools of choice all on one site, and then an algorithm run by the district places students into schools, ideally getting as many as possible into their first choices. Mr. Kawlra said that this program has not gone very well due to a lack of information. He said it can only work well if every family is given easily accessible, transparent information, but if that isn’t the case, providing ease of application can actually exacerbate inequity. Specifically in Tulsa, since there are three schools that have the best reputation (regardless of the specific needs of the student), families place those as the first choice, inflating the lottery, while students often don’t even consider other models which may fit their needs better.

His recommendations for improving informational equity in a system with school choice include sending out some sort of mailer to every household in an eligible district informing them of available schools, or at least where to find resources about the schools. He also thinks a unified website is helpful, but there needs to be oversight so that schools aren’t reporting their own excellencies. He also thinks charter schools should not be able to ask for any additional essays or tests if they are standard public schools (magnet/performance based schools are outside of this purview). Mr. Kawlra had more specific suggestions for improving information transparency and determining which information should be available to families, but the main takeaway is that, again, choice is beneficial to students, but there needs to be equitable access to making the most of having an option.

CONSULTATION 3:

Aryan Bocquet – Director of Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement, My School DC (DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education)

I spoke with Aryan, who is the director and helped found the My School DC website for the DC Public Charter School Board. A key takeaway from our conversation, which actually is a pushback, was that the true purpose of these types of enrollment websites is to show every single public school option to families -- DC actually doesn't allow a search function based on the type of school. While I would like to introduce a comprehensive system for Michigan to implement on a city by city basis, but the current decentralized system doesn't really allow for that. We discussed best practices for providing equitable information to families, which included having a school fair and field workers (which I'm not proposing), training librarians to help families access public computers, having a text-based alert system, translated materials, and mobile access to the application. We also discussed lottery preferences, which schools can use as they see fit. DC decided on an online only system because of the very high costs of administering paper applications and the high chance of human error, but to make up for that they have those extended outreach programs. *I think the biggest thing to take away from this conversation was that there should be community focus groups to understand the information that families want to know about schools, whether that's school extracurriculars, sports, "points of pride," and a clear schedule of open house dates.* I also learned that DC developed its own website and data visualization software since they wanted to be able to create their site exactly to their own specifications. From assessing outside SaaS contractors, it looks like my proposal's needs can be met by an outside service though, which would eliminate costs. They do use an outside service to manage their waitlists, but that is less of a concern since this proposal won't be implementing universal enrollment.

CONSULTATION 4:

Mallory Prejean, SchoolMint District Partnerships Manager

Mallory is a manager for the SchoolChoice software, which recently merged with Schoolmint, another leader in the school enrollment software space. Discussing the enrollment space with a private company brought up a new perspective: families realistically are shopping, and they are the schools' customers. Using that mindset really shows how these online services need to emphasize customer service because that is how equity is carried out throughout the system. The software platform is very comprehensive, with a single unified application for core information, and then school-customizable add on questions. Schools can run their own lotteries with indivudualized lottery preferences as well. The flexibility and customizability is very thorough, and they have lots of support services that can be purchased additionally. They also ask schools for data to include for metrics, but Michigan already has a solid infrastructure for that through the Parent Dashboard, so that would lead to easy data transfers. 

Regarding price, the recurring costs are billed on a per-student basis, but it gets cheaper as the number of students increases. With an extensive school finder and lotteries for potentially 300 schools, the cost was estimated at a high end of $3.50 per student annually. There of course would be start-up costs and the creation of state roles to manage parent questions. However, after hearing about Miami and DC, it appears that about 10 people could effectively staff the department, and there are likely already people in the state who do related work that could have a shifted position. It was also recommended the state allocate about $50,000 per year for additional support or training, but that is only billed as used. Mallory also reminded me how schools will lower their individual costs tremendously by not having to run their own lotteries and handle paper applications, so there is likely a chance for savings overall through the state, or at least more funds going directly to students.

 

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.

I talked with Brandon for my Topic Coordinator discussion, and it was very helpful in determining how to position my proposal and which portions to focus on specifically. He agreed with my perspective that there needs to be a change so that it’s easier to comprehend the complex school of choice structure in the state of Michigan. He also liked that I used Detroit as a model since it’s intense concentration of choices “increases the burden of choice” on families. It is also important to empower choice by making the options and application process more transparent. Especially because charter schools are an implicit admittance that the traditional school model is not good enough, so we need to make sure that everyone has equal access to finding their “good enough.” Charter schools also have a higher percentage of urban and rural students, demographics that already face disadvantages, so the very system that is meant to uplift people should be as accessible as possible. I didn’t think it would be feasible to try to revolutionize the current system, since the policymakers in Michigan have established that school choice is a policy they are comfortable with, so I wanted to make the system as fair as possible, which Brandon thought was a logical progression. His quote of “if a charter is going to be public it needs equal access as a traditional school” really characterized what I am thinking quite well.

Moving to the proposal specifics, I received support regarding looking toward Michigan.gov/vote and Chicago’s GoCPS system to see examples of well-functioning websites that incorporate government services for wide swaths of the population. I also reached out to the CPS Office of Access and Enrollment to see if they would be able to provide more information about their system. For what information should actually be presented on the proposed site, Brandon liked Nikhil’s suggestions that there should be relevant, transparent data for families to see. For instance, a school shouldn’t get an abstract rating, but instead just publish the number of incidents of violence on campus along with an annual percentage change with the statistic. Growth would especially be important for academic metrics. A consistent set of metrics would also create a more equal playing field instead of schools choosing which metrics they want to share about themselves.

Ultimately, Brandon advised me to focus in on my persona and highlight the emotional appeals related to my proposal. My site should provide information pertinent to the people who need it the most – it should be information that would lead families to confidently trusting the school they are applying to. We also touched briefly on potential pushbacks and identified two arguments about the proposal, so that was also very helpful.

RESEARCH PROCESS

I knew from the beginning of this class that I would be writing a proposal relating to education, but I was unsure of where exactly I would go with it. My first provocation was actually about a charter school that closed down suddenly after the 2018 school year started, which I would eventually circle back to. Since I keep myself informed about education policy around the country, as well as learn from my classes within the School of Education, I knew that school choice in Michigan is a bit of a Wild West, especially in the Detroit area. I also learned about a highly innovative P-20 program that DPSCD and the UM SOE are collaborating on called the School at Marygrove. Both charter school regulation and community schools are topics within education that I find fascinating, so I took a two-pronged approach to my research, hoping to see which would become the better option to inspire a proposal, maybe even finding a way to intersect them.

I had gone to the introductory panel for the Marygrove school last January, so I knew about the complex partnership and what the school would be offering. Since I didn’t need to do a ton more general research, I contacted Alistair Bomphray, a program coordinator for the partnership, to learn more about the school and how it was progressing, as students are now enrolled there. After having a great discussion about more of the specifics regarding the school and his thoughts on the P-20 model in general, I left feeling very energized but still not entirely sure where there would be a policy proposal. I then talked to Brandon, and coincidentally he is doing his internship for the Education Minor for the Marygrove project! I learned even more detail from him and got to learn about how design is worked into buildings to improve the educational offerings of the school. After discussing potential policy proposals with him, I realized the most realistic proposal would be to suggest a program where the state gives large block grants to communities so that they can develop their own P-20 models. Brandon made the great point that trying to prescribe a set model to communities across the state would not be effective (a point similarly echoed in a different context by my consultation with Nikhil Kawlra), so it would be important to assess each community application individually then grant money in lump sum form. This is a very costly program, and the Marygrove model is being supported by extensive philanthropy through the Kresge Foundation and the expertise of the School of Education, so it’s not exactly replicable at the moment. After these discussions, I knew, even though P-20 is a very exciting development in education, that a proposal supporting its expansion was likely too much to bite off.

After doing more research into charters for the media artifact, I saw lots of places where increased regulation would stand to improve the lives of students in Michigan, specifically within the realm of equity and access to quality schooling. I thought about my original provocation and how I was so frustrated that a model meant to increase equity and opportunity for students to choose their best fit could simultaneously leave so many students in a disadvantageous position so quickly. After consulting with Professor Jacob and Mr. Kawlra, two people who have spent large sections of their careers researching and working in charter schools, respectively, that stronger regulation during the authorization process and increasing equity in choice were two absolutely essential pieces of improving charter schooling. Both agreed that charter schools certainly have a place in the current public education system, and that it’s generally unfair to be making blanket assumptions about a certain type of school. They did both note that since charters can close and are even more reliant on their leaders than the more secure traditional public schools, having stricter guidelines when granting a charter in the first place would be a big step forward. While this topic of regulation intrigued me, fixing such a wide-ranging regulatory structure would be a massive undertaking, especially in setting new financial and academic benchmarks. I could have just amended some of the charter revocation language to mandate that schools finish a school year that they start, but I realized that could be unfair to families if the school is really performing that poorly, and costly to the state if it is so far over budget.

I then thought about Professor Kupperman’s point that effective student proposals often involve removing barriers, which led me to think about the aftermath of a school closing: finding the next one. In a past education policy class I did research into Chicago Public Schools’ differing high school models, and that included looking into their unified enrollment system and comprehensive K-12 website. Since there are so many charter schools across the state, especially in Detroit, I thought it would make sense to bring some structure to finding out information about all of the potential options open to families. Inspired by how seamless Chicago’s website is, I began to think about how a something along those lines could be brought to Michigan. Unified enrollment, which involves a singular application and students simply checking boxes to list their preferred schools, is not currently a tenable option for the state (too large), or even Detroit (too many competing districts). However, a single website to convey information and application resources for every school of choice is not out of the question. I thought this simple collection of information would make it easier for families to see what options are in front of them in a more equitable and timely manner. I also think that all basic information (name, address, grade, scores, etc), should only need to be filled out once per student, regardless of how many applications they send out. After consulting with Mr. Kawlra about the pros and cons of unified enrollment, as well as what information he would prefer to be available online, I knew this idea would be worth pursuing. I still need to look into the cost to the MDE and individual schools for compiling and maintaining all of this information, but it is definitely less than trying to develop and implement a school matching algorithm for a full unified enrollment system. My overarching goal going into this course, and in my life, is to increase equitable access to quality education for every student, so I think that this method of reducing barriers and providing transparent information will be able to accomplish that.

 

Author contributions:

I am working on this project alone.

 

FORMAL PROPOSAL

Preambulatory clauses (establish problem)

WHEREAS… Michigan student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (French and Wilkinson, 2018) is consistently in the bottom third of the country, and last in the Midwest in every category. Those results indicate we are off track to reach the state’s goal of being a top 10 state in education by 2026 (Michigan Department of Education, 2016).

WHEREAS… Michigan’s 5-Year Strategic Plan states that one of the four key goals is to “provide equitable resources to meet the needs of all students to ensure that they have access to quality educational opportunities” (State of Michigan, 2020). This commitment to equity must be carried out for every type of public opportunity available to students.

WHEREAS… Michigan has had public school academies (PSAs), or charter schools, since 1994 (MAPSA, 2020) and they now enroll about 10% of the state’s students across more than 300 schools (Mack, 2019), indicating they are a policy lever which is not going to disappear any time soon.

WHEREAS… about 75% of charter students in Michigan are eligible for subsidized lunch when the state average is 50% (Mack, 2019), so these schools should not have any more barriers to enrollment since they are already serving a highly disadvantaged population.

WHEREAS… Governor Whitmer’s 2020 budget proposal has $25 million of funding reductions cyber schools and strict discipline academies, but no major charter differentiations otherwise, showing that upending the current school choice system is not a current priority. (Michigan Education Association, Michigan Senate, 2020)

WHEREAS… over 6 schools per year have been closed since the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) started tracking in 1996 (Michigan Department of Education, 2019), which may be a sign of competition working, but switching schools also adversely affects both academic and social student outcomes (Gasper et al., 2012).

WHEREAS… differences in mover vs. non-mover achiever are not entirely attributable to switching schools, it does highlight that disadvantaged families are already more likely to move anyway, so this academic change exacerbates pre-existing inequities (Gasper et al., 2012).

WHEREAS… charter authorizers must notify “The Attorney General’s office … of the dissolution [of PSA contract] by registered mail at least 45 days before the desired date of dissolution” (Ferris State University, 2019), charter school boards can still vote to close a school immediately, leaving students left without a school (Levin, 2019).

WHEREAS… closing charter schools must “Establish a follow-up procedure to determine where any student who has not attained the age of 16 will be continuing his or her schooling.  MCL 380.1561.  The follow-up procedure should begin no later than 28 days after adoption of the resolution to dissolve the PSA” (MDE Wind-up and Dissolution Procedures Form). If a school closes during the year, four weeks, could be lost for students before a school is even responsible to assist in finding a new school to attend. Even if the school closes over the summer, many schools require application submittal by the end of the prior school year or early summer.

WHEREAS… “PSA authorizers are encouraged to develop application rubrics that reflect their

unique priorities and needs, and to communicate those rubrics publicly in advance of

evaluating applications” (Michigan Department of Education, 2014). This shows that schools will still be encouraged to ask students questions that highlight their unique offerings as a school, but enforcing publicity and availability is the main focus of this policy.

WHEREAS… there is no single publicly offered list of charter schools based on location in the state of Michigan. MDE offers a list of PSAs (294 in total) organized by authorizer which is fairly easily accessible but not helpful for learning any information useful to families choosing a school for their children. There is another list available on the Educational Entity Master site, which is highly inaccessible and provides the list as a 124 page PDF that is organized alphabetically for the entire state. This lack of publicly available information, even though charters are publicly-funded schools that “may not charge tuition and must serve anyone who applies to attend up to enrollment capacity” (Michigan Department of Education, 2017), creates a large barrier for underprivileged families who may not have time to sort through all of the options housed on different websites.

WHEREAS… pro-charter policy centers have reported that a unified application process addresses the “major concern” of families having access to the charter system, and shows especially noticeable improvements for “disadvantaged parents, noting that it ‘substantially increased the proportion of students enrolling in charter kindergartens who are minority, eligible for free/reduced-priced lunch, or speak English as a second language’ (Winters, 2015)” (Hesla, 2018). The same report also found that “the most effective way to increase the enrollment of disadvantaged students in charter schools is to make the application system as simple as possible” (Hesla, 2018). Other reports recommend offering the website in multiple languages too (Schoolmint, 2016).

WHEREAS… Michigan charters spend 10% more annually on administration and business and 13% less on student instruction than traditional public schools (CEPI via Mack, 2019).

 

THEREFORE IT BE RESOLVED (describe solution in detail)

Proposed addition to Revised School Code Act 451 of 1976 Section 380.504(2)(a)

Section 1: Establish a statewide website managed by the Department of Education that provides information about every charter school in the state in a transparent and accessible manner.

  • Families should be able to put their address into the site and receive a list of all school options available to them
  • Each school available should have their Michigan School Data Parent Transparency information attached

Section 2: Families should create a single profile where they only need to input all relevant student information once, regardless of the amount of schools they apply to.

  • Schools can add school-specific questions regarding siblings and family relation to staff members as needed
  • This is not a unified enrollment system that uses a centralized mechanism to match students to schools (Gross and Campbell, 2017). Timelines and application materials will be common, but each school gets their own lottery and waitlist independent of others.

Section 3: Schools must accept their applications online or printed out and turned into the school

  • Schools must train staff who can answer application questions from families (that training is part of the suite of services offered by the software provider)

Section 4: The state will fund the website and have a lean staff to manage parent questions and interaction with the contracted provider. The staff working on the Parent Transparency Dashboard would be good candidates to train since there is a good amount of overlap. One provider's estimate for creating a statewide website for the approximately 300 charter schools that serve about 150,000 students: recurring cost of about $3.50 per student, which totals to $525,000 annually. They also recommended allocating $50,000 annually for additional maintenance or employee training, but that only gets billed as used. In the beginning years, that training budget should be used to train school staff, public librarians, and community workers whose organizations have public computers (SchoolMint, 2016).

 

Capabilities of this type of website:

  • Unified application, so families are only filling out their information one time
  • School finder search function, which can be done by location, curricular offerings, extracurricular offerings, and demographics (has a lot of overlap with MI School Data.org, easy transfer of data).
  • Easy to edit school pages, with graphics, photos, link to full site, offerings, and achievement data all easily accessible to families
  • Easy to edit application question add-ons by school (does the student have a sibling already enrolled, a parent who works at the school, etc)
  • The provider can run a unique lottery and waitlist system for each individual school, with each school picking their own preferences (sibling, parent, location, etc)
  • Families can view all of their application statuses on one dashboard, as well as accept or deny all online
  • The site can be made available in a host of languages
  • Each school can set their own enrollment limits, send families notes if applications need to be fixed, and have automatically updating waitlists
  • Administrators can be given specific access by the MDE office, with each school being able to choose the level of access appropriate for each employee
  • There will be a massive cost savings from schools being able to reduce the number of paper applications they prepare, mail out, and receive
  • The opportunity cost of parents spending time on many paper applications as well as school staff entering the paper application information will be decreased for tens of thousands of individuals
  • SchoolMint estimates eliminating 25,000 paper applications (a conservative estimate) across 300 schools could save almost $1 million dollars annually**
  • These school by school savings allow for the Prop A per-pupil allocations to be maximized by the PSAs since they will now have fewer administrative costs
  • SchoolMint currently hosts the NYC Charter Schools website, which serves 120,000 students annually, over 80% of what Michigan would need (NYC Charter School Center Demand, 2019)
  • **NYC has around 66% application rate (single applicants, not even total number of applications sent), so I used 100,000 applicants annually in Michigan. I then used a low estimate of 25% of applications are turned in on paper, leading to the 25,000 paper applications number. (NYC Charter School Demand, Enrollment Trends, 2019)

Formal Proposal References

Consulted with:

  • Brian Jacob – Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Education Policy, Ford School of Public Policy
  • Nikhil Kawlra – Founder and Head of School of Collegiate Hall College Prep Charter in Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Aryan Bocquet – Director of Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement, My School DC (DC OSSE)
  • Mallory Prejean – SchoolMint District Partnerships Manger

Ferris State University. (2019, January). Charter Schools Office Policy: Dissolution. Retrieved from https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/administration/academicaffairs/charterschools/resources/cso/p               dfs-docs/Dissolution_Policies_January2019_rz.pdf

French, R., & Wilkinson, M. (2018, August 29). On nation's report card, Michigan students remain in back   of class. Retrieved from https://www.bridgemi.com/talent-education/nations-report-card-   michigan-students-remain-back-classStrategic Plan 

Gasper, J., Deluca, S., & Estacion, A. (2012). Switching Schools. American Educational Research             Journal49(3), 487–519. doi: 10.3102/0002831211415250

Gross, B., & Campbell, C. (2017, May). A Guide to Unifying Enrollment: The What, Why, and How for               Those Considering It. Retrieved from https://www.crpe.org/sites/default/files/crpe-guide-unifying-enrollment.pdf

Hesla, K. (2018, September). NAPCS: Unified Enrollment. Retrieved from                https://www.publiccharters.org/sites/default/files/documents/2018-09/rd3_unified_enrollment_web.pdf

Levin, K. (2019, May 20). Lessons from a Detroit school that was set up to fail. Retrieved from      https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2018/11/29/if-we-dont-learn-from-this-one-shame-on-us-lessons-from-a-detroit-charter-school-that-was-set-up-to-fail/    

Mack, J. (2019, November 6). Everything you need to know about Michigan's charter schools. Retrieved           from https://www.mlive.com/news/2019/11/everything-you-need-to-know-about-michigans-charter-schools.htmlBud

MAPSA. (2020). About Michigan's charter schools. Retrieved from                https://www.charterschools.org/about-michigan-charter-schoolsMLive

Michigan Department of Education. (2014). Handbook for District Authorizers. Retrieved from      https://www.msbo.org/sites/default/files/psa_handbook.pdf

Michigan Department of Education. (2016, February 8). Top 10 in 10 Years. Retrieved from                https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/_MDE_Goals_and_Strategies_2-8-               16_514042_7.pdf

Michigan Department of Education. (2017, November). Michigan Charter Schools - Questions and   Answers. Retrieved from https://www.michigan.gov/documents/PSAQA_54517_7.pdf

Michigan Department of Education. (2019, October 1). Closed Public School Academies. Retrieved from https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Closed_PSA_with_reason_2012.08_396310_7.pdf

Michigan Education Association. (2020, February 13). Whitmer Proposes Budget Increase for Education.          Retrieved from https://www.mea.org/whitmer-proposes-budget-increase-for-education/

Michigan Senate. (2020, February 10). FY 2020-21 School Aid Budget Governor's Recommendation.           Retrieved from https://www.senate.michigan.gov/sfa/Departments/HighlightSheet/HIk12_web.pdf

NYC Charter School Center. (2016). Charter School Enrollment & Trends. Retrieved from                https://www.nyccharterschools.org/sites/default/files/resources/Charter-Enrollment-         Trends.pdf

NYC Charter School Center. (2019). New York Charter Schools Are In Demand. Retrieved from      https://www.nyccharterschools.org/sites/default/files/resources/factsheet-Charter-               Demand.pdf

SchoolMint. (2016, February 22). Focus on the Field: Engaging Families and Your Community. Retrieved   from https://www.schoolmint.com/focus-on-the-field-engaging-families-and-your-community/

State of Michigan. (2020, February 6). State of Michigan Strategic Plan for the State Fiscal Years 2020 to     2025. Retrieved from https://www.michigan.gov/documents/budget/FY21_Executive_Budget_Michigan_5yr_Strategi               c_Plan_680465_7.pdf

 

Counter-arguments: 

What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

  1. Does this proposal exert too much control over PSAs, since they are supposed to be independently governed and operated?
  2. From the perspective of someone against charters: Why would there by policy enacted that makes it easier for students to leave their neighborhood schools?
  3. This proposal doesn’t do enough to level the application field, there should be universal enrollment, or at least a universal application.
  4. Is this different enough from the Parent Dashboard for School Transparency to warrant a new site?

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

After consulting with the District Partnerships Manager of a leading school admissions and enrollment website, she estimated that creating a statewide website for the approximately 300 charter schools that serve about 150,000 students would result in a recurring cost of about $3.50 per student, which totals to $525,000 annually. They also recommended allocating $50,000 annually for additional maintenance or employee training, but that only gets billed as used. Since we would be implementing this site for every charter in the state, initial training costs may be higher to make sure school staffs are prepared to answer questions. Since Michigan already tracks school data effectively on mischooldata.org, there would be no additional data collection costs -- the information could easily be transferred over to the individual school pages within the statewide site. There would also be additional staffing needs within the MDE office, however since this site will be using lots of the Parent Dashboard resources, it is conceivable that staffers can be trained on the charter site's functionality as well. This increase in state staffing costs will be outweighed by the time and cost incurred by each school running their own admissions and lottery system. By eliminating those costs from over 300 schools, schools will be able to spend more of their per-pupil allocation directly on the students, as opposed to administrative tasks. That reduction in costs, as well as increased investment in students, will make up for the new contract. Using the Schoolmint calculator with a conservative estimate of 25,000 paper applications used**, there will likely be savings of $1 million dollars by defaulting to an online application and allowing families to print out an application only if they want to.

**NYC has around 66% application rate (single applicants, not even total number of applications sent), so I used 100,000 applicants annually in Michigan. I then used a low estimate of 25% of applications are turned in on paper, leading to the 25,000 paper applications number.

Governor Whitmer's proposed education budget includes cutting $24 million from cyber schools and $1.6 million from strict discipline academies. Since the cost of this program is below $1 million dollars annually, there is room for a small allocation for charter-related activity, especially since it increases equity as well as positive externalities. 

Competing interests would be those who think the government shouldn't be allocating resources specifically toward charter school access, and there are those who think charters shouldn't have their independence intruded upon. I think the positive examples of large districts that use charters such as Denver, Chicago, Houston, and Miami can serve as good models as to how unified websites increase equity. DC Public Charter School Board actually paid to develop their own website, but they also use a unified enrollment model and incorporated other non-charter schools into the site, so they wanted to build it from the ground up exactly to their specifications. Since this proposal is simpler, and fits well within the capabilities offered by outside contractors, it would be more cost effective to leave the tech development and maintenance to experts. 

 

ANTICIPATED QUESTIONS

  • What is the anticipated cost?

SmartChoice software with school finder and giving each school its own lottery was estimated to be about $3.5 per student for the state, bringing it to around 525,000 annually by their district partnerships manager, plus a recommended 50,000 allocation that gets charged as used for additional training sessions or issues. There would also need to be a very lean team of staffers in MDE that are dedicated to the site, but they could also likely be re-assigned and trained by the software provider. The start up cost needs to be assessed with full system details, but the presence of the mi schools data infrastructure would reduce a significant set up cost. 

  • How will this be equitable for families that don’t have internet access at home?

All families would still be able to print out an application or get an application from a school and submit on paper. The site is mobile friendly. We can follow steps taken by My School DC Director of stakeholder engagement, send out mailers to neighborhoods, train public employees (librarians, community organizers) on the details of the website, train staff at public schools so they can answer family questions as well.

  • Why should we do this if the MI Schools Data school finder already exists?

The added application element turns a database into a service, bringing value to families with a comparison tool, application status**

  • Why are we devoting resources to charters, which recently have gotten more restricted?

They are still publicly funded schools, so students should be able to access what is being provided to them. This proposal is not made to support or detract from the concept of charter schools, it’s meant to increase access to information for Michigan students and families.

  • What about universal enrollment?

Since there isn’t a unified district, there can’t be statewide universal enrollment. That also adds cost and would be infringing on the charter freedoms which charters very much enjoy in the state of Michigan. Detroit and Grand Rapids could potentially benefit from a universal enrollment system with a best offer system, but that would involve serious reorganization which is out of the purview of this proposal. That would also include specialized schools like foreign language immersion or performing arts programs in Detroit, or theme schools in Grand Rapids.

  • Is this too much control over charters?

This doesn’t force charters to change anything about their curriculum, offerings, or administration. It actually reduces their tasks since the website runs the lottery itself, but still allows charters to put in their own guidelines. Schools losing the ability to have their own “application” is probably a good thing, outside of asking location and sibling based questions, because state law says there cannot be discrimination in admissions. No essays or test scores should be used anyway, so this is merely streamlining the process and not changing anything about the day to day running of the schools.

  • Didn’t charter funding get vetoed last year?

Gov Whitmer did line item veto a charter school funding increase, but it was eventually reinstated a few months later. It was seen as more of a political maneuver than a policy stance, as she desired more negotiations over the education budget on the whole. Plus that was 35M dollars and this is under 1M annually.

  • Detroit is implementing this for next school year

That is only for DPSCD, but there are dozens more charters in Detroit that won’t be included. It shows that it is a feasible idea, and has been implemented in cities like New York, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles.

PROPOSAL SCRIPT CITATIONS

Bellwether: https://bellwethereducation.org/sites/default/files/State%20of%20the%20Charter%20Sector_Bellwether.pdf

NAPCS Enrollment

https://www.publiccharters.org/sites/default/files/documents/2017-10/Enrollment_Share_Report_Web_0.pdf

Charter Veto

https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2019/12/11/whitmer-charter-veto-reversed/

-She vetoed initially, but it was seen as a move to force further negotiations about the education budget. She then reinstituted the funding increase for charters (35M), which is still much more than than the roughly half-million per year cost of the website

 


 

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