Detroit Charter Schools Face Uneven Progress, Some Closures

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Allen Academy, one of the oldest and largest charter schools in Detroit, is closing. Over the past months, the school has suffered financial problems and community concerns about academic performance. The doors were shut on Thursday, just weeks after Ferris State University that supported the school voted to terminate its contract.

Ann Zaniewski of the Detroit Free Press writes that a charter advocacy group, the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, held an enrollment event on Wednesday to help families find new schools for the next academic year.

The 17-year-old academy has been facing money issues since it began last summer to farm out specific services rather than depend on one management company. The move was made to improve academic achievement, but instead it led to higher costs.

The school also lost over 100 students between fall of 2015 and fall of 2016, along with the state funding that followed the students to their new schools. A few years ago the school had 1,000 pupils, a number that had dwindled to 844 by this spring. The uncertainty surrounding the stability of the school caused some parents to pull their children from Allen Academy in January.

Teachers were advised of the closing at a staff meeting last week.

“A lot of them are hurt because they’ve watched these students go from 5-year-old kids to high school juniors. It’s devastating,” said teacher Kyle Lackey. He has another job lined up as dean of students at a different charter school.

The school was located in the historic former Catholic Church on Quincy Street on Detroit’s west side. Another charter school has expressed interest in the venue.

Detroit schools have been in trouble for some time now. The New York Times’ Kate Zernike writes that like many other urban areas, Detroit has declined academically and financially. Over the last five years, things have gotten even worse because of divided politics, educational ideological differences, and lack of funding.

Charters began to overrun the city and competing for low-income students and the limited public funds that came with them. The point was to improve all schools, but progress has been uneven.

Some charter school groups are applauding Michigan for allowing new charters to open, but additional charters have allowed bad schools to weaken even more. When universities move to close failing schools, other universities have rushed to grant another charter.

“People here had so much confidence in choice and choice alone to close the achievement gap,” said Amber Arellano, the executive director of the Education Trust Midwest, which advocates higher academic standards. “Instead, we’re replicating failure.”

In all, three charter schools in Detroit are closing and two more are blending this year.

Last school year, Detroit Public Schools third-graders had a 20% rate of proficiency on state tests in English. Only 7% of third graders at Allen Academy were proficient on the standardized tests.

Kate Wells, reporting for Michigan Public Radio, says Brad Wever of Central Michigan University’s Center for Charter Schools was asked if there were so many charter schools in the city that “they were cannibalizing” one another’s enrollment. Wever replied that there was “some of that happening.”