SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Illinois policy experts are pointing to Michigan’s success with charter schools as evidence that competition between schools raises the bar for academics.

charter school classroomIllinois Review writer Josh Dwyer pointed out the differences between Illinois’ charter school system and that of Michigan, which he argues is “a place where innovation is encouraged.”

Dwyer cites a recent Wall Street Journal editorial by Michael Van Beek, Director of Education Policy for Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which illustrates why Michigan charter schools are outperforming public schools, especially in Detroit.

The main reasons: By allowing multiple public entities – including colleges – to authorize charter schools, Michigan “has developed a fully functioning charter school market,” Dwyer wrote.

That’s in contrast to many other states, where local school boards are the only entities allowed to establish charter schools. Many boards deny charter school applications, and if they do allow one to open they frequently force the schools to hire union teachers and function much like traditional public schools.

By contrast, Michigan charter schools aren’t bound by teacher tenure laws and base employment decisions on performance, Dwyer wrote. And Michigan charter schools are run by “several strong networks of education-management companies,” rather than nonprofit school boards that are less effective.

Dwyer explains that in Illinois only local school districts or the Illinois State Charter Commission can approve charter schools, and local districts “are notoriously stingy in approving charter school applications because they fear competition.”

The structure of Illinois’ charter school system makes it easier for anti-charter school folks to leverage their influence to keep charter schools down. Moral of the story: Illinois and other states with similar restrictive policies on charter schools could learn a lot from Michigan, where 42 percent of charters outperformed government schools in math, and 35 percent outperformed them in reading.

The schools are doing well because they are independent, base decisions on student needs and aren’t bound by cumbersome union rules.

“The Illinois General Assembly should follow (Michigan’s) lead and institute reforms that increase the number of charter school authorizers, retain charter schools’ flexibility to hire and fire teachers, and allow for-profit companies to directly run charter schools,” Dwyer wrote.

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