Michigan researcher keeps tabs on charter school companies
Accountability is all the rage these days in education reform. But with charter schools set to expand across Florida, policymakers are facing a unique challenge: keeping tabs on the for-profit companies that often run them.
As we reported Sunday, it's not just legislators like Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, who are raising questions. Western Michigan University professor Gary Miron has been delving into for-profit "education management organizations" (EMOs) for years. With 80 percent of charters now run by for-profit companies in his state, there's plenty of work to do.
In 1997, Miron and his research team began canvassing Michigan -- and eventually the nation -- to gather data. Even at that time, they discovered, more than half of the state's charter schools were being run by outside management firms.
"The state (education) agency had no idea about EMOs,” he said.
These days, plenty of people have heard of outfits like Edison Learning, Charter Schools USA, and Imagine. But Miron continues to gather his data, attend school board meetings, and shine a light at the junction where public education meets private industry.
As is the case in Florida, each charter school in his state must have a local governing board that's independent -- not just a rubber stamp for the company -- in order to gain a license and become eligible for state or federal grants. But it's not always local folks who go out searching for a management firm to run their school, he said. Sometimes it's the other way around.
"I've actually attended some of these management companies' (parent) information meetings," Miron said. "At the end of their meeting, they call on a few mothers and ask, 'Will you sign these papers, because you guys look very interested, and we’d like you to sign off as temporary board members.'"
And then there's the data. Last month, the investigative journalism group ProPublica reported that less than half of for-profit management companies' charters make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law, compared to 63 percent for all charters and 67 percent for traditional public schools.
But it's Miron who unpacks the data, company by company, in partnership with colleagues from Arizona State and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Here's how some of the largest for-profit management firms performed nationally on adequate yearly progress in his twelfth annual report in 2010:
# of students # of schools percent making AYP
Academica 20,300 55 58 percent
Edison 34,748 61 46 percent
Charter Schools USA 14,104 19 37 percent
Imagine 34,530 79 37 percent
Leona 17,977 66 73 percent
White Hat/Life Skills 20,363 51 02 percent