The Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA), the state charter school association, is rebutting and strongly condemning an April 10 column by Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley, in which she calls charter schools “private businesses that discriminate” when it comes to special education.
MAPSA President Dan Quisenberry said that Riley’s column – in which she didn’t quote or contact a single charter school – was irresponsible and full of factual errors.
“Every charter school in Detroit serves students with special needs,” Quisenberry said. “There are also charter schools that specifically serve heavily high-risk populations, including homeless and adjudicated students, many of whom qualify as special education. For her to say that special-needs students aren’t served by charter schools is a huge insult to all the educators in Detroit’s charter schools who work so hard every day educating these students.
“Rochelle Riley didn’t bother to quote or contact a single charter school for her article. In fact, the only person quoted in her article is State Board of Education member Michelle Fecteau, a union official who has always been openly hostile to charter schools. At some point, even the Free Press has to be embarrassed by this irresponsible journalism.
“By law, charter schools are required to accept every student that applies, and they do. If Ms. Riley had bothered to contact even a single charter school, she would have found this out.”
Quisenberry offered a point-by-point rebuttal of some of the main points in Riley’s column.
Riley wrote: “Let’s deal with why we choose sides. It is because we refuse to call charters what they are: Private businesses that discriminate. With our tax dollars.”
Quisenberry’s response: “Charter schools are not private businesses in any way. They are public schools in every way. And they most certainly can’t and don’t discriminate. As public schools, they are required to accept every student who applies, no matter their circumstance.”
Riley wrote: “We cannot allow any more parents to watch a stellar charter school open down the street from their home and see their children rejected.”
Quisenberry’s response: “This is an outrageous claim. Charter schools cannot and do not reject any student, including students with special needs.”
Riley wrote: “Of course the (charter) school has high test scores. It is not providing resources for many children who might lower the scores.”
Quisenberry’s response: “While it’s nice to see some people acknowledging that charter schools outperform traditional public schools, it certainly isn’t because they’ve cherry-picked the easiest-to-educate students. Charter schools are primarily located in the areas of the state where poverty is high and a quality education has been hard to find. If charter schools were only interested in educating the easiest students, they wouldn’t be located in the toughest communities.”
“If you remove special education students from the latest M-STEP results, you’ll see that 27 percent of Detroit charter school students were proficient in ELA, compared to 10 percent of DPS students. In math, 13 percent of Detroit charter school students were proficient, compared to 4 percent of DPS students.”
Riley wrote: “Detroit has 63 charters serving 36,000 students, a small, unknown number of them receiving special education services.”
Quisenberry’s response: “There aren’t a ‘small’ number of charter school students receiving special education services. Figures from the 2015-16 school year show that 9% of students in Detroit charter schools (about 3,300 students) are classified as special education, compared to 15% of students in the Detroit Public Schools. The reason the DPS number is higher is because students enrolled in center-based programs are counted as part of the DPS numbers, whereas in other areas of the state, students in center-based programs are served by the ISD, and are not counted as part of the local district.”
“Some Detroit charter schools have very high percentages of special education students, including Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy-Connor Campus (38 percent), WAY Academy (24 percent) and Ross Hill Academy (18 percent).”