Detroit: We’ll convert 41 schools to charters

Faced with closing 41 schools, the bankrupt Detroit school district wants charter operators and Education Management Organizations to take over its failing schools by the start of the school year, reports the Detroit Free Press. That’s six months away. It may be impossible.

However, charter school operators and advocates across the nation said they believe the time line for chartering 30% of the district is too ambitious, given the amount of work that goes into hiring and training staff and developing a school design.

Converting low-performing California schools to charters didn’t raise reading and math scores, concludes a 2010 Brookings Institution report, which found converted schools “look more like traditional public schools than start-up charters.”

“The challenge of coming into an existing school is it frequently has a strong culture which might be dysfunctional, particularly if it’s been low-performing,” said Doug Ross, CEO of New Urban Learning, a nonprofit that operates charter schools in seven locations in Detroit.

KIPP, which prefers to start schools from scratch, already has said it won’t bid on Detroit’s surplus schools. Neither will Green Dot.

New Orleans, with 61 percent of students in charter schools, has seen significant progress since Hurricane Katrina “swept away much of the school system in 2005,” notes the free Press. “Prior to Hurricane Katrina, about 62% of New Orleans students attended failing schools. Today, that number has dropped to 17%.”

New Orleans schools that don’t improve are placed under the management of a high-performing school, said Paul Vallas, Recovery School District superintendent.

DPS should close its 41 schools, let those students be absorbed elsewhere and then convert some surviving schools to charters with rigorous standards, Vallas said.

“That would not only solve financial problems, it would solve your problem of school quality,” he said.

In addition to New Orleans, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Denver have given up control of the most troubled schools to outside operators, notes Ed Week.

However, only 5 percent of turnaround schools have been turned over to outside management, notes Title 1-Derland.

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