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Does Detroit’s new law mean district schools are more likely to be shut down than charter schools?

New laws enacted as part of the DPS rescue package have put a bullseye on the backs of dozens of Detroit schools.

That includes both district and charter schools, which under the new law, will be shut down if their students score poorly on state exams for three years in a row.

The rules are not exactly the same for district and charter schools, prompting public school advocates to complain of an uneven playing field. But Dan LaDue, the state School Reform Office’s assistant director in charge of accountability, says it’s not that simple.

In any interview with Chalkbeat, he broke down what the law – specifically sections 391 and 507 of HB 5384  — says about the threat of closure for schools. Here are the key points.

  1. The law has two different sets of rules for two different time periods — before and after the new A-F grading system for Detroit schools. Until the new grading system has been in place for three years (it will most likely be rolled out next year), all schools — both district and charter — whose test scores have put them in the bottom 5 percent statewide for three straight years will be closed automatically. Exceptions will only be granted for schools whose students would face “unreasonable hardship” if their school were closed. Once the A-F grading system exists, any school that receives three consecutive Fs will be shut down. This will apply to every DPS school and every charter school — except charter schools going through “reconstitution.”
  2. “Reconstitution” isn’t spelled out in the law. “There really isn’t a government definition of reconstitution,” LaDue said. One of the largest charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University, has used the term to include schools replacing their governing boards, those changing management organizations, and those that are revamping their educational programs.
  3. But that doesn’t mean charter schools can easily avert closure. The difference between charter schools in “reconstitution” that have had three Fs and district schools with three Fs is that the state will be required by law to close the district schools. State officials won’t be required to shut down F-rated reconstituting charter schools but LaDue says charter schools that aren’t working for kids should expect to be closed.
    “We are anti poor-performing schools,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter to us … whether it’s [district] or charter, if they can’t get the job done and they have shown chronic failure — not just for one year or two years, but multiple years of failing to meet the needs of their students — then we do support closing them as long as there’s a reasonable option for [students to attend another school].
  4. School closings could begin as soon as next year. State officials will release the state’s school ranking list this fall based on test scores from 2015 and 2016. (Rankings from 2015 were postponed until the state had two years of results from the new M-STEP). Schools that have consistently been at the bottom of the rankings in recent years are in serious danger of closing for good next summer.