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Detroit could have trouble luring charter operators to take over troubled schools

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Elizabeth Albert
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Detroit Public Schools is offering up dozens of its struggling schools to be turned into charters. And officials say they only want “superstar” operators with a proven track record of academic excellence.

But those operators might prove difficult to attract. The schools being offered up have the lowest student achievement, declining enrollment, or are located in areas that are not expected to be targeted for redevelopment.

And many of the most successful operators focus on school start-ups, says National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Peter Groff:

"Because so much of it is about the culture, that they’re able to come in and create that from the bottom up. So that’s much easier to do as a start-up than it is as a turnaround."

Groff says charter operators are interested in Detroit, and Dan Quisenberry of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies agrees. But he says there are also some unanswered questions about things like how much autonomy the charter operators would have:

"Control over personnel, control over curriculum, control over budget, the ability to run the school the way that they need to to make it high-performing."

Quisenberry says there’s also uncertainty about what will happen after the state-appointed manager leaves the district. Robert Bobb’s term expires at the end of June.

KIPP and Green Dot, two well-known national charter operators that have been praised for their academic achievement, say they have no plans to come to Detroit.

Sarah Hulett is Michigan Radio’s Director of Enterprise & Longform, helping reporters to do their best work.
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