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Whiston: School choice necessary, but a net loss for MI education

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The state schools superintendent says he thinks the education choice movement has taken the focus off improving all public schools.

Superintendent Brian Whiston appeared on the Michigan Public Television show “Off The Record.” Whiston says he supports school choice, but he says the tradeoff is it takes the focus off improving all public schools.

 “So, when a school district loses all those kids, what impact does it have on the education of the kids who are still in that district?”

But charter school advocates say choice has been a positive force.

Dan Quisenberry is with the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.

“Parents in Michigan would certainly disagree. No matter what studies you look at, 70-, 80-, 90-percent of parents want to have the choice about where their kids go to school, and think that’s an important part of making education work for them.”

Whiston says charter schools overall don’t out-perform traditional public schools.

“I think the focus over the past 20-25 years has been choice, inter-district choice, there’s been charter choice. While I do support choice, and I want to be clear on that, it hasn’t led – it’s probably taken us backwards overall.”

A charter school’s spokesman says the competition for students forces all schools to improve. And he says the option to choose a child’s school remains popular with parents.

Rick Pluta is the Capitol Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He is heard daily on WCMU's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.