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With Some Help from Friends, Charters Revolutionizing Education in Michigan
March 2005
By Dan Quisenberry

The emergence of Detroit businessman and NBA Hall of Famer Dave Bing on Michigan's charter school scene shows again that the business community is frustrated with public education and, despite opposition, will take an active role in creating high-quality schools.

Business leaders are tired of waiting, hoping, and investing in the archaic, bureaucratic, slow-moving traditional system, and they're pursuing new, proven models through charter schools.

As was reported in the Detroit News in late February, Bing wants a charter public school in the neighborhood of his auto-supply company because he needs residents to stay in the city, learn well in school, and become part of a successful workforce.

"I'm not anti-[traditional] public schools. But I don't think they will fix public schools quick enough to stop the drain. And if parents and children don't have other options, it's a lose-lose proposition for both the public schools and the city of Detroit," said Bing, a former Detroit Pistons star.

It is an exciting development that reveals just how much enthusiasm charters have won. Bing is joining forces with philanthropist Bob Thompson, the retired asphalt magnate who two years ago was forced by politics to withdraw his offer to invest $200 million to build charter schools in Detroit. Now he's back with an assist from Bing.

The duo is working through a law passed in concert with Thompson's original generous offer that allows for the creation of 15 new charters within Detroit city limits. The law still stands and Michigan's university authorizers are ready to proceed.

Add more authorizations across the state from Bay Mills Community College, a tribal, land-grant college in the Upper Peninsula, and it becomes obvious that Michigan's charter movement is vibrant. August will bring another round of new schools and expanding enrollments, just as 20 new academies opened in fall 2004, some with 300 - 500 students.

Media across the state have reported how charter schools are continuing to gain in popularity and have become a permanent part of the fabric of public education.

What does it mean?

Clearly, parents believe in charter schools. They've enrolled more than 83,000 children in this state's charters, and the numbers continue to increase.

It means a diverse group of individuals are soundly behind charters and the results they've produced the past 11 years. Thompson, Bing, and another Thompson partner--former Democratic Senator Doug Ross, who started University Preparatory Academy in Detroit five years ago--all make commitments that a phenomenal 90 percent of their students will graduate. What's more, they pledge that 90 percent of those will go on to college.

Others involved with Michigan's charters include the Ford Motor Co. and The Henry Ford museum. Prominent pastors, including the Rev. Marvin Winans, from the gospel music family, have started charters.

A long-time Detroit social services leader and a former top-gun from the Drug Enforcement Agency have founded successful schools, as have a group of farmers on the state's western side. Many respected educators have joined charter teams, even though they're often shunned for their decisions by those who remain in the traditional ranks.

Not surprisingly, the opposition continues to meddle. Their impact, however, is negligible. After all, leaders like Dave Bing still come forward and take a stand.

America's governors, from both sides of the aisle, garnered headlines this past weekend when they gave what the Associated Press termed "an alarming account of the American high school."

Fortunately, the founders, leaders, teachers, and boards of charter public schools are determined to change history. Immediately. They're taking action and are being joined each day by new supporters who accept no excuses and maintain a refreshing, unwavering focus on children.

Dan Quisenberry is the President of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies

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