|STATE: SCHOOLS: Website allows side-by-side comparisons of schools, school districts and charter schools|
|Ann Arbor Journal|
By: James David Dickson, Heritage Media
|February 13, 2012|
|Buying a home is the biggest investment most Michiganders will ever
make. And a good many prospective homebuyers will want to know what kind
of education their child will receive from a local school system before
buying a home.|
Whether deciding between two public school districts, between a public and a charter school in the same area, or between two schools in the same district, Michigan parents can visit the website www.mi-school.net to make those comparisons.
Letís say a parent is choosing between Ann Arbor Public Schools and Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, two big, relatively wealthy districts that are often compared.
Go to the ďchartsĒ page of the website. You will be prompted to enter in up to 5 schools or school districts for comparison.
Ann Arbor and Plymouth-Canton come up in a dead heat in most categories. Plymouth-Canton is bigger (18,800 vs. 16,500), but Ann Arbor has more students eligible for free and reduced lunch (22 percent vs. 16 percent). The districts are within two percentage points on most Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) scores, regardless of grade or subject matter. Based on 2011 numbers, though, Ann Arbor has a much lower student-to-teacher ratio (19 vs. 24).
The districts show more variation when it comes to finances. In Ann Arbor, administrative salaries per pupil tower over those in Plymouth-Canton ($1,267 vs. $850), as does total revenue per pupil ($12,050 vs. $8,671). Maintenance costs, teacher salaries, and operating expenses per pupil are all higher in Ann Arbor.
The website is also useful when comparing charter schools to traditional public schools at the local level. The problem with comparing statewide charter numbers versus traditional public numbers is that charter schools, as a rule, tend to set up shop in underperforming school districts, where parents will find additional options appealing. Even if a charter school opened in a wealthy district, it would only receive $7,100 per pupil, the state`s maximum foundation allowance for charter schools, which, depending on the district, could leave the school thousands of dollars per pupil behind its traditional public counterparts. Charter schools are also banned from seeking millages, and must pay for infrastructural needs out of their own pockets or using the state`s foundation allowance.
A charter school operator is much more likely to set up shop in educationally underserved areas such as Ypsilanti or Detroit than in wealthier, high-achieving areas such as West Bloomfield or Troy, which skews the data. A fairer means of comparison is to judge oneís home school against the local charter school.
Letís say a parent is deciding between the Washtenaw Technical Middle College, which is headquartered at Washtenaw Community College, and Ann Arbor Huron High School.
The parent will find that Huron is a much bigger school (1,600 vs. 380), with a different demographic (23 percent of students eligible for free and reduced lunch, compared to 10 percent at WTMC).
Academically, Huron slightly edges WTMC in terms of ACT performance (23 vs. 22) and graduation rate (93.6 vs. 93), but is slightly behind it in terms of the stateís Top to Bottom Rankings (93rd percentile vs. 91st).
In that case, in many cases, numbers donít tell the whole story. The numbers are too close to give either school the edge. When that happens, the final decision may not come down to the data, but to personal preference in terms of school environment, size, course offerings and commute.
Staff Writer James David Dickson can be reached at JDickson@Heritage.com.
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