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Mich. Teachers Assail Universities That Grant Charters

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A handful of Michigan public school teachers have expressed their opposition to charter schools by refusing to accept student-teachers from universities that grant charters.

The teachers believe that Michigan's charter school program represents a slap in the face--and the pocketbook--of public schools. The education schools of at least two state universities involved with charter school activities have received complaints from teachers: Grand Valley State University in Allendale and Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.

University officials say that, though they can't control whether teachers accept student-teachers, they hope their students don't get caught in the middle of the debate.

Max Schipper, a teacher at the 650-student Coopersville (Mich.) High School, wrote to the dean of Grand Valley State's school of education earlier this school year, saying the university's involvement with charter schools would force him to reconsider whether to accept any more student-teachers.

He said he objects to charter schools because they were created on a "faulty justification"--that poor public schools, not the breakdown of the family, are the cause of many student problems. Mr. Schipper said he also believes that charter schools take money away from public schools.

Mr. Schipper is the president of the Coopersville Education Association, but said he wrote the letter as an individual.

At the 420-student Shettler Elementary School in Muskegon, a number of teachers made a similar objection to taking student-teachers from Grand Valley State.

Principal David F. Kolberg said that as a result of concerns expressed by several of his teachers, he notified the university last fall that his school did not want to accept any student-teachers from Grand Valley.

In February, a university official came to meet with teachers, Mr. Kolberg said. "After the meeting, most of the teachers said we needed to be cooperating with Grand Valley," he said, "because it isn't the student-teachers that are causing the problem."

Patrick Sandro, the special assistant for charter schools at Grand Valley State, said last week that although the university had only received about 10 letters from teachers, the issue was "a major concern" to the education school and its students.

Mr. Sandro said he planned to meet with superintendents in three counties, and had met with teachers in three districts in the past three weeks, to explain the school's charter school activities. "It'll take a while before people realize we're not there to hurt them," he said.

Individual Teacher's Decision

Under Michigan law, state universities and community colleges can sponsor a charter school by processing its application and overseeing its activities. Intermediate and local school districts can also sponsor charter schools. (See Education Week, Nov. 15, 1995.)

Charter schools receive state funding per pupil comparable to other public schools, but operate independently of many local and state regulations.

A separate law would curtail state aid for any district that adopted a policy to reject student-teachers solely on the basis of their enrollment at a given state university. Although the law does not mention charter school sponsorship specifically, the language was written in response to a district that refused student-teachers from CMU for that reason last year.

Jerry Robbins, the president of the Michigan Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said such protests have not been widespread. "So far, it has been no more than a nuisance for a small number of institutions," said Mr. Robbins, who is the dean of the college of education at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti.

James Goenner, the associate director of the charter schools office at CMU, said his office has seen fewer than 10 letters from teachers complaining about the university's involvement with charters.

"Our position is that if the teacher as an individual doesn't want to accept a student-teacher, that's fine," Mr. Goenner said.

At the Michigan Partnership for New Education, a nonprofit East Lansing group that oversees charter schools for the state, a spokeswoman called it "unfortunate" that teachers might take out their feelings on student-teachers.

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