The basis for the BASIS edge over Edge schools

by David Safier

Tim Steller creates a dramatic illustration of the failings of Arizona's school grading system and the inherent unfairness of the proposed Performance Funding for schools in a column in today's Star.

On the one hand, we have BASIS, with its thrice-selected student body composed of the most able and motivated students in the area. It receives an A grade from the state and no end of praise locally and nationally. If Performance Funding ever kicks in, it will also get extra state funding to give more assistance to its already top performing students.

On the other hand, and the main focus of Steller's column, we have Edge High School in Tucson.

Edge High School in Tucson takes in students from difficult backgrounds – about one out of 10 is homeless, many are parents or pregnant, some are sixth- or seventh-year seniors – and helps them graduate.

Last year the state recognized each of Edge's three charter high schools – with a D grade. Two more years of D's and the schools will be on the road toward a failing status.

This is the first I've heard of Edge High, but it sounds like it's performing the important mission of trying to help students who are the most likely to be cast aside by schools and end up underemployed, unemployed or residents of our prison system. It's part of what one of my ed profs called the U.S. education system's policy of infinite second chances, where anyone can decide to get serious about education at any time and find a school willing to lend a helping hand. And yet, for its efforts, it's in jeopardy of being labeled a failing school. If it survives and we get Performance Funding, it will have some of its state funds taken away, funds which will then go into the coffers of "successful" schools like BASIS.

Edge could "play it smart" and stop accepting the most at-risk students, see if it can pick up some other students to help it boost its score on the AIMS test. It might just raise its state grade that way. Or it can continue serving its chosen community and perform the difficult task of moving students' low academic achievement to a somewhat higher level while it grants high school diplomas to students who otherwise would be classified as dropouts.

A BUT-I-THOUGHT-YOU-HATE-CHARTER-SCHOOLS NOTE: When I tear into charter schools, I'm pointing out specifc charters or Charter Management Organizations that are doing a terrible job. When I appear to go after charter schools in general, what I'm doing is pointing out the undeserved overpraise of charter schools by the conservative/corporate "education reform" movement whose mission is to make privatization of education appear to be more successful than our traditional public schools. A good school is a good school, traditional public, charter or private. I support good schools. If Edge High School is doing right by its students, I applaud it for its work.

0 responses to “The basis for the BASIS edge over Edge schools

  1. That is a brilliant letter, Greg. It should be reposted and you should edit it down for an op-ed. Submit it to both the Star and the Republic. People need to understand the sickness caused by the labeling and “accountability” systems that school board members and superintendents (yes, you guys, TUSD) are perpetuating by continuing to trumpet labeling “success” stories and endorsing a system that does not put real learning and the best interests of students first.

  2. Thank you, Jana and David. Please find below the full text that Edge High School sent to the Presidents of the State Board of Education and the State Charter School Board earlier this month.

    Greg Hart, Edge

    What follows is not meant to serve as an excuse or a justification for not doing a better job as a school for students, but is rather an attempt to put forward as factual a picture as possible to describe a situation that confronts many schools and their students throughout Arizona. In this case, it happens to be Edge High School, but we believe it is representative of something that is broken throughout the state.

    The Dilemma

    Edge High School was founded in 1995. It was Pima County’s first charter school. Our mission since our inception has been to provide a safe and respectful educational alternative with a strong counseling component to youth that have dropped out of school or are at risk of doing so.

    It is well known that far too many students are either failing or not thriving throughout Arizona’s public school system. At Edge, we feel strongly that our ability to be a part of a solution to that failure is under grave threat, largely because of the way our current system measures and regulates the progress and achievement of the students we serve.

    To cite just one example, at our Edge Northwest campus, we currently have sixty-two students enrolled, thirty of whom are cohort seniors. Of those thirty seniors, all but four have been enrolled for less than a year. At the time of their enrollment twenty-four of them (80%) had credit deficiencies of a full year or more, including fourteen with credit deficiencies of two years or more.

    When students enroll at Edge, we review their credit earning history, and are fully aware that many will be unable to graduate in four years with their cohorts. We accept them, that fact notwithstanding, because it is our mission to do so. We accept them knowing that we have the staff, the curriculum, and other resources to support their educational development and progress towards graduation. We also know, however, that this will commonly happen in the fifth year. We also accept them with the full knowledge that doing so virtually insures that we will not meet federal and state benchmarks for graduation rate.

    Background Data

    Edge’s campus-wide graduation data for last year (2012-2013) represents another pertinent example. We had 240 total students enrolled at our various campuses, 107 of which graduated last year, our largest number of graduates to date. Only forty-eight of the 107 graduates were cohort seniors. The remaining sixty-nine students were 5th (45), 6th (18), 7th (4), and 8th year (2) seniors. According to evaluation tests at enrollment, ninety of those 107 graduates enrolled at Edge with skills well below grade level in math and/or reading.
    •85 enrolled with grade level skills in math below the 8th grade level
    •63 enrolled with grade level skills in reading below the 8th grade level

    A 7th Year Senior enrolls at a “D” School

    One of those graduates has a story that is particularly pertinent. She enrolled at Edge as a 7th year senior. After a series of suspensions from various high schools during her freshmen and sophomore year she had decided to drop out. She began working full-time and put off school while she tended to her terminally ill mother.

    After her mother’s death, she decided she wanted to earn her high school diploma. After three high schools refused to enroll her because of her age, she showed up at Edge. When she enrolled in August of 2011 she needed to complete nearly two years’ worth of credit in order to graduate. To complicate the matter she enrolled at twenty years of age, having not passed the AIMS Math. Her entry exam identified her grade level skills in math at 5th grade level.

    Through tremendous effort and long days spent at school she managed to improve her grade level scores in from the 5th grade level to the 11th grade. She also met the standard on the AIMS math test. Edge works with many students with similar stories every day. They are the students we were founded to serve.

    The Labeling Trap

    Since we struggle to meet federal benchmarks for graduation rate, we also struggle to consistently meet Adequate Yearly Progress and improve our Arizona Learns Labels. In 2012 all three of our campuses were “D” schools under Arizona Learns. Our dilemma is stark: If we continue to accept the young people we have chosen to serve as part of our mission since 1995, we will eventually become a failing school.

    We are feeling trapped between our mission, which is as valuable now, if not more so, than it ever was, and an educational and evaluation system which overlooks the realities of the students who are coming to Edge.

    In our 2010 charter renewal application we gathered data over a 5 year period and noted the following about students who enroll at Edge High School based on our district assessment, the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE):

    •36% of students enrolled at Edge reading below the 9th grade level
    •57% of students enrolled at Edge scoring below the 9th grade level in language usage
    •63% of students enrolled at Edge scoring below the 9th grade level in mathematics
    •78% of students enrolled at Edge at least one year or more behind in credits

    These trends have continued over the past two years (2012 and 2013) as we continue to see more and more students enroll with skill and credit deficiencies:

    •41% of student enrolled at Edge reading below the 9th grade level
    •60% of students enrolled at Edge scoring below the 9th grade level in language usage
    •71% of students enrolled at Edge High School scoring below grade level in math
    •79% of students enrolled at Edge at least one year or more behind in credits

    Despite these challenges, students at Edge High School are achieving academically.
    Over the past two schools years from 2010-2012 we have seen an increase in the average yearly grade equivalency improvement as measured on the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE):

    Edge High School T.A.B.E Post-tests Results
    (2010-2012)

    Curriculum AreaAnnual Grade Level Gain
    Reading1.9 years
    Language2.1 years
    Math2.4 years

    In addition to grade level improvement on the T.A.B.E. students are passing the AIMS test.

    Edge High School AIMS Results Spring 2012

    •70% of students at all Edge campuses met or exceeded on the AIMS Reading
    •68% of students at all Edge campuses who have been enrolled at Edge for a year and half or more met or exceeded on the AIMS Writing
    •62% of students at all Edge campuses who have been enrolled for a year and a half or more met or exceeded on the AIMS Math

    A Pressure Release Valve

    For all intents and purposes, Edge is a pressure release valve, not only for students looking for an alternative that will get them to graduation, but also for schools who do not accept or will not work with students who will not graduate on time and/or require significant remediation of skills. The current system and its evaluation components work against youth on the margins and the schools that are not only willing, but seeking to educate them. The very students we have chosen to serve make it virtually impossible to succeed within the current school and student progress evaluation criteria.

    A Solution for Students

    We have worked successfully through school improvement programs and initiatives at all of our campuses and have seen improved student achievement. We have also considered requesting alternative school status for Edge. At this point, however, neither student achievement gains nor changes of status to an alternative school will mediate or resolve our dilemma.

    What shall we do? We have studied all parts of the system, and have adjusted accordingly, short of turning away students who have nowhere else to go. Perhaps sometime in the future, there will not be a need for schools like Edge. But right now, and for the foreseeable future, we think that the numbers of students seeking out alternatives like Edge are going to increase. If schools like Edge are closed, they will have to be recreated.

    Turning young people away from Edge who are willing to work and try their best, despite their past failures and difficulties, is not an option. Would you be willing to consider the idea of forming a state-wide task force to take a look at this issue in depth and bring a report back to the State Charter Board? We would like to meet with you and any others you feel might be able to help to discuss that idea and any others that would help all of us address and resolve our concerns for the students we serve at Edge and the students at other schools like Edge facing the same dilemma. Please let us know what might work for you.

    Sincerely,

    Greg Hart, President
    Rob Pecharich, Principal
    For the Edge School Board of Directors

  3. I am friends with a refugee who arrived in Tucson when she was 18 years old and spoke no English. Too old to enroll in a regular high school like her younger siblings. A year later, when she had learned quite a bit of English, she enrolled at Edge. They took her even though it was not likely that she would graduate by the time she “aged out” of public school education at what I believe is 21 years old. But she went to school and received education and is better for it. I am so grateful to Edge for serving these students.

    The pressure on administrators to push out low performing students or students at risk of dropping out is reprehensible. Where does that pressure come from? From the overly simplistic letter grading of schools and the pressure to raise AIMS scores. Even without Brewer’s misconceived idea of performance pay for schools, there are incentives for schools to discourage at-risk students from enrolling in their schools.

    How crappy must it feel for a professional educator who wants to give every student a chance to be put it the situation where he or she will be rewarded for pushing that student somewhere else? Dave, you and Stellar do well to publicize this travesty. The letter grades do a lot of harm and are not very helpful, although parents are told that a letter tells them all they need to know. One of the TUSD Board members sends his child to a D school. I sent mine to one. Are we crazy or is the grade misleading?

    What is fashionably called “accountability” is a way to put objective measurement and labels on schools and teachers without putting the needs of the student always first. How sad. Please keep telling the truth.