by David Safier
As you know if you've read my posts about charter schools, I like the idea of charters, but I want to see more oversight to make sure each school is making a genuine effort to educate its students and accounting for the tax dollars it spends. It looks like Arizona may be heading in that direction. So why am I skeptical?
About a dozen owners have taken over the once small, mostly volunteer Arizona Charter Schools Association, an advocacy group, with a newfound purpose: to push tougher enforcement of state standards and stricter accountability in Arizona's 475 charter schools.
If it's a small group of charter school owners who are pushing the accountability, I'm concerned about their motives, and about their methods. They want to close other charters, not theirs, and their methods of oversight are going to praise their strengths and condemn other schools' weaknesses.
That being said, this could be a good thing. At best, it could mean Arizona will have fewer but better charter schools which give parents and students strong alternatives to traditional public schools, or, even better, a growing number of quality schools. More regulation will make it harder for bad schools to hide.
But Lisa Graham Keegan is on board with this, the former AZ Ed Supe who pushed both charters and vouchers and was McCain's main educational advisor during his presidential campaign. She represents the conservative end of the educational spectrum.
And yet, in this case, our interests may converge. If she wants charters to thrive, she has a stake in driving out the bad ones. If I want to see our students get good educations, I want the same thing.
But most of the owners promoting the new accountability run schools that cater to the high end of the academic spectrum. Will they drive out schools that work with lower end kids which have more trouble showing progress with their students?
If the success or failure of a charter school is driven by test scores, consider this. High end students generally make more than a year's progress in their test scores each year, by definition, even in mediocre schools. That's what makes them "high end" — that their test scores are above average. Low end students gain less than a year, also by definition. Will that be accounted for in looking over the data? If not, charter schools could become synonymous with boutique schools?
I'll watch what happens, hopeful but wary. I don't know the political or educational leanings of all the players here, but I do know, when conservatives get together, the results usually benefit their limited self interests.