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.