Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ups and Downs

Arizona, when its elected officials aren't saying moronic things, is the undisputed charter school leader of our country. The state boasts 500 charter schools, which account for 25% of the public schools in the state and 10% of the student population (class size comparisons, anyone?). Seems like this should have rocketed Arizona to the top of the state rankings, right? Well, the only problem is that the state's charter schools don't show as much academic progress as the state's traditional public schools. At least, that's what a study out of Stanford University found.

Now, in fairness, apparently the charter supporters are saying that the methodology of the report is flawed. So let's mark the findings with an asterisk for now. But what the sides both seem to agree on is that the quality of charter schools varies widely. No kidding.

For some reason, the real diehard charter supporters seem to think that all charters are always better than all traditional public schools. Even in the face of evidence that it simply isn't true. And it's obviously not true. It doesn't even make sense. Rather, there are some charters that are excellent schools. Just as there are some traditional public schools that are excellent. Likewise, both have their duds. What makes a school good is not that it has a charter label affixed to it. That's ultimately just a label. As I've said before, we should stop focusing on the labels and start focusing on what actually makes schools good and successful and replicate that in as many schools as we can so that all schools can be good schools. Charters can certainly be part of that picture, but they are not a complete answer in themselves.

I also want to draw attention to a line from the Washington Post article linked above that says, "But the state also offers a cautionary lesson as President Obama pushes to dismantle barriers to charter schools elsewhere: It is difficult to promote quantity and quality at the same time." Sounds familiar.

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