Students “stuck” in public schools? - The Explorer: Columns

Students “stuck” in public schools?

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Posted: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 4:00 am

According to ex-Intel CEO Craig Barrett, 90 percent of our children are “stuck” in terrible schools.

“Only 10 percent of the kids in Arizona are in charter schools,” Barrett said during a television news interview. “Ninety percent are stuck in the public school system.”

Stuck in the public school system? Really? The Arizona Department of Education apparently doesn’t agree. It gave its highest “A” rating to Amphi’s Ironwood Ridge High, to name one of 35 “A” rated traditional public schools in our area. No charter school is rated higher. That doesn’t sound like “stuck” to me.

Two other Amphi schools also earned an “A” rating.  So did three schools in Flowing Wells, three in Marana, six in Catalina Foothills, eight in Tucson Unified and 12 in Vail. I wouldn’t say students attending those schools, or other highly-rated schools in the area, are “stuck.”

So why is the opinion of some clueless ex-CEO worth mentioning? Because he’s the man Governor Jan Brewer appointed to head her Arizona Ready Education Council whose job is to implement the state’s education reform plan. Barrett’s blatant prejudice against our traditional public schools will undoubtedly shape  - maybe, “warp” is a better term - the decisions he makes about our educational future.

Even though Barrett thinks the schools are doing a lousy job, he doesn’t want to spend one more dime on education. He says it doesn’t matter that we spend less per student than any other state in the nation. What we need, he says, is more charter schools.

I know Barrett is a smart guy, and he’s spent time looking at schools around the country, so he should know better. Serious research studies of the nation’s schools have concluded similar students in charter and traditional public schools have similar levels of achievement.

Two of those studies were conducted by President Bush’s Education Department. In Arizona, students in charter schools actually score lower than similar students in district schools, according to a recent study out of Stanford University.

Why then, does Barrett sing the praises of charters over other public schools? Maybe it’s because he has skin in the game. Barrett is president and chairman of BASIS Charter Schools. He loves to cite his schools as examples of all that’s right about education.

Barrett has cause to be proud of BASIS charters. They’re some of the top schools in Arizona and among the best in the nation. But, they don’t provide an example for other schools to follow, because they only educate a select group of students - the cream of the academic crop.

BASIS “counsels” students who don’t meet its high academic standards to go choose other schools to attend. You could say, using the terminology of the Occupy Movement, BASIS educates the academic one percent. The 99 percent can go elsewhere.

I’ve taught top students. Those kids are a teacher’s dream come true. What’s tough is getting results from less motivated, low-achieving students. BASIS doesn’t even try.

Barrett has a track record for educating the 99 percent, and the results are disturbing. He sits on the Board of Directors of Virginia-based K-12 Inc., which runs online charter schools around the country, including Arizona Virtual Academy whose 4,000 students represent a cross section of the state’s children. The school is currently on academic probation. Another year or two of low test scores, and the state will pull its charter.

Those 4,000 students will have to find another, hopefully more successful, school.

Not surprisingly, Barrett doesn’t talk much about Arizona Virtual Academy.

Our schools need to improve, no question about it - traditional public schools as well as charters. Even “A” rated schools can be better than they are. But, Craig Barrett, though he seems to hold himself in very high esteem, clearly doesn’t have the answers. I’m not sure he even understands the questions. Unfortunately, Governor Brewer seems to share Barrett’s high opinion of himself and has put him in charge of shaping Arizona’s educational future.

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