Last week (Jan. 27 – Feb. 2) was National School Choice Week, so I thought it appropriate to respond to a column printed in the Explorer – “The focus should be on quality teaching.”
In the article, Richard Brinkley stated “traditional public schools are failing our children.” He also made it sound as though Arizona parents are by and large choosing the charter school option for their children. The reality however, is just the opposite.
Despite Arizona having more school choices than any other state in the union, our local, neighborhood (traditional) public schools continue to be the number-one educational choice of parents of school-aged children. Families of nearly nine out of 10 students in the state choose to send their children to their local schools, 88.6 percent in traditional public schools vs. 11.4 percent in charters according to the Arizona School Board Association.
It is also not true charter schools perform better across the board than traditional public schools. Called the first national assessment of school-choice options, a study by Stanford University in June 2009 compared the reading and math state achievement test scores of 70 percent of U.S. charter school students—to those of their virtual “twins” in traditional public schools who shared with them certain characteristics. They found that only 17 percent showed any significant growth in math scores over traditional public-school equivalents; 46 percent were the same and 37 percent were lower. In reading, charter students on average realized a growth less than their public-school counterparts.
Brinkley referred to KIPP schools as a successful model. There is a reason they work. Most KIPP schools have longer days (nine and a half hours), include Saturday classes, and three weeks of summer school; typically, a KIPP school provides 60 percent more time in school than a regular public school. Students, parents, and teachers sign a contract agreeing to fulfill specific responsibilities. But, KIPP admits students by lottery; resulting in only the most motivated families applying for a slot. KIPP also has a high attrition rate, as much as 60 percent between fifth and eighth grade.This model won’t work for the majority of children.
When charter schools were first conceived, their original purpose was to strengthen public education instead of competing with and undercutting them. Being first in the nation in per pupil spending cuts since 2008 is not the way to achieve success. Neither is the answer to allow corporate ownership of our schools via school tuition organizations, or to eliminate the requirements for quality and transparency. Diane Ravitch says: “deregulation contributed to the near collapse of our national economy in 2008 and there is no reason to anticipate that it will make education better for most children. Removing public oversight will leave the education of our children to the whim of entrepreneurs and financiers. Nor is it wise to entrust our schools to inexperienced teachers, principals, and superintendents. Education is too important to relinquish to the vagaries of the market and the good intentions of amateurs.”
Education is also too important to not be fully transparent. Dr. Yong Zhao, author of World Class Learners, lauds the American system of school board oversight. He said our nation is the only one in the world that has the kind of transparency we enjoy and that this is critical to the American way of life. Our nation’s commitment to public education played a major role in making us the world’s premier economic powerhouse that we are and that we still can be. All it takes is the political will to do the right thing. For our children, for our state, for our future.