PHOENIX - Charter schools have suspended a lawsuit against state education officials over when the schools can teach social studies.
The move comes as state School Superintendent Tom Horne agreed to give all schools more flexibility in teaching schedules.
That satisfies the demand of several charter schools that sued because their teaching philosophy ran afoul of requirements for all public schools — including charter schools — to align their curricula with state standards.
In exchange, the schools that want a different teaching schedule will have to live with one of the alternatives adopted by the state Board of Education.
Their students also will have to pass any future statewide tests on social studies. And those tests will be given according to the existing schedule of when subjects must be taught even if the charter schools have not yet covered those areas.
The deal, brokered by Senate Majority Whip John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, prohibits either side from claiming victory or even making statements. Instead, they agreed to a common news release declaring the settlement “a win-win for both sides.”
But Eileen Sigmund, chief executive of the Arizona Charter School Association, said this clearly helps those 460 schools that educate about 93,000 youngsters, about one out of every 10 in public schools in Arizona.
“It allows the focus to be on output, where the focus should be for charter schools,” she said. “The spirit and the intent of charter schools is to allow the flexibility to achieve outputs without stringent requirements on how you’re getting there.”
Monday’s settlement comes four months after the Goldwater Institute filed suit on behalf of the charter schools, challenging the right of Horne and the state education board to mandate curriculum alignment. That mandate is based on the concept that students are supposed to have learned specific things by a certain grade.
Charter schools, which are public schools, had agreed previously to curriculum alignment adopted by the state in 2003 for math, reading and science.
But Basis School Inc., which runs charter schools in Tucson and Scottsdale, and Great Heart Academies which runs the Veritas, Mesa and Chandler preparatory schools, balked at new standards this year requiring that U.S. history be taught in seventh and eighth grades.
The Great Heart schools, for example, teach ancient and medieval history in seventh and eighth grades, with U.S. history the following year.
Under terms of the deal, the charter schools can petition the state board for an alternate social studies schedule. But that plan has to “incorporate a substantially greater level of academic rigor” than now required of schools.
Any public school can then opt to use the alternate standards.
The deal also permits schools to teach any subjects earlier than required.
Monday’s settlement only suspends the lawsuit while alternate social studies standards are crafted. The deal allows the charter schools to reopen the litigation if the standards are not acceptable to them.
The deal comes two months after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Miles refused to block the state from implementing the curriculum requirements this year. The judge, while not ruling on the merits of the lawsuit, said the schools are not entitled to an injunction because they waited for two years after learning about the requirements before filing suit.