Charter schools succeed in forcing districts to address gaps in services - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Charter schools succeed in forcing districts to address gaps in services

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Posted: Friday, August 18, 2006 6:29 am | Updated: 3:37 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

No matter how you feel about Arizona’s charter school movement, it can be deemed at least somewhat successful, given the changes in the Mesa Unified School District being attributed to the competition the charters provide.

In Monday’s Tribune, Andrea Falkenhagen reported the state’s largest K-12 school district’s losses to charter schools are no longer masked by the district’s population growth, so its leaders have turned some of their attention to filling in the cracks that students have been falling through and, with luck, land in a charter school that meets their needs.

As the student population continues to diversify, there’s a moral imperative for districts to figure out how to give as many students as possible the best start in life.

It turns out, charter schools create a financial imperative, too. Declining enrollment will eventually lead to cuts in state funding for public school districts, which sounds logical in theory but in practice can lead to harmful cuts to existing educational programs, especially when they’re getting students ready for a tech-centric future.

So the district has just opened the Crossroads School, with which it hopes to lure back kids who have transferred to places such as Sun Valley High School after failing to thrive in one of its sixth mammoth “traditional” high schools.

Next fall the district plans to open a campus offering a more rigorous curriculum, compared to Tempe Preparatory Academy by Mesa school board member Rich Crandall. Probably not coincidentally, Tempe Prep’s parent has been sniffing around east Mesa for a possible new campus.

The Scottsdale Unified School District’s response to the challenge is creating specialized “academies” within its larger school campuses, opening a math and science high school academy even after far fewer than the 60 projected students had enrolled.

Of course, charter schools must also be evaluated on how their approximately 90,000 students are doing.

A quick crunching of this year’s AIMS scores shows sixth-graders from district and charter schools earned nearly identical results on all three sections of the test, but high-school charter students fell far below state standards at twice the rate of their district school counterparts, with 49 percent failing the math section. Self-examination is in order in the charter-school community, as well.

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