Charter schools fight the state over what they teach

Posted on July 26, 2007 | Type: In the News
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By Kim Covington

On August 6th, five of the state's top charter schools will take State Superintendent Tom Horne to court. They will try to stop him from changing their history curriculum three days before their classes begin. The schools are Basis Tucson, Basis Scottsdale, The Great Hearts Academies charter schools, Veritas Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, Chandler Preparatory Academy and Mesa Preparatory Academy. They say the one size fits all plan is not how they became successful.

The rigorous curriculum of the Basis schools in Scottsdale and in Tucson earned Tucson a spot In Newsweek's Best High Schools, for two consecutive years. And the Great Hearts Academies boasts some of the best test scores in the state. No one disputes the results, not even the state superintendent. But Tom Horne says success is no reason to ignore state standards. State Superintendent Tom Horne says, "If they were to establish a principle that schools could ignore the standards that would mean they could ignore the standards not just in history but in every subject. So a school could decide they will teach addition, subtraction but not division because we don't think that's important."

Horne wants all public schools including those top charter schools to teach American history in the same grades 7th and 8th. The charter schools suing want to keep teaching American history in other grades after teaching world history. Great Hearts Academies CEO Dr. Daniel Scoggin says, "The whole spirit of the charter school movement is the unique curriculum that not only meets state standards but exceeds them at our schools. So the issue of specifically teaching us history in the seventh and eight grade really asks us to rewrite our charter to rewrite our contract with our families.

So the Goldwater Institute is filing a lawsuit on behalf of the schools. It's the first lawsuit filed by the watch dog group that fights to limit government. Goldwater Litigation Director Attorney Clink Bolick says, One of things that government does not have the power to do is to alter a contract that it makes with you and or with a charter school. So this is just like what Darth Vader did in Star Wars changing the rules of the game after they've already started playing."

The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools signed contracts with 355 charter schools that are privately owned but receive state education money. A record 93,000 or 10% of students attend one.

Executive Director DeAnna Rowe sides with the state saying the Charter Board has adopted rules and polices that require a charter school's comprehensive program of instruction to include a curriculum aligned to the State Academic Standards. The charter board recognizes the authority of the state board to adopt academic standards and expects the charter schools it sponsors and monitors to align their curriculum to the Arizona Academic Standards."

But charters say they were established by the state to give parents choice and freedom, forcing a grade by grade curriculum sequence shackles them.

The US Department of Education is weighing in on the charter school lawsuit. In a letter to the Goldwater Institute it states, There is nothing that mandates a state to align its social studies curriculum on a grade by grade basis to state standards nor does the federal law require a single statewide social studies curriculum. That's something the charter schools say they will use to fight Tom Horne's regulatory power. If you want to learn more about the lawsuit go to www.12news.azcentral.com

Watch the News Channel 12 video of the charter school case here.

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