When the Arizona Legislature allowed for the establishment of charter schools in the Grand Canyon State, it did so with the understanding that rules are sometimes made to be broken.
Now, the very breaking of the traditional rules of education by charter schools in Arizona is being debated in Maricopa County Superior Court. At issue is the state standards that require teaching U.S. history in seventh and eighth grades. Some charter schools teach ancient and medieval history in those grades first, saving U.S. history for later.
The "one size fits all" mentality sought by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne flies in the face of the very reason charter schools were established in the first place. The legislation creating charter schools exempted them "from all statutes and rules relating to schools, governing boards and school districts.' In other words, they could break the rules. They could experiment. They could re-define the methods of teaching. All that mattered were the results.
The result of this educational experiment is that many charter schools in Arizona do a better overall job than regular public schools. Locally, for example, American Heritage Academy in Cottonwood and Camp Verde did better on the 2007 spring AIMS in math and reading than high schools in Camp Verde, Cottonwood and Sedona.
It needs to be emphasized that such standardized testing results do not constitute an "apples-to-apples" comparison between charters and traditional public schools. The lower number of students in charter schools and the admission standards of some charters give them an obvious advantage over traditional public schools when measuring academic progress.
But at the same time, it's also true that charter schools are not tied down by state rules and regulations over when and how certain curriculum is taught. They are allowed to experiment. They are allowed to think, and teach, outside the box.
The charter school experiment has worked well in Arizona. It's worked in large part because these schools are not burdened by the state-imposed rules and regulations placed on traditional public schools.
Instead of trying to shove such rules down the throats of charter schools in Arizona, Mr. Horne should instead take a closer look at what is working, and what is not, in education in Arizona classrooms.
He might learn that the state's rules and regulations are hurting, not helping, the process of educating children.
He just might learn something from these charter schools.