Take shackles off successful schools

Posted on July 05, 2007 | Type: In the News
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We live in a world that’s becoming increasingly standardized, despite the dizzying fragmentation of our society that the Internet has produced.

We need to have some common technological ground in order to make the Web work, forcing nearly everyone to have some familiarity with PCs and how they operate. The dominance of deep-pocketed corporations has crowded anybody who isn’t a Wal-Mart or Michael’s or Chick-Fil-A out of the East Valley’s power centers.

Nowhere has this phenomenon been more pronounced than in public schools, which must prepare students for this flattened world and are subject to No Child Left Behind, which has squeezed all vitality and individuality out of the educational field in order to be able to apply the same standards across the board.

Case in point: Two of the state’s most prestigious charter school groups are suing for the right to give students in-depth instruction on history — in chronological order.

The Great Hearts (which has three campuses, including one opening this fall in Mesa) and BASIS (Scottsdale and Tucson) schools are contesting the Department of Education’s authority to impose its recently adopted social studies curriculum, which doesn’t mesh with how these immensely successful schools have been operating.

The schools have accelerated curriculums which they have managed to change in order to satisfy state language, math and science requirements while staying true to their vision.

Clint Bolick, the Goldwater Institute attorney representing the schools, said rearranging history doesn’t work because students use early history to understand more recent events.

Beyond that, he said, this micromanagement runs counter to what charter schools should be about: “The whole essence of a charter school is we’re going to hold you to the bottom line, the AIMS test,” Bolick told us this week.

One of the best things the Legislature did during the session that just ended was to increase charter school funding, but not to the point of equalizing them with district schools run under the old, “maintenance and operations”-heavy model of school funding. It’s only fair that they face a little less regulation in return.

Everyone seems to agree on the premise that these schools should be different, so the state should allow its educators to exercise their judgment in crafting grade-by-grade curriculum plans. If they don’t produce good results on the AIMS test and in other venues, they should be held accountable. If anything, school districts also should be given more latitude, so they don’t run into the same roadblocks when establishing schools modeled after these excelling charters, or when they seem to have hit upon a method that might work better for all students.

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