A win for charters, sort of

Posted on October 18, 2007 | Type: In the News
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Arizona might just relax the curriculum straightjacket that policy makers have imposed on our public schools, at least enough to acknowledge theres more than one way to teach history and social studies.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and five of the states most successful charter school organizations announced a settlement Monday in a fight over whether all charter schools must follow a rigid annual schedule for instructing students about the past. Earlier this year, these five sued the state with the help of the Goldwater Institute to challenge a demand from the State Board of Education that social studies classes be taught in the same progression from grade level to grade level that school districts are required to follow.

The new agreement calls for Horne and his staff at the Department of Education to craft one or two alternative curriculum schedules for charter schools. In return, these alternatives must include a substantially greater level of academic rigor than the traditional social studies classes. Any charter school that uses an alternative still must prepare students for AIMS testing at the appropriate grade levels.

In a way, we are disappointed to see the lawsuit resolved in this fashion. The State Board of Educations single-minded drive to equate charter curriculums with traditional district schools has undermined a system once admired nationally for its innovation.

The whole point of the charter school movement is to recognize that different children respond to different methods of instruction, and creative improvements in education usually arise from competition and experimentation. The focus of taxpayers and our representatives should be to hold schools accountable for the sum total of what students have learned, or not learned, when they reach graduation age instead trying to dictate a singular style of teaching for every individual classroom.

But a state judge already has refused to protect charter schools from the state mandate while the case is litigated. Without this settlement, those schools would be forced to further disrupt their own teaching methods for at least a couple of years until the courts act.

Horne still must deliver curriculum alternatives acceptable both to the charter schools and the State Board of Education. We suspect that will happen quickly, as Horne is eager to regain his prior reputation as a friend of charter schools. As a result, Arizona's charter schools will have a little more flexibility to expand young minds.

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