Using Data to Inform

The Economist’s recent article on charter schools focused on 20 years of lessons, but used a 2009 report for the proposition that Arizona did not monitor its charter schools.

Even if we were to accept the findings, The Economist did not contact anyone in Arizona to find out what changes have occurred in the last four years. The 2009 Centre for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) report, which was used in the article, discussed how Arizona is lax in its authorization and review of its charter schools. This slur on Arizona’s charter movement ignores the reality of 2012. Arizona has seismically changed the oversight of its charter portfolio that comprises 25 percent of the public schools in the state serving 12 percent of the public students – the highest percentage of any state.

Arizona’s main authorizer, the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, denied renewals for nearly 20 percent of the charters that were considered in fiscal year 2012, and placed 59 percent of charters up for a five or 10-year review that year on a corrective action plan to improve student achievement.

This increased accountability is changing Arizona’s charter movement. Under the threat of closure and the desire to see their students succeed, leaders and teachers are working hard to improve.

The recently released 2012 data reflects this effort. Over three-quarters of Arizona charter schools earned an average letter grade or better, and 30 percent of charter schools saw a letter grade increase from 2011 to 2012 as compared to only 23 percent of district schools.  In addition, 37 percent of charter students are in A-rated schools compared to only 25 percent of district students.

Under Arizona’s A-F letter grading system, BASIS Schools is ranked as the top charter holder or school district in the state. BASIS charter schools provide an accelerated liberal arts education at internationally competitive levels for all students. To be at the top means BASIS Schools academically grow students at a higher and faster rate than any other district or charter school in Arizona.  Now BASIS and other quality Arizona charter networks are expanding nationally.

As Arizona charter schools move to other states, a proven track record in Arizona is vital.

“By the third year; charter students outperformed their virtual twins in traditional public schools,” according to David Osborne in Improving Charter School Accountability: The Challenge of Closing Failing Schools, page 11. In addition, on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, Arizona charter low-income students consistently outperformed their district peers on all five exams.

If The Economist wanted to look at lessons learned, then current information and data should be reflected. We know our students need quality schools, and we are all actively working together to make this a reality by closing those that cannot perform and accelerating the expansion of those that can.

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