Eskildson: 3 suggestions to improve Arizona pupil achievement

Stanford’s “Center for Research on Education Outcomes,” Mathematica, Brookings Institute, and Princeton have all found that charters following a “No-Excuses” model were considerably more successful in boosting pupil achievement.

Loyd Eskildson

That model is also consistent with education research elsewhere supporting “High Expectations.”

“No Excuses” does not dominate Arizona charters. This should not be surprising, given the relatively lax attitude towards at least “early” charter achievement levels by one of the Arizona charter movement’s primary framers/initiators. In addition, she and others have, within that context, inappropriately warned about over-regulating charters.

Local charter advocates have recently repeatedly asserted that Arizona charters considerably outperform traditional public schools.

Those claims have no basis in reality because Arizona charters have been proven to “cream” available students — thus, those advocates are comparing “apples” and “oranges.”

Three external assessments to-date of Arizona charter pupil achievement (CREDO (2009, 2013) and Brookings (2014)) have taken charter/traditional public school student body variations into account. All three concluded that, overall, charters fail to match the performance in traditional Arizona public schools. (Brookings also found “impressive work being done in some individual schools” — undoubtedly those included BASIS charters, a “no-excuses” exemplar.)

Another research finding — some charter models consistently under-perform — those in rural settings, for-profit, single-site providers, and on-line providers. All are allowed in Arizona. Massachusetts reportedly prohibits for-profit charter schools; its Boston charters have been identified “best in the nation” by CREDO.

Suggestion No. 1: Arizona prohibit for-profit and on-line charter-school providers, encourage “No Excuses” charters.

Another Arizona problem is that its weak and misleading pupil-testing system (AZMERIT) makes comparing school “value-added” pupil achievement very difficult.

It is also quite difficult to compare Arizona outcomes vs. those in other states and nations. The latter is a very important motivating attribute given that Arizona pupil achievement trails the nation (recent claims to the contrary by charter advocates are also invalid), and U.S. pupil performance trails that of economically-advanced nations.

AZMERIT also makes objective assessment of teachers, principals, goal-setting and follow-up, and education policies (eg. class size, teacher salaries, etc.) far more difficult than necessary. As a result, AZMERIT does very little to inform parental school choices, or motivate/facilitate improvement anywhere in our education system.

Suggestion No. 2: Arizona replace AZMERIT with credible norm-referenced testing and a pupil-data base that corrects AZMERIT deficiencies.

Finally, high-performance organizations require a motivating vision, a limited number of credible/challenging overall outcome goals, regular objective follow-up of progress in achieving those goals, and linking substantial rewards to credible evidence of achieving those goals.

Arizona K-12 education has none of those attributes or practices.

Suggestion No. 3: Arizona’s governor set such goals, and the state board/state supt. regularly and in public follow-up on interim progress.

Bottom-Line: These three suggestions will greatly facilitate and motivate improved pupil achievement across all public and charter schools.

Editor’s Note: Loyd Eskildson is a member of the Scottsdale Unified School District community and a Paradise Valley resident.

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