Schild: will Scottsdale public education ever be what it once was?

I had a conversation with an acquaintance the other day that left me feeling down. She opined that public schools as we knew them — the ones you and I grew up with — would be a thing of the past by the time her grandchildren were old enough to attend. According to her, my grandchildren would be the last generation to attend a district as opposed to charter public school.

Christine Schild

I shared her thoughts with a friend who is an advocate for neighborhood schools run by a district. We began to question whether district public schools have a future or if charters will become a parent’s only choice?

I found it ironic the Scottsdale school district was on the cutting edge of choice when it opened Cheyenne Traditional School in 1997. If Scottsdale would have built on this concept instead of pushing for some skewed concept of equity (different but equal?) in our schools, perhaps the district would not be riddled with charter schools that offer college preparatory or STEM curriculum that allow students to advance at a faster pace.

Unfortunately, 10 years without direction have pulled the district’s schools down. Scottsdale used to be on top, but over time charters have outperformed its schools. So, can the district be saved? Or are neighborhood public schools becoming as outdated as the dinosaurs?

I believe there are parents who want neighborhood public schools. They want their children to have the same educational experience they had. Yes, some parents want different things for their children, but they now have choices.

So, what does Scottsdale need to do in order to attract those parents who are looking for a solid K-12 education for their students in a neighborhood public school?

First, the district must adopt a district wide curriculum that allows students to move freely between schools. I realize the District is poised to open a second traditional elementary school (Pima) in the fall. I believe in the benefits of a skill and drill education in the primary grades.

The district should look at using Saxon and Spaulding as its standard curriculum for all K-5 students. Every middle and high school curriculum should be identical from the standard Freshman courses through AP offerings in core classes.

Second, we need to assess the way students are taught. Right now, the focus is on grade level instead of proficiency. If students could move through the curriculum at their own pace instead of facing artificial barriers (grade level), the District could outshine the charters.

All teachers must specialize. Instead of teaching third grade students, they would teach third-grade math. Teams would consist of content-based instead of grade-level teachers. Students would be assessed quarterly and moved forward when proficiency is demonstrated.

Students who need more time would not be “held back” but simply continue to study that content while moving forward in other areas of their education.

There is no question that charters are here to stay and will continue to expand as they offer parents choices not available in their neighborhood school. In order to stay competitive, Scottsdale must carve out the niche it was actually created to fill.

It should provide a solid, standardized K-12 education in neighborhood-based public schools but allow students to move through the curriculum at their own pace. In that way, the district offers a clear choice—it would be different than charters in ways many parents prefer.

Editor’s note: Ms. Schild is a Scottsdale resident and former member of the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board

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