As another end of the school year approaches, now is the time to reflect on how Arizona can ensure our students are prepared to compete for the future. All students deserve a great education that provides them the opportunity to learn to their utmost potential and that fully prepares them to enter college or the workforce after they graduate high school. But what happens when no school in their area is capable of meeting that challenge?
In Arizona today, there are about 100 schools that earn an F grade from the state and are failing so abysmally to meet their responsibility to students that they need to be closed. These are schools where very few students can read and do math at grade level. They are schools that are failing the very same groups of high-risk kids for whom other schools are showing unprecedented gains. No child should be forced to attend such a school.
Parents of children in one of these schools would ideally have available to them an "A" school alternative. Arizona has about 500 public district and public charter schools that get an A grade from the state. About one hundred of these "A" schools have a majority of low-income students, indicating that excellence is a decision the school makes, not a pre-destined result of students' potential or economic situations. Those who say otherwise are, for whatever reason, arguing for policies that trap students in the 100 "F" schools forever.
The "F" schools that are charter schools are supposed to start the process of closing over the next year, but it almost certainly will take longer for those closures to be complete. For "F" schools that are public district schools, there may be efforts underway to improve the school but those will take at least two to three years to take effect. In neither case should a parent be forced to leave their child in a failing school if a better option is available.
Proposed legislation to accelerate the closure process failed recently, facing resistance from legislators who either felt that the solution would too radically change existing contractual agreements, or that it violated their sense of what a "marketplace" should offer. We find the second reason particularly faulty. No matter how many choices a parent has, if all of those choices are failing schools, then the parent has no real choice at all.
Our main concern is what happens to the students in the failing public district and public charter schools and also to the students in the additional district schools who will receive an "F" rating this summer. An "F" rating indicates that a school has operated at a "D" level for three years in a row, a situation that is academically poisonous for students. Even in cases where such schools might be closed in an expeditious fashion, many students, such as those in rural areas or on Indian reservations, don't have any public school options that do not require a great deal of additional travel.
Arizona has a number of options and many scholarships available to parents to help educate their kids. Latino advocacy organizations like Chicanos Por La Causa are aggressively seeking to inform parents about the high quality options that may be available to them, and it is very important for parents to understand that they have more options for schooling than they may think.