TSAS-Still too high a price
By Agnes Moran
October 29, 2008
I still have two major issues with Tongass School that have not
been addressed by any of the responses to my original posting
(What Price Mediocrity?). My first is that Tongass School does
not educate all of its students equally and the second is that
it has never lived up to the commitments it made to this community
in the charter that it used to justify its existence.
A recurring theme in these responses is a request not to judge
the Tongass School because it has failed to make Adequate Yearly
Progress (AYP) by Alaskan Native and American Indian students
in math and language arts and by Economically Disadvantaged students
in math. Over 40% of their student body is represented by the
target groups failing in these categories. If you are a parent
of a student in one of these target groups your experience at
Tongass School is likely to be very different than that of the
parent of a Caucasian child. The achievement level for your student
at Tongass School can be almost 30 percentage points lower than
that for a Caucasian student (2007-2008 Report Card to the Public).
No other elementary school in the district has such a large gap
between the achievement levels of its students. If you were to
take the children from the failing categories at Tongass School
and place them in any other elementary school in the district,
their chances for achieving higher levels of proficiency in math
and language arts increase greatly.
Tongass School has never produced the results it promised in
its 2002 contract with this community. I seriously doubt that
Tongass School would have been granted a charter if it had stated
that its goals were to achieve a 61% proficiency rating in math
and a 75% proficiency rating in language arts by the end of the
2007/2008 school year (2007-2008 Report Card to the Public).
Tongass School has been in existence for 6 school years, long
enough that it should have already obtained the 80% proficiency
levels committed to in both its original contract and its subsequent
renewed contract with this community.
The US Department of Education recently released a report on
quality charter schools www.ed.gov/admins/comm/choice/csforum/report.html.
The policy document lays out six key principles for quality charter
schools: achieve excellence early in their operation; improve
performance year in and year out; achieve consistently strong
results; have a robust infrastructure to help students and teachers
succeed; authorizers address chronically underperforming schools
by closing the school and opening superior options; and sharing
successful practices and fostering choice and competition among
the schools. (U.S. Department of Education, A Commitment to Quality:
National Charter School Policy Forum Report, Washington, D.C.,
2008). Tongass School does not satisfy a single one of these
key principles for quality charter schools. Perhaps the time
has come to implement the fifth principle.
I am a supporter of school choice as long as that choice is a
quality choice for all of the groups of students attending the
school. My issue is not with the Integrated Thematic Instruction
method employed at Tongass School but with the uneven results
it has delivered. If a school is going to accept public funds,
it needs to be accountable for what it produces with those funds.
If Tongass School wants to be selective in what group of students
it educates and if Tongass School wants to be selective in what
benchmarks it is held accountable for, then perhaps it should
become a private school and forego public funding.
I still hold that in this environment of tight budgets and dropping
student counts that $1.2m is too high a price to pay for mediocrity.
About: "Local parent concerned
with quality and equality in school choice."
Received October 27, 2008 -
Published October 29, 2008
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