SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


TSAS-Still too high a price
By Agnes Moran


October 29, 2008
Wednesday AM

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 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.

Agnes Moran
Ketchikan, AK

About: "Local parent concerned with quality and equality in school choice."

Received October 27, 2008 - Published October 29, 2008



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