Arizona charter schools and the new report card rankings

(Guest Post by Jonathan Butcher)

The new A-F report card rankings are up for Arizona public schools, and the news is good—if you’re sending your child to a charter school. Last year, 40 percent of Arizona charter schools earned an A, compared to 28 percent of traditional schools.

Now that Arizona has four years’ worth of A-F rankings, a year-to-year comparison of charter and traditional schools reveals that charter schools’ success over time is what we hope would have happened to all public schools: more charters are earning A’s and fewer are earning D’s as the years go by (note: Arizona managed to make it so hard to earn an F that few schools have done so).

2010-11 Arizona A-F Letter Grades, Charter v. Traditional

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2011-12 Arizona A-F Letter Grades, Charter v. Traditional

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2012-13 Arizona A-F Letter Grades, Charter v. Traditional

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2013-14 Arizona A-F Letter Grades, Charter v. Traditional

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Between the 2010-11 school year and 2012-13 school year, charter schools occupied the two ends of the A-F distribution, with higher percentages of schools earning A’s and D’s than traditional schools.

This year, however, charter schools own the “A” category, while the percent of charters earning D’s has been cut in half—and, for the first time, is lower than the percent of traditional schools earning D’s. True, the percent of traditional schools earning A’s crept up each year, but not as quickly as charter schools. And the percent of traditional schools earning D’s was relatively consistent.

Nothing is held constant here, so I’ll be the first to admit the limits to these charts. Plus, data from the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) reports that Arizona high schools are not preparing students for college, so the achievement reflected in these report cards is decidedly less impressive than it should be.

But to the extent that these school grades reflect student success (see here for how the report cards are calculated), charter schools are leading the way—and at a per student cost of $1,500 less than traditional schools. And there’s something to be said for charter schools’ unique designs, whether it’s hybrid classrooms, college prep, or career and technology centers for at-risk students aged 14-21.

Clearly there’s a reason why charters are the fastest-growing sector of the public school system.

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