How About More “Very Nimble” District Schools?

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Republic ran a quote from my state Senator, Kate Brophy McGee, that scores high on the unintentionally hilarious meter. A left of center organization issued a report complaining about procurement rules governing Arizona charters. Senator Brophy McGee stated:

State Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a Republican from Phoenix, said charter schools should be held to the same standards as public schools because both deal with public money.

“We’ve given district schools more and more regulation, while not requiring the same of these very nimble charters, and we wonder why the public schools aren’t as successful,” McGee said.

I have what I think is a better idea- one of these two sectors should become more like the other, but based on what we see in the academic data it is the districts who should become more like the charters, rather than the other way around. Last session for instance Governor Ducey called for districts to have similar freedom in hiring to charters. It, ah, seems to be working out really well for charters. This makes all the sense in the world, but reactionary elements of the district establishment acted like it was some sort of ghastly mistake. As the Prime Minister of the UK might say “I refer the honourable gentlemen to the red columns in the above chart.”

If the Grand Canyon Institute or anyone else has evidence of lawbreaking, they should refer these to the appropriate authorities. The State Board for Charter Schools is for instance empowered to investigate complaints. More importantly, Arizona parents are absolutely brutal in punishing schools that fail to deliver- they have other options and can vote with their feet. This is real accountability as opposed to the faux bureaucratic variety.


5 Responses to How About More “Very Nimble” District Schools?

  1. Greg Forster says:

    Overregulated district schools won’t “underperform” charters if we overregulate the charters too – problem solved!

  2. matthewladner says:

    This really is a paradigm shift that the Grand Canyon Institute and alas Senator Brophy McGee have yet to wrap their heads around. Top down regulation is generally a joke, and is even more of a joke than usual in AZ K-12. It however doesn’t much matter given that parents are out filling schools they don’t like full of lead frontier justice style. We have efficient accountability in Arizona rather than the ineffectual bureaucratic style desired by GCI.

    • Greg Forster says:

      It matters in that those who haven’t wrapped their heads around the new reality see it as destructive and evil (“filling schools they don’t like full of lead frontier justice style”). The new reality will not be sustainable until people wrap their heads around it. One of the biggest challenges we face is that the accountability wing of the reform movement really does see local schools as the evemy and doesn’t recognize anything as real reform unless it makes local schools suffer. Thus we talk about choice with images of blood and slaughter (“filling schools they don’t like full of lead frontier justice style”) and that makes it all the harder for people to wrap their heads around it.

      • matthewladner says:

        It is certainly the case that AZ districts are performing better than ever, and most of the parental bullets in frontier justice are flying towards new charter schools. Creative destruction is very active among AZ charters, but not entirely absent in the district system. Getting to understand this as a healthy phenomenon is the trick.

  3. […] rhetoric. Matthew Ladner, senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, suggests that maybe districts should be allowed more flexibility, instead of imposing more regulations on charter […]

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