You’re going to need a bigger boat


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

My son Benjamin was looking at the Jayblog, and I asked him “what do you think it would look like if I put Arizona charter students in one of those state NAEP cohort gain dot charts?”

He said “You’re going to need a bigger chart.”


NAEP cohort gains AZ charters

Feel free to note ways in which it is not fair to compare charter cohort gains to statewide gains (there are indeed some) in the comments section. It is also “not fair” that some of those blue dots spend twice as much per pupil for a student body of relatively wealthy kids but get an oxygen tank shot into their academic toothy maw by a majority-minority student body.

8 Responses to You’re going to need a bigger boat

  1. Michael Norton says:

    Spurred by competition? Or by parents? Public Schools in Scottsdale have closed the former gap between the best performing public schools and the Charters that shamed them for a few years.

    Note also that as Charters occupy a larger percentage of the market, they have begun to drop back to the pack, indicating that if Charters and Public schools took random draws of students from the market place their apparent dominance would greatly disappear.

    The best schools are those where parents have to choose to get in. If they seek it and insist upon it, they tend to get what they want, as continuously proven by Cheyenne Traditional School’s shining performance in the middle of Charter School dominated North Scottsdale.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Spurred by comeptition? Or by parents?

      Is steak cooked by the oven, or by the chef?


    • matthewladner says:


      The statewide AZMerit numbers have plenty of good news (both charters and districts improving) but show no signs of charters falling back, and little sign of districts (yet) closing gaps with them.

      Moreover, there is sadly a very basic reason why we see districts generally fail to replicate high demand magnet models like Cheyenne- it doesn’t suit the interests of the other district schools. It is not dissimilar to why the other GM brands and eventually the UAW undermined Saturn, squandering a huge amount of public goodwill and demand. Clayton Christensen describes this phenomenon as “organizations cannot disrupt themselves.” Scottsdale Unified is being pressured externally and seems to be responding, but there isn’t much stopping them from taking high demand magnet models and putting them into, say, a 127k square foot vacant multi-building campus they already own other than…politics.

  2. Michael Norton says:

    The relevant distinction between thriving, successful schools and under-performing schools is not Charter vs. Public vs. Private.

    It is the common desire of parents, teachers, students and administration to achieve success without compromise. Breaking away from mediocrity can take place both within a Public School District or outside of that District. And, yes, the Charters in Scottsdale have begun to move back towards the pack.

    As they shift from 10% of market share to 50% of market share and expand classrooms/teachers rapidly, they will struggle to stay ahead of a school like Cheyenne that has a 20 year legacy and a core group of teachers who not only repeat their prior successes, but improve continuously.

    With not even a hint of gatekeeping, full compliance with Title I, ELL and SPED standards, Cheyenne is a perfect response to any claim that public schools should be dismantled and replaced with Charters.

    I admire and respect the work performed by Great Hearts, BASIS, and Notre Dame within our community. As well as the leading performance of PVUSD schools on our boundaries (Pinnacle Peak and Greyhawk Elementary among them).

    I am also pleased that SUSD has committed to launching another Traditional School in South Scottsdale (Pima). You cannot snap your fingers and recreate Cheyenne’s performance, but if the community really wants it and demands it, they will find a way to perform.

    • matthewladner says:

      I hope they will be wise enough to continue opening such schools, but if it were easy to overcome internal politics and self-interest, Cheyenne would have plenty of company not only in Scottsdale but also in other districts. You do however see some signs of breakout in some districts- but you don’t have to be Hari Seldon to predict where the pushback will be coming from and how many such internal efforts will die (smothered quietly).

      • Michael Norton says:

        SUSD does have a history of forcing Cheyenne to drag anchor chain in its wake. It’s probably accurate to state that Cheyenne succeeds despite District leaders, rather than with their support.

        The move to replicate Cheyenne at Pima is a powerful move that hopefully succeeds at all levels. But to your point, that move should have been made over a decade ago. The first 10 years of Cheyenne’s repeated successes should have been enough to convince leadership that the annoying school in the North that kept making the rest of the District look bad was not going to go away and was not going to fail despite being starved of adequate funding.

        Which further proves my point – if you really want it you make it happen. Cheyenne could thrive in a tent with kids sitting in the dirt. It would be miserable. But there would still be a wait list and there would still be a PTO out trying to buy blankets to keep the kids out of the dust.

        Footnote – 18 months ago Cheyenne parents grew weary of waiting for the promised gym and labs. We drug out our Site Tax Credit fund, got quotes for an industrial tent (think of the WestWorld tent scaled to a basketball court). We achieved school wide support and moved the project to the Site Council for final approval before SUSD was, once again, shamed in to tossing a financial bone to CTS by finally building the needed infrastructure.

        With or without a gym/labs, and whether in an expensively built facility or a tent, CTS finds a way to succeed.

        We are dead serious when we say that we could do it in a tent if we had to.

        That is not so different than some of the Great Hearts facilities that started in empty industrial buildings where kids took recess in the parking lot.

        It’s not about the building or the “choice” of school types. It’s about wanting it so bad you just go do it.

      • matthewladner says:

        We need to reach the place when parent demand drives the schools that live and expand and the ones that close up shop. You can see the amino acids interacting in the primordial soup of Arizona’s bubbling K-12 sector mud, but we aren’t there yet.

  3. Michael Norton says:

    Here we completely agree.

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