Tuscon versus Columbus: Round Two

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Yesterday I presented statewide NAEP information contrasting urban schooling achievement trends in Arizona and Ohio, and specifically in Tucson and Columbus. Columbus is surrounded by suburban districts choosing not to participate in open enrollment (typical I fear) while Tucson is surrounded by suburban districts who do participate in open enrollment-and actively so.

Today I remembered the cool data tool that the NYT developed using Sean F. Reardon’s data.

Let me start by saying that if I had to pick a district to showcase Arizona, it would not be Tucson. While I am fully aware of some outstanding schools in TUSD, the district’s reputation (fairly or not-I am no authority on the subject) usually involves enrollment decline, empty school buildings, union sway in school board elections and controversy over some sort of voluntary “La Raza” curriculum in the high schools. A decade ago you could peer into the state’s AIMS data and watch student cohorts fall further behind as they “progressed” through the system.

Arizona however has been leading the nation in academic gains, and Tucson continues to face steady and considerable competition for students not only from charter schools and private choice programs, but also from nearby suburban districts. It is my contention that this broad competition enables the bottom up accountability that results in Arizona’s average charter school closing after only 4 years despite receiving 15 year charters from the state. Reardon’s data includes both district and charter school trends, but how did Tucson fare between 2010 (3rd grade scores) and 2015 (8th grade scores) in terms of academic growth?

Tucson Unified (and charters operating within district boundaries) scored at the 64th percentile for growth during this period. Columbus Ohio meanwhile also had a charter school law active, but no suburban districts willing to allow transfers, per the Fordham map:

How did Columbus fare in the Reardon data?

Columbus scored in the 22nd percentile in academic growth during this period. The news is also grim in Cleveland, Toledo and Dayton although Cincinnati stands out as the Ohio urban progress champion during this period. Overall however things look like in NAEP for the two states.

Now if you want to see something really cool:

The east-west on these columns indicate the relative wealth of the district, and Phoenix Elementary and charters sit at the tip of the gains spear.


5 Responses to Tuscon versus Columbus: Round Two

  1. Where are data on high school achievement–by grade 11 or 12? I ask this as a language arts “expert” who was asked to weigh in, by the law firm handling the lawsuit, on educational benefits or disadvantages of the Mexican-American Studies program in the Tuscon schools around 2008 or so. There were other issues, too. But my major focus was on the writing students did in the upper high school courses (mainly English and history) influenced by teachers following this Mex-Am Studies program. I was sent (I was in Arkansas at the time) hundreds of student papers to look at, mainly by Hispanic students in the program. These students were clearly not learning to write (or read). No controlling idea, no citations, no introductory or concluding paras, no explanation of the (I inferred) horrific Guadaloupe/Hidalgo Treaty (I don’t recall how to spell it anymore) Despite the claims of the program, no critical thinking was taught at all. No teacher comments. My conclusion today: Any semi-educated parent would have put their child in another school system after the judge ruled in favor of the TUSD (I think). That is, if the parent wanted substantive preparation for college for their child.

    Have any researchers looked beyond test scores and at kids’ actual writing at the high school level. I asked the judge to pick papers at random for me to comment on in my taped testimony. I was given classroom sets of papers to look at.

    I am curious why the focus is on the elementary and middle school level in looking at student growth, benefits of charter schools, etc.

  2. Perhaps you could give us some hints on why there are few if any analyses of the benefits of charter schools on high school students.

  3. whatever is there is grist for the mill. That’s the first place to look for the benefits of those who graduate from grade 8 in a charter school.

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