State may shut charter schools that fail to gain
September 14, 2005


PHOENIX - Arizona charter schools that fail to show students are making academic progress could face tougher consequences in the future.
The state board that oversees the charter schools is developing criteria for the first time for closing down schools that don't show academic gains.
Arizona has 500 charter schools, the most per capita of any state.
The sweeping changes in policies for charter schools will toughen rules and may result in nearly one in 10 charter schools facing possible closure beginning next year.
Arizona State Board for Charter Schools members discussed the topic Monday and are expected to approve policies for dealing with schools by January.
"There will be schools closed," predicted Kristen Jordison, the board's executive director.
Progress required of all
Both charters and traditional district schools are required to show academic progress under state and federal laws.
However, charters face harsher consequences than traditional district schools under state law if they continue to fail.
If a charter school was closed, owners could lose their investment and children would be forced to find a new school.
The worst that could happen to a district school is the state Board of Education could hand the school over to a private or nonprofit organization, but this option has not been exercised so far.
Charter schools are publicly funded but have more freedom over curriculum than traditional district schools. Charter schools began opening in 1995 here with the goal of giving parents more choices.
As many as 46 schools - or about 9 percent of the state's charter schools - could end up before the board for possible closure, board members said Monday.
How many the board actually would close remains to be seen. State law requires that the board either revoke the charter or "restore the charter school to acceptable performance."
"Solution ill-advised"
Closing schools for failure to demonstrate adequate academic progress is not a good solution, said Elizabeth Tridico, principal of Tucson's Calli Ollin Academy, 200 N. Stone Ave.
"Creating a simplistic solution for a very complicated problem is ill-advised," said Tridico. The school didn't meet the federal government's yearly assessment of progress on standardized testing and attendance.
Tridico agrees there have to be standards for charter schools to maintain, but threatening a school with closure is excessive.
"I don't think any threat is motivating," she said.
Another local educator took issue with AIMS test results being used as a method for showing academic progress in charter schools.
"The test is not designed to show growth for students whose first language is Spanish," said Sister Judy Bisignano, director of the Cesar Chavez Learning Community Inc., which includes Cesar Chavez Middle School and Aztlan Academy, both at 3376 S. Sixth Ave.
Neither school met federal assessment standards.
"The school board would never close schools," Bisignano said, despite the policy now being considered. "Poverty is a factor for not passing the AIMS test."
"We can show growth. The AIMS test doesn't show the growth of the kids who don't speak, read or write English and the school board knows this," Bisignano said.
● Star reporter Erny Zah contributed to this story.