Eagle Academy director says school hits mark

The American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union in the nation, has released a report criticizing charter schools for failing to measure up to expectations.

But Mary Stuart, an administrator at EAGLE Academy in Golden Valley, disagrees.

Stuart said the school's curriculum is mandated by the state, the same as any Arizona school, and that all lessons are designed and written to teach Arizona state standards.

"However, we use creativity and innovative strategies to teach the standard, not a 'cookie-cutter curricula,' " Stuart said.

"We use thematic, team and research-based approaches and go beyond the textbook to include arts, role-playing, field trips, technology, higher order thinking skill, simulations and many hands-on activities to supplement the lesson from the book," she said.

"Our testing data is comparable to the local districts, even showing improvement over the past three years."

Charter schools, publicly funded schools operated by community-based groups, private business or groups of educators and parents, are generally freer from public-school rules and regulations, depending on the state where they are located.

Leslie Getzinger, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, said the study was conducted for the 10th anniversary of the first charter school, City Academy, in St.

Paul, Minn.

"Our former AFT president Al Shanker came up with the idea for the first charter school: a small little lab of education, free from the bureaucracy of large school districts, for the purpose of raising student achievement and bringing innovation into the classroom," Getzinger said.

"For the majority of charter schools we feel that is not happening," she added.

"There are some excellent charter schools, but many are not.

Charter school laws are too broad, and do not hold the schools accountable for raising student achievement."

The federation's report was released Wednesday.

Stuart said not all students with strong leadership and social skills test high on academic testing, although these abilities need to be fostered.

"We live in a transient area and many of our students come with large gaps in basic skills and we work hard to fill these gaps," she said.

"As all schools do, we are also required to complete and publish school report cards.

We are also penalized, as are all public schools, if we are not in compliance.

We may be free from public school districts' red tape, but not public school law."

Stuart said she does not understand the charge that charter schools are not held accountable.

"The school is accountable to teach to the Arizona state standards, to test with the Stanford and AIMS, to provide special education in compliance with federal requirements, submit state reports and pass financial and educational audits annually," she said.

Muir said

Dr.

Ed Muir, a senior researcher for the American Federation of Teachers, said every state has its own laws governing charter schools, and Arizona has more stringent laws regarding financial accountability than many states.

"But the basic question regarding charter schools is, 'are charter schools accountable, and how are they being held accountable for achievement and public money?" Muir asked.

Charter schools must do the same administrative work as public schools, but because they are smaller the administrative costs are higher, he added.

"Larger (public) school districts are not inefficient as critics say," he said.

"We think Arizona charter schools spend about $800 per pupil and public schools spend about $600 per pupil.

But the main concern is student achievement."

The report concluded that most of the nation's charter schools don't improve student achievement, aren't innovative and are less accountable than public schools.

However, Muir said laws governing Arizona charter schools have changed in the last two years.

"In some states we have trouble getting financial records.

I don't think that is the case in Arizona now," Muir said.

"As for the issue of student achievement in Arizona, studies do not show that charter school students are doing any better than public school students."

Betty Rowe, owner/director of the Kingman Academy of Learning, a charter school that includes a primary, intermediate and middle school, doesn't agree with the assessment.

"I feel like most charter schools I know about do a good job of educating youngsters," Rowe said.

"I feel ours is one of those.

As long as we continue to meet our goals and continue to be a strong basic-skills school for our students and faculty, we will be successful."

The report stated that approximately 10 percent of the 2,327 charter schools that have opened since 1992 have closed, some because of financial mismanagement.

But Rowe said that in Arizona, the state with the most charter schools, only 5 percent of the charter schools formed in the last few years have closed.

"Seven years ago we started with 230 students and today we have 1,040 kids enrolled for this coming year," she said.

"Our youngsters always achieve as high as students in our town, county, state and nation."

She added that charter schools should be held accountable, and that the Arizona State Board of Charter Schools or the Arizona State Board of Education needs to be careful when approving a charter school, and charter school administrators should be held responsible for what they say they will do.

"All teachers at Kingman Academy of Learning are certified by the state.

The academy has exceeded academic expectations," she said.

The Center for Education Reform, one of several national education organizations that support charter schools, dismissed the report, citing research and federal data to back up their claim that the American Federation of Teachers is biased against charter schools.

"… The union supports charter schools only when they are covered by union contracts and operated by school districts," said Mary Kayne Heinze, a spokeswoman for the Center for Education Reform.

There is also no valid nationwide comparison of charter school achievement to public school achievement on which the teachers union bases its claims, Heinze said.

As for the issue of accountability, Rowe said if a charter school is found out of compliance, it has 90 days to improve.

Failing that, the school can be shut down.