about charter-school mediocrity

Robert A. Douglas of the Richard Allen Schools responded to an editorial Checker Finn wrote laying out his 10 factors of charter-school mediocrity in the December 12 Gadfly.

You laid out 10 factors that you said contributed to charter school mediocrity. You didn't say anything what part the curriculum plays.

In Arizona where I now live charters are able to develop their own curriculum and do not have to align them with the Arizona Academic Content Standards. Three Arizona high schools were recently included in a list of the top-100 high schools in the U.S. Two of those top-100 high schools were Arizona charter high schools.

In Ohio the charter schools were asked to show how their curriculum was aligned to the Ohio Academic Content Standards. The state provided forms to show how individual items in the school's curriculum were aligned to specific grade-level indicators. This effectively locked charters into the Ohio state-sponsored curriculum.

When I recently saw many sixth-graders still counting on their fingers to compute simple addition problems like 8 + 5 I wondered where they learned that. Sure enough on page 57 of the Ohio standards under that 16th grade-level indicator for the first grade in mathematics were eight "strategies" for computing simple one-digit addition problems. They covered various ways to solve simple addition problems by combinations of counting on your fingers along with memorizing "doubles" (7 + 7 = 14).

Learning to count on your fingers instead of memorizing might work in the first grade but it is a prescription not for mediocrity but for failure....The Ohio Academic Content Standards are filled with many such wonderful ideas that were part of what has been derisively called "Fuzzy Math." The Ohio Academic Content Standards for the other subject-areas are filled with bad ideas. It's a wonder charter schools do as well as they do.

Finally in a recent forum sponsored by the Manhattan Institute (their Civic Bulletin No. 49)...two school systems in Virginia were compared (Richmond vs. Fairfax County). Richmond's black students outperformed Fairfax County's black students even though the demographics said that it should be the other way around. A big part of the reason was said to be that Richmond had changed curriculum and Fairfax County had not.

Focusing on what I call the externals and imagining that you can produce significant improvement in charter school performance is a loser. You have to focus on changing the curriculum and all the years...of bad ideas that charters are forced to accept and teach along with what teachers are taught in the ed. schools.

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