Must We Politicize the Top High Schools Ranking To Advance School Choice?

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Honestly folks, you can’t talk about education these days without defending your love or disdain for school choice. Sure, there are varying levels of support and opposition on either side, but bets are a position will be taken and its honor will be fiercely defended.

Typically, the battle gets heated when the notion of charter schools rears its controversial head. I’ve yet to understand why the subject creates so much ill will – like authentic hate – but it’s reality. Because of this charter supporters spend a lot of time on defense, allowing them to operate as swiftly and powerfully as former NFL DB Troy Polamalu. Standing on ready to own every opportunity.

So upon learning that nine of the top 10 high schools in the United States are either charter or magnet, school choice supporters naturally (and relentlessly) celebrated this win for the choice movement.

But my friend Kerry-Ann Royes, a parent in south Florida, is not pleased.

Originally posted by Kerry-Ann Royes on her blog, April 27, 2017.

I’m so mad I could spit nails. Today US News and World Report released the 2017 Ranking on Top Public High Schools. And all of a sudden every one is all aglow about charters dominating the list.

Listen, I’m all for charter schools.  I’m all for ANY quality school that meets my child’s needs and believes they can excel. Key word? QUALITY. Even charter school leader Mike Weinberg recently expressed the same sentiment in a recent article.  No parent cares what type of school, just make it a good one!

So, I’m not mad at the fact that charters dominate the list. But the continued positioning, jockeying and spinning results for “who does it best,” while only telling parent a part of the story deserves to be straight-up called out.

Here’s what Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, had to say:

“It points to the fact that if you allow educators the autonomy to run their schools and allow families to make selections, those schools perform better academically and meet the needs of their student populations better than if you try to fit families under a one-size-fits-all monopoly.”

Now, a parent reading this would simply run out and start searching for the nearest charter school. But this is NOT about charters or traditional public schools! If you really want parents to have real choices, then tell the whole story so they can make educated decisions.

Charters should level disparities by using their powers of agility and autonomy to cut through the bureaucratic nonsense and provide outcomes for kids who are being failed. They should help school systems that are not making it happen for all kids. We should work together to eliminate gaps.

So, here’s the missing part of the story

These top charters are not filling any gaps. Yes, they are great schools. But if you take just a second to dive into the readily-available data you will find a more complete picture.

Let’s take the #1 school on the list: BASIS Scottsdale. Though the school demographic is similar to that of its city, Scottsdale Arizona, it is dramatically different in the over-representation of Asia students (6% in the city, 27% in BASIS). There is also a vast under-representation of African-American (2.7% in the city, .05% in BASIS) and Hispanic students (15.4% in the city, 2.3% BASIS).

BASIS achievement gap by ethnicity is dramatic. Of this underrepresented group of African-American or Hispanic students, virtually none enrolled in any AP classes or took college entrance exams. And, African-American student perform at half the proficiency of their Asian and Caucasian peers in both Math and English Language Arts.

So, let’s be clear. This is not apples to apples; no disparities have been leveled. That doesn’t mean these high schools may not be a great choice for your family. But, shame on those using this as a political ploy. Focus on our kids and how we can work together, and stop playing us against each other.

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