Arizona’s “wild west”approach allowed charters to blossom

By Jamar Younger

Arizona’s “wild west” reputation seems to inject itself into numerous topics, including education.

In the charter school realm, Arizona is known for its massive growth of public charter schools in the early days of charters, leading to the movement’s association with the “wild west” moniker.

Two recent blogs pointed out that Arizona’s somewhat freewheeling attitude towards charters at the time might not have been a bad thing.

Former State Superintendent of Education and current A for Arizona Executive Director Lisa Graham Keegan wrote in the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog that we need to be cautious with how we regulate charter schools.

Graham Keegan said that, although some of Arizona’s charters weren’t strong academically when they first opened, these charters transformed many low-income neighborhoods and eventually evolved into some of the top schools in the country.

These schools were allowed to grow as state leaders and the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools developed strict accountability measures.

Overall, Arizona, along with other states where charters operate, need to learn from lessons of the past, but “stop short of believing that we know what the trajectory of great schools will look like,” she said.

You can read the blog here.

Matthew Ladner, senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute and a charter ally, wrote a post on Jay P. Greene’s blog expounding on Graham Keegan’s points.

Ladner says that if Arizona instituted strict accountability measures such as five-year charters and default closures, some charters that blossomed into top-performing schools might have been arbitrarily closed.

He also points out that charters already faced a “harsher form of accountability – from Arizona parents.”

Read Matthew Ladner’s post here.