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Editorial: APS shouldn’t buy what failing charters are selling

Leaders of four failing Albuquerque charter schools have decided it’s easier to go “board shopping” for their required reauthorization than meet the minimal performance standards imposed by the state Public Education Commission.

Albuquerque Public Schools shouldn’t buy it. Because when you look at how and why these schools are failing, you discover their administrators have a litany of excuses for short-changing their students as well as taxpayers – all while some other schools with similar at-risk student populations are delivering positive academic results that better move their students toward being prepared for work and life after high school.

The four schools consist of three of the four charter schools operating under the Leadership High School Network – Architecture Construction and Engineering Leadership High School, Health Leadership High School and Technology Leadership High School – as well as Academy of Trades & Technology. They are currently chartered by the PEC. All four, which have consistently received either D or F grades from the Public Education Department and know they’re likely to be marked for closure by the state, are now trying to get their charters reauthorized under APS. APS already authorizes Siembra Leadership High School, part of the Leadership Network.

According to PED, fewer than 5 percent of the schools’ students are proficient in reading or math, and they have made “little or no progress in addressing academic performance concerns.” How they can bill themselves as vo-tech high schools preparing tomorrow’s nurses, architects, engineers, skilled tradesmen and techies for the workforce when less than 5 percent of their student body can read at grade level – and they have done nothing measurable to change that – should be at the top of APS’ questions.

Supporters of the schools insist they serve students who have not or cannot function in traditional classrooms – students who would otherwise be on the streets.

But 60 percent of students at Technology Leadership High School are absent on any given day. The Leadership schools lose 30 percent to 40 percent of students during the school year and 60 percent between school years. And they have poor supports for high-needs groups like English language learners and special education students. As Katie Poulos, director of the PED’s charter school division, says, “data shows us that these kids aren’t getting re-engaged. That environment is kind of failing them in the same way as every other school that failed them.”

Yes, proficiency and truancy are challenges most New Mexico educators have to tackle daily – but these charters’ deflection of criticism, acceptance of lower standards and acceptance that so much of their student body doesn’t show up does little to help these students. And it tarnishes the strong charter schools in our community that deliver impressive academic results.

APS charter school director Joseph Escobedo says reviews of the four charter schools have not been completed, so no recommendations have been made to the APS Board of Education, which will ultimately decide the schools’ fate next month. But he emphasizes APS supports high-quality charters and puts all applicants through a rigorous review process, adding “I feel strongly that we are improving our authorizing practices to be in line with those national standards, and I really look forward to working with the PED and the Public Education Commission in the future, so we all have similar thoughts.”

Based on Escobedo’s comments, this board shopping should get a no-go.

For those critics of PED and PEC who would cut poor-performing charters more slack, remember that despite the PED’s recommendations that La Promesa Early Learning Center be closed for dismal performance (only three out of 10 students could read at grade level), the PEC extended the school’s charter. Now more than $700,000 in questionable transactions is being blamed on the former assistant business manager.

Change is always hard. But these charters’ 900-plus students deserve the best chance they can get of obtaining academic skills required for financial independence. And these four charters have shown they are incapable of providing it.

If APS is committed to high standards, it will reject these charters and help ensure their students have quality schools to attend, either within its district or the charter community.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.