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THE CHALLENGE OF CHARTER SCHOOLS: Accountability should be calibrated to the students a school serves

On Jan. 29, the Albuquerque Journal published an editorial titled: “LFC didn’t do homework on charter school report.”

It was critical of the Legislative Finance Committee’s study of charter schools because it “leaves out a lot of data.” The Journal editorial board suggested that it’s inappropriate to evaluate all schools in the same way.

Specifically, the state should not generalize about charters because some schools “cater to students who plan to go into the construction trades, who do not thrive in a traditional classroom, who are at risk of dropping out.”

Yet, in the editorial published on July 24, the editorial board did just that when it criticized ACE and Health Leadership High School for receiving an F on their recent school report cards.

The call for accountability made no accommodations for the fact that these schools are focused on working with young people who have dropped out or are off-track to graduation. Our state needs an accountability system that recognizes their missions.

For example, in the 2014-15 school year, ACE Leadership High School graduated about 20 percent of the total students enrolled at the school (71 of 350). The school is terrifically productive when you consider that a “high-performing” comprehensive high school also graduates about 20 percent of its students (400 out of 2,000).

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Health Leadership will have similar success this year with its first graduating class.

ACE and Health Leadership effectively serve the students that other schools cannot, yet they receive an F for doing so.

Nearly all of the students who go to ACE and Health Leadership are former dropouts or transfers from other schools. They arrive behind in credits and they don’t perform well on standardized tests. Focusing primarily on whether they are proficient on the PARCC exam or graduate in four years is an inappropriate measure of their success.

The critique provided by the Journal in January 2016 still holds. We need accountability for charter schools; however, that accountability should be calibrated to the school’s missions and the students they serve.

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