The Phoenix Elementary School district leases space to ASU Prep Phoenix, a large charter school within the district’s boundaries. In early conversations the district indicated they were seeking an 800 percent increase in rent from ASU Prep, far out of reach for the excelling school. However, while ASU Prep and Phoenix Elementary District have not yet come to terms on a new agreement, the district’s recent counteroffer appears to be moving in the right direction.
While these sorts of decisions involve many factors, the academic interests of students, should prevail. Research from Stanford University reveals that there is something very special happening with academic gains in the Phoenix Elementary School district and the charter schools operating within the Phoenix Elementary boundaries. It is tragic to see it put at risk.
Stanford Professor Sean F. Reardon combined the academic results of every school district with all charter schools operating in their boundaries combined. With this data, he was able to track the student learning gains of every district/charter combo in the country between 2009 and 2015.
Here is what the results looked like for the Phoenix Elementary School District and the charter schools operating in their borders. The below figures are from a New York Times Upshot graphic generator utilizing Reardon’s data that you can examine yourself here. The results are simply extraordinary, and they show just how much there is at risk.
Phoenix Elementary District and the charter schools operating within its boundaries were one of several Arizona district/charter combinations that did very well in academic progress. The Phoenix Elementary District/Charter combo scored in the 99th percentile for academic growth- but they drew stiff competition from other Arizona district/charter combinations in the Reardon analysis.
ASU Prep is the largest charter school operating within the boundaries of the Phoenix Elementary District, and AZMerit, data demonstrates that it has contributed strongly to the academic growth of students seen in the Stanford research.
To put these AZMerit scores into context, the passing threshold is set high. ASU Prep’s 2018 scores fall in the neighborhood of suburban districts such as Mesa Unified, Paradise Valley, and Peoria Unified school districts. Minority students make up 83 percent of the ASU Prep student body. The only path to closing the gap with the suburbs also involved closing the achievement gap for minority students. ASU Prep is getting that vitally important job done.
As a large charter school with 1,000 students – and more on a wait list – operating in a district with 6,000 students, there can be no doubt at all that ASU Prep’s large gains contribute to the area gains shown in the Stanford data.
We should not make the mistake of taking something like thousands of low-income urban students standing among the nation’s leaders in academic gains for granted- rather we should regard it as rare, precious and, above all, fragile. All Arizonans-left, right and center-want our education system to serve as a source of opportunity and an engine of class mobility. This is exactly what has been happening with Phoenix Elementary and ASU Prep. For the sake of the students, we hope that the adults can sort out the differences needed to preserve this opportunity for kids.
David Lujan is the Director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is Strategic Research Strategist for the Arizona Chamber Foundation.