In Support of Public Education

cc photo and rendering by J. Delp

Dear Leaders of the State of Arizona and The United States,

Over the past several years I have witnessed the rise of the school choice and charter school movement in our state and nation. I have heard many of you laud the virtues of charter schools as a viable alternative to “failing public schools,” — bragging about for-profit charter schools that have received national recognition for their rigorous curriculum and highly qualified graduates. In some cases, there is no arguing that the students who are given the opportunity and are able to manage the extreme challenges of these schools graduate with a quality education, but are you willing to be honest and transparent about the populations many of these schools serve?

As you most likely realize, we have a poverty problem here in Arizona (not unlike most states), and there are a number of research based correlations between poverty levels of a community and educational outcomes for students. Our children in poverty, need your support, and as you have likely heard from the education community — they are not receiving what they need in order to be successful. I am not opposed to giving parents, and students, choices in their schools and education. However, since providing that choice depletes funds for public education, I am very concerned about the plans you have to support children who do not have a strong network of advocates, those who have special needs or are learning English, those who come from extreme poverty, or those who have demonstrated behavioral issues. While there may be a handful of exceptions, in general, the charter and school choice movement is not serving kids who face these challenges. That work falls to our pathetically underfunded public education system.

As a leader in a high-poverty school, I can cite many examples of students returning to us from charter schools because they have been “encouraged” to seek alternative education opportunities due to behavioral issues, failing grades, or attendance. In some cases, these are students who qualify for special education or English language support, but have not been receiving adequate services. These transfers typically occur after the date when state per-pupil funding has been dispersed, and before high-stakes state testing is administered. As a public school, we welcome these kids with open arms and begin the process of providing them with the academic, social, emotional, and behavioral support they need to be successful (again, with limited resources). We work with the students who come to us, because that is the job with which we have been tasked — to provide a free and accessible education for ALL kids. We believe ALL kids deserve nothing less.

I will close this letter with one final thought. An educational system that over-emphasizes the importance of high-stakes testing (such as AzMERIT), and subsequently compares and rates schools based upon test scores, may have unintended consequences for students on the margins. You see, if a school is not truly required to serve all students (and there are MANY that don’t), there is very little incentive for them to take chances on kids who may not provide high test scores. Father Gregory Boyle, in his book Tattoos on the Heart, wrote, “I’m not opposed to success, I just think we should accept it only if it is a by-product of our fidelity. If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us good ones.” I would ask you to carefully consider those of us whose honor it is to support children who may not “give us good results” and what resources we are afforded to help these kids succeed.

If you honestly believe that ALL children deserve the opportunity to receive a quality education, I encourage you to pursue all possible avenues to support public schools and educators.

With Respect,

Jeff Delp

DISCLAIMER: thoughts and opinions are my own, and are not intended to be a reflection of my employer.