My lead post yesterday was about the appointment of AZ State Senator Sylvia Allen as Chair of the Senate Education Committee. I joined the Daily Kos and AZBlueMeanie (Blog for Arizona) in harsh words about her qualifications and pessimism about what that says about the future of public education in AZ. But there is another reason to be wary about the attitudes and biases that Allen brings to the Education Committee, namely her involvement in for-profit schools. That is the topic of a post at Blog for Arizona by Linda Lyon.
... I doubt her religious fervency is the reason AZ Senate President Biggs selected Allen to be the person who will control what education proposals make it out of the AZ Senate. Rather, I suspect it is her support of charter schools like the George Washington Academy she helped found in Snowflake. Listed as the “Administrative Program Manager” on their “GWA Teachers and Staff” page, Senator Allen’s employment with this school makes me wary of her ability to be impartial when it comes to legislation that favors charter schools over traditional district (public) schools. Please know that I am not a charter “hater.” I recognize there are charter schools that fill critical needs. What I am, is realistic about the impact the diversion of tax payer dollars to privately managed charter and private schools is having on our traditional school districts and their students. Make no mistake; this is a zero sum game. When charter schools win, traditional district schools, often the hub of small communities, lose.
Lyon goes on to describe the operation of charter schools educational management organizations (EMOs) using Allen's charter school as an example. But take note: Lyon is not a reflexive charter hater.
I believe charter schools should supplement public schools not supplant them. The original intent of charter schools as envisioned by Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (yes a union guy), was a public school where teachers could experiment with “fresh and innovative ways of reaching students.” That was until the corporate reform movement recognized the money (around $700 billion) to be made in the K-12 education market.
Lyon's issue with charters is how they have become private competitors with public schools.
Yet, despite all the efforts of reformers and the fact Arizona has led the Nation in charter school development, a full 85 percent of Arizona students still attend traditional district schools. This is where our focus and that of those who represent us should be. In the first session of the 52nd Legislature, Senator Allen voted in accord with the Arizona School Boards Association’s position on only two of nine bills. That is right in line with her party, but it doesn’t bode well for her support of Arizona’s traditional public school children. Still, I must admit that I liked her words to the Arizona Republic in response to her appointment as the Senate Education Committee Chair: “I want to highlight the incredible teachers who are the reason for our children’s success. I also want to focus on parents’ responsibility in their children’s education. They are a critical part of their children’s success. We need to encourage that involvement.” I agree entirely with both of those sentiments and hope she genuinely believes them and acts accordingly as the Senate Education Committee Chair.
Words won’t though, raise Arizona’s academic achievement above the bottom three or four. Senator Allen appears to be predisposed to charter schools, her voting record has not been supportive of traditional public education, she has extreme religious views and, she only has a high school diploma. Look, I am not criticizing her for not going to college, she’s obviously done well in spite of that. But, with that in mind, is she the right person to exercise this much control over what happens with education in our state? After all, there are a multitude of experiences higher education offers and in the absence of these experiences, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Sen. Allen's track record, bolded above, is not a cause for optimism. She has a lot to overcome to chair a committee that should be an advocate for public schools.
Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding, and I hope Senator Farley is correct in his assessment that he believes Allen will “do a pretty good job.” Unfortunately, I believe our AZ students need more than “pretty good”, I think they need the very best we can bring. I have my doubts that Senator Allen is up to the job, but time will tell and I’ll be watching.
So will we.