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Facts vs. Fiction: The Truth about Arizona Charter Schools

May 20, 2019

May 20, 2019
By Matt Beienburg

Amid calls for transparency and increased regulation of charter schools by organizations like The Arizona Republic, recent investigations by the Goldwater Institute have yielded troubling findings about the integrity and truthfulness of The Republic’s own reporting. In light of the national acclaim the newspaper has won for its coverage, the Goldwater Institute encourages the correction of misleading statistics that have been put forward by the paper regarding Arizona charter schools’ academic performance. Let’s separate The Republic’s fiction from the real facts:

Fiction: The Arizona Republic says district schools outperformed “hybrid” K-12 charter schools like Great Hearts and BASIS over 75 percent of the time in 2018 on the state’s A-F letter grades (which measure student achievement and growth).

Fact: In reality, these charters have among the highest A-F scores among all public schools in the state and outperform nearby district schools. According to official state data (see the chart below), they were more than twice as likely to earn an A-rating from the state as district “hybrids”:

Source: FY 2018 Arizona A-F School Letter Grades.

Fiction: The Arizona Republic says “77 percent of charter high school students graduate within four years, well behind district high schools, which graduate 88 percent of their students in that time.”

Fact: While The Republic claimed to have compared “traditional” charter and district schools, its analysis of graduation rates actually left in schools that:

  • Operate in conjunction with juvenile justice programs
  • Don’t even serve high school seniors
  • Closed prior to 2017
  • Enrolled predominantly transfer students who joined at the end of high school (i.e., after already falling behind elsewhere)

Accounting for these outliers, the supposed gap between traditional charter and district high school graduation rates disappears. When comparing only “brick and mortar” schools, the overall graduation rates among charter students exceeds that of district pupils:

Sources: Arizona Republic, FY 2017 4-Year Graduation Rates, 2013-2017 K-12 Enrollment Counts. All analyses exclude 2017 Alternative Schools.

As a major local news source trusted by thousands of Arizona families, The Republic has a duty to ensure an accurate, unbiased presentation of information. Its newsroom staff may philosophically disagree with the idea that families, rather than districts, should have a monopoly on choosing the most supportive or challenging educational environment for their children. But even so, the paper’s series of errors and misrepresentations of charter schools and other school choice programs in the last year alone reflect a failure to put objective journalism ahead of ideological expediency. If the paper is unwilling to correct this, perhaps it’s time for charter and choice families to begin organizing and amplifying their own voice in response.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute.



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