Closing Charters: How a Good Theory Failed in Practice
GREGG A. GARN AND ROBERT T. STOUT
The Arizona charter school policy was based on economic theory rather than empirical research, and, not unexpectedly, a divide has occurred between theory and practice. This chapter examines the practical problems faced by the state agencies: the Arizona Department of Education (ADE), the Office of the Auditor General, and the state-level sponsoring boards-- the Arizona State Board of Education (ASBE) and the State Board for Charter Schools (SBCS). The researchers found that in contrast to the rhetoric of charter school advocates, who viewed the program as relatively problem free, a lack of communication among the aforementioned entities deprived board members and parents of critical information about the performance of charter schools from 1995 through 1998. And without reliable performance information, a market system cannot function; thus the theory has not translated well into practice.
Over the past two decades, policy makers in Arizona have grown increasingly weary of reforming the district public school system. Numerous policies aimed at improving the academic performance of pupils were enacted with the same dissatisfying results. As a result, state-level policy makers were receptive to plans for creating an entirely new system of public education in the form of charter schools. The central motivation behind this reform was the desire to create a public school system based on market accountability. Rather than requiring charter schools to follow