As a high school principal who has spent the last 15 years in a burgeoning charter school movement that now boasts 93,213 students in Arizona alone, I have worked alongside many of the directors of an eclectic group of schools, almost 500, in fact. Regardless of the facility – a state of the art campus rising elegantly from the desert foothills or one that has been innocuously squeezed in a storefront space in a strip-mall – the single most important attribute of a charter school is apparently its clear sense of purpose, its mission. A perusal of the mission statements of most charter schools in Arizona reveals a prominent focus on life beyond classroom, beyond high school; graduates will be “equipped with the desire for lifelong learning,: and “prepared for the workforce.” These ‘lifelong learners,” and “productive citizens” will, according to one mission, have strengthened civic, moral, and ethical values. Really? Given this, it would be appropriate then, to expect these forward-thinking missions to drive every curricular, instructional, and assessment decision.

In reality, however, just like their traditional public counterparts, charters are measured not by the extent to which they live up to these revered and all-important missions, but instead are evaluated according to the national Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measure, which is determined by academic achievement in reading and math as well as the graduation rate for high schools like mine. Further, AYP requires schools to disaggregate achievement data by different subgroups: White Native American, Asian, Hispanic, Black, English Language Learners, economically disadvantaged, and students with disabilities – all of whom must make the statewide benchmarks in reading and math. What AYP does not tell us, is the measure of a child’s humanity, his or her commitment to community or anything about work-readiness – the very stuff of those mission statements emblazoned on the backs of business cards or engraved on a welcome back apple given to a teacher.
Perhaps it’s time to expand our definition of progress – inherent in these mission statements is the need to determine just how well the schools are doing in preparing students for post-secondary Life. Is anyone asking? Which skills are being taught and tested today that will help young people become literate, humane, community and civic minded tomorrow?
Beginning this Fall with the class of 2013, Arizona students will be required to complete an ECAP, the Arizona Education and Career Plan prior to graduation. At the bare minimum, this requires students to keep track of their academic, career, post-secondary, and extracurricular-activity goals over four years. It involves goal-setting and reflecting – hopefully on how well they measure up to the mission and why, in fact, that matters.