Examine Complexities of IDEA Issue

RECEIVED Mon., Dec. 19, 2011

Dear Editor,
    I agree with AISD Board President Mark Williams that the matter of partnering with IDEA to create two in-district charter schools is a philosophical issue [“Kicking Around an IDEA,” News, Dec. 16]. Above all, I hope we can expect a vigorous debate that transcends sweeping condemnations of mediocrity and procedural mishaps and instead focuses on the nature and future of charter schools, the strengths and weaknesses of IDEA, and whether the benefits outweigh the costs to East Austin children.
    Where I disagree with Mr. Williams and many others is the contention that IDEA will serve as just another choice for East Austin families. I view this as a dangerous oversimplification because unlike the rhetoric suggests, this new choice will affect – significantly – other schools, families, and most of all, children.
    First, Govalle and Ortega will become the bottom rung for students who can’t attend or who are later involuntarily removed from IDEA. Texas Education Agency and Texas Business & Education Coalition data suggest that while most likely unintentional, students who struggle the most are less likely to enroll and more likely to wash out of IDEA schools.
    Second, Eastside Memorial High School won’t see IDEA students until 2013 and then will coexist with IDEA, slowly shrinking grade by grade through 2018. There is no doubt that the continual changes over the past several years at Eastside have taken their toll on students. Bad enough, but for the next six years, incoming Eastside students will have no choice but to attend a school condemned to a slow death, gradually fading away with fewer means to attract better administrators, teachers, and students.
    Finally, struggling with under-enrollment and inadequate yearly progress, Martin Middle School will face the same struggles as Govalle and Ortega with students who don’t succeed with IDEA and as Eastside Memorial to attract administrators, teachers, and students. It’s unclear how we expect this school to stay afloat, much less continue to improve.
    So to say that we’ve nothing to lose by moving forward with the IDEA in-district charter school – that it’s simply one more choice – is to imply that the potential benefits of IDEA won’t also incur very real costs to Govalle, Ortega, Eastside Memorial, and Martin. Whether ultimately right or wrong for Austin, even the most optimistic assessment of the IDEA proposal needs to be weighed against these impacts.
Luke Muszkiewicz
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