The sensible, measured statements by ARK’s international director Susannah Hares lend an informed and objective perspective to Cayman’s nascent education debate, which is in jeopardy of being derailed by ideologues who will say, or scream, practically anything for the cause of maintaining the status quo.
We ask, “Why should it matter who runs Cayman’s public schools – our government, a nonprofit such as ARK, or even a profit-motivated private entity – so long as our children are given equal access to the best education we can afford?”
They reply, “Because public schools should remain ‘public,’ in principle and in practice. That’s why!”
“Nonsense,” we respond, and move on to argue our case before a more rational audience.
The truth is that, under the aegis of successive Ministries of Education, our public school system has delivered substandard education to Grand Cayman’s children, compared to their peers overseas or even on the Brac.
According to early results for 2013, some 40 percent of Year 11 public school students achieved five “good passes” on standardized exams. While that’s an “improvement” of 1 point over the previous year, it’s still less than half the comparable pass rate for U.K. students, 81 percent.
The numbers are more dismal if you apply the tougher benchmark of five “good passes,” including posting passing scores in English and mathematics. About 25 percent of Caymanian public school students are expected to meet that standard, compared to 59 percent of U.K. students last year.
It gets even worse if you break out the test results for male Caymanian students. In 2011, nearly 24 percent of Caymanian boys achieved five “good passes.” In 2013, that number is about 28 percent – an “improvement” of 4 points in two years.
In 2011, only 17 percent of Caymanian boys achieved five “good passes,” including English and mathematics. In 2013, that number is about 18 percent – an improvement of a single percentage point.
At this pace, Caymanians, and particularly male Caymanians, will remain didactically disadvantaged, well, forever.
Now consider ARK, which operates 27 primary and secondary academies in England. ARK’s secondary schools produce better exam results than the U.K. average (with 61 percent of ARK students achieving five “good passes,” including English and mathematics) despite those schools historically underperforming and drawing students who hail from “underprivileged” backgrounds.
For example, ARK students who took the 2013 GCSE started school two-thirds of a year behind the national average, and 66 percent were “disadvantaged” (being eligible for free school meals, plus “looked after” children) compared with the U.K. average of 27 percent.
Ms. Hares rightly warns that the charter school model isn’t a “magic bullet” and identifies the key to overall charter school success – allowing “bad” operators to fail and withdraw, making way for new operators with new ideas, and for successful operators who aim to replicate their successes.
“The schools that ARK takes over are schools that have been failing for a long time, where local authorities have tried and things have not worked. In those circumstances, fresh innovations can make a difference,” Ms. Hares said.
Cayman’s public schools have been failing for decades. Cayman’s authorities have tried and things are not working.
The Compass does not care who runs Cayman’s schools, as long as they’re run properly and produce acceptable, measurable results.