By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
It shouldn't be a surprise that none of the three Pappas Schools has met the "adequate yearly progress" marks demanded by No Child Left Behind.
And those standards don't compare Pappas students to their more privileged counterparts at other schools. They solely measure whether the school has managed to better itself, compared to its past years' performance.
Ironically, Superintendent Dowling is one of the few educators nationally who's been a vocal supporter of that legislation. But while the Arizona Republic ran her op-ed praising No Child Left Behind's authorization in 2004, no one bothered to call Dowling for comment when her own schools fell short.
Nancy Haas, an associate professor at Arizona State University's College of Teacher Education and Leadership, teaches accountability and assessments at ASU, along with curriculum development. She used to volunteer at Pappas, and even helped to rewrite the school's curriculum in 1995.
But she now believes the schools should be shut down and the students integrated into neighborhood schools.
Haas analyzed AIMS results from spring 2005. She found that test scores at all three Pappas schools were abysmal, when compared with the scores of mainstreamed homeless kids.
For example: Of the homeless seventh graders in the state attending regular schools, 48.8 percent "met or exceeded standards" in reading.
That was true of just 11.8 percent of the seventh graders at Pappas.
In fact, at every grade level, in both math and reading, a higher percentage of the homeless kids who didn't go to Pappas "met or exceeded" the state's standards.
(Dowling contests the statistics, saying that as a longtime critic of Pappas, Haas is biased.)
Meanwhile, the district's per-pupil classroom expenditures are among the lowest in the state.
But despite Dowling's attempts to blame the county supervisors, it's not because they're getting less money.
According to the state inspector general, the Maricopa County Regional School District spends $3,756 per pupil on administration about $500 more than it spends, per student, on classroom instruction.
Of the 10 "accommodation districts" in this state that seek to educate students in special circumstances, only three spent a lower percentage of money in the classroom. And of the 109 medium-size districts in Arizona, only two spent a lower proportion of money in the classroom.
Across the state in 2005, the auditor general reported, districts spent an average of 9.5 percent of their budgets on "administration" a category that includes salaries and benefits for high-level district executives.
The total at Maricopa County Regional? More than twice that amount, at 23 percent.
The irony of Sandra Dowling's dramatic expansion of Maricopa County's homeless school system is that she did it even as the U.S. Department of Education pushed the country in a different direction: integrating homeless kids into regular schools.
In fact, since 1990, the very year Dowling took over the shelter school, homeless schools have been virtually forbidden by federal law.
For the most part, shelter schools were wildly inferior. Like the school begun in the downtown Phoenix shelter, they were stopgap fixes for the very real hurdles that homeless kids faced in the 1980s. While they didn't require immunization records, they also couldn't offer music, gym, or even a teacher at every grade level.
"There was just no comparison with what regular public schools were offering," says Barbara Duffield, policy director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Youth.
To advocates, shunting homeless kids into separate schools was no better than the segregation of black students in the 1950s.
"These kids should have access to the same programs that housed kids have access to," Duffield says. "And what the evidence has shown is that these schools are not good for kids."
In 1990, as part of its reauthorization of the program that funds homeless services, McKinney-Vento, Congress decreed that kids could not be segregated merely because they were homeless. McKinney-Vento required states and school districts to revise any policies that led to homeless children being "isolated or stigmatized."
It was an edict that Dowling found all too easy to ignore. She argued that people like Duffield may think the Pappas kids were being isolated, but they were hardly stigmatized: Her schools had all the modern conveniences, lovely campuses, and even more perks than regular schools, not fewer.
And it was certainly in the best interest of every overworked school official in town that no one challenge her. It was much easier to let Dowling deal with it.
At that time, the "isolation" part of the act wasn't being enforced with any vigor. But in other parts of the country, as people like Barbara Duffield pushed, opportunities for homeless students were expanding.
Districts across the country were adjusting with the new federal rules.
They were accepting students without immunization records or birth certificates. (State education workers were supposed to make sure every school secretary in the state knew it, or risk losing all their federal funds.) And they were also providing transportation.
In 2002, Congress reauthorized the rules mandating homeless integration as part of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind.
This time, the feds provided about $62 million, annually, for districts that wanted to help their homeless students.
Thanks to that, many districts were finally able to start programs specifically to help homeless children. Although they'd previously been mandated to do so, money always makes a difference. Even in Maricopa County, where the Pappas Schools had been allowed to serve as a catchall for so long, many districts began to step up.