Arizona Charter Schools Often Ignore Latino Students and English-Language Learners

Twenty years ago, Arizona became the second state in the nation to allow charter schools to operate in the public education system. In honor of the anniversary, New Times is taking a hard look at charters in Arizona. The first story in the ongoing series examined how charter schools — both nationally and in Arizona — "push out" kids with disabilities ("The New Segregation," May 15, Amy Silverman). Today, we explore how charters in Arizona tend to operate in white, affluent neighborhoods, leaving out Latino students from poor areas. Amy Silverman


Once Norma Diaz's alarm clock blares shortly before 6 a.m., her modest South Phoenix home turns into a madhouse.

Pablo Iglesias
Norma Diaz with six of her seven sons (back row, left to right) Jose, Alejandro, Juan (front row, left to right) Angel, Jesus, and Luis.
Andrew Pielage
Norma Diaz with six of her seven sons (back row, left to right) Jose, Alejandro, Juan (front row, left to right) Angel, Jesus, and Luis.

She cracks open her eyes, peels off her blankets, and calls out to her seven sons to wake up and get ready for school. Within minutes, the boys, ages 6 to 18, are vying for the single bathroom in the tidy home.

The sounds of morning fill the flat-roofed stucco house — car doors opening and slamming, engines firing up — as the neighborhood awakens. The homes are weathered, and most of the front yards are sparsely landscaped, but even the few patches of grass are neatly trimmed.

The boys brush their teeth and comb their hair as Mom calls out, asking if they're almost ready. Roberto, Norma's husband, is prepping for a long, hard day of landscaping.

Norma juggles making breakfast with packing her husband's lunch and helping the younger boys get dressed. Some days it seems impossible. If they're running short on time, Norma tells her youngest son that breakfast is going to have to wait a few minutes until his brothers are dropped off at school. The cherub-faced 3-year-old, Jesus, doesn't seem to mind.

Belts? Check. Ties? Check. Shirts tucked in? Check. Everyone's homework signed and accounted for? Check and check. They're ready to fly out the door.

That's when things get really complicated, as Norma and Roberto Diaz struggle to deliver six kids to four different school campuses.

Three of the children attend the Phoenix Collegiate Academy, a charter school about three miles away. Norma or Roberto drive Jose, 17, and Juan, 15, to the Academy's high school campus, and Alejandro, 13, to its middle school campus.

The oldest, Francisco, 18, attends South Mountain High School, and the two younger boys, Luis, 8, and Angel, 6, go to C.J. Jorgensen School in the Roosevelt Elementary School District — within walking distance.

Norma is convinced the daily sacrifice of shuttling her children to and from different campuses is worth it and will give them a greater chance of graduating from college. With her husband still at work, she has to make sure they finish their homework so they don't fall behind Phoenix Collegiate Academy's rigorous academic program.

When her sons were younger, that sometimes meant walking across the street to ask a neighbor to explain a homework assignment written in English. Now, she says, the older children can translate. In fact, she laments that her sons are losing their Spanish fluency.

When Phoenix Collegiate Academy expands next year to serve second- and third-grade students, Norma will be poised to transfer her youngest sons from Jorgensen to the Academy.

She wants all her sons to have better opportunities than she did.

"I got a scholarship from my elementary school in Mexico so I could keep studying past sixth grade. I was so excited. I wanted to go. But my dad said no," she says in Spanish, lowering her voice and eyes. "He said that women are supposed to stay at home, and the men could go and study. He wouldn't let me go."

Diaz helped her mom tend to the house until she turned 16.

"Then, I had to go work as a servant for this woman," she says. "I had to clean the house. I had to work in the fields, cutting corn or pulling beans. The house was about two hours away by bus and by train, so I stayed [at the woman's] Monday through Friday, but on Saturday I was allowed to go home and visit my mom."

Her servitude lasted seven years.

"I tell my sons that they don't know what hard work is," she says. "They don't have to worry about paying bills or making sure there is food on the table. Their only job is to go to school and get good grades. I tell them that I want them to be someone important — I mean, they're important to me — but I want them to be people who contribute something important to the world."

Norma wasn't sure how her sons would fare in the strict, structured environment at PCA, but she says she knew "it would be good for them."

And so far, it has been.


Phoenix Collegiate Academy is an anomaly, and so is the Diaz family. Many families in Arizona are stretching to take full advantage of the state's school choice options. But not so many in neighborhoods like Norma Diaz's.

Twenty years ago, Arizona lawmakers passed the nation's second charter school law, promising to improve public education by loosening regulations and opening the market.

In many areas, charter schools have delivered upon that promise. But in others, they have not. Charter schools have failed special education students by "pushing out," suggesting kids with disabilities would be better off in district schools (in other words, traditional public schools run by district offices) and, in some circumstances, refusing to provide services ("The New Segregation," May 15).

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8 comments
rockdog48
rockdog48

Illegals already get tons of free medical svcs. and other benefits, costing the American taxpayers over $113 Billion a yr.  and that doesn't include all of the forest fires they start when crossing ILLEGALLY into our country.  Natural resources in the hundreds of thousands of acres of forest and desert destroyed by these criminals, not to mention all of the wildlife.  The border needs to be sealed and all illegal aliens need to be deported! We The People have suffered enough from these criminals.  Long Live SB 1070!!!

ohohmrbill
ohohmrbill

 The Turkish ran Gulen Charter Schools who operate under the name Sonoran Science Academy has been known to send Hispanic and Black children to ESL classrooms as punishment. Many of these students don't need ESL education. The school in Phonix does this to get extra money from the state and to push certain students. They also launder your educational tax dollars to fake business who operate consulting firms. The Pacifica Int. is one of them and also ran the Turkish cult members. If you want to know more about Sonoran Science Academy Google search Gulen Charter Schools and Sonoran Science Fethullah Gulen to learn more. Let others know and espeacilly if you know someone who is sending their child to one the Cult Owned Gulen Schools. 

armandocdll81
armandocdll81

The Environmental Protection Agency and ICE should pay the Daiz clan a little visit - if they are determined to be foreign nationals illegally living in the United States they should be arrested, processed and repatriated that same day. If they are actually legal residents the mother should be compelled to undergo tubal ligation and her husband fined for excessive breeding at tax-payer expense.  

john043012
john043012 topcommenter

Norma Diaz has 7 children and cannot communicate with them in English I assume her husband Roberto has the same deficiency too so its understandable why families like these are dragging down (lowering standards) in our school districts.

robtucan
robtucan

Great story. Too bad so many depend on the Nanny State. If more took the time to ensure their children got educated their lives would be so much better. Keep up the good work. Be PROUD!!!

kaleena.trembly
kaleena.trembly

As a graduate of a charter that was not always an A-grade school, it makes me angry to think that people put the reputation of their school over the education of their students. That is exactly what charters are supposed to be fighting against. My family chose charter schools because the administration in my public school failed on every level. I hate to think there are charters that fail on the most important one, like reaching out to the kids who were like me.

 
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