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Education Reformer Star of the Week: Dan Scoggin

• Dr. Matthew Ladner

The Arizona Board of Regents recently released a devastating report tracking the academic progress of Arizona’s High School Class of 2006. Using a national database on post-secondary progress, the report found that only 19% of Arizona’s Class of 2006 had completed a Bachelor’s degree after six years. The total rate of students earning any sort of post-secondary certification stood at a mere 25% after six years. Worst of all, half of Arizona’s 460 public high-schools saw five percent or less of their students earn a Bachelor degree after six years.

Small rays of hope have been emerging in Arizona’s deeply trouble high-school sector. The highest rated open enrollment school in the state of Arizona- Tempe Prep- generated a growing and flourishing set of charter schools known as the Great Hearts Academies. Great Hearts Chief Executive Officer Dan Scoggin therefore richly deserves my endorsement as Education Reformer of the week.

As the original headmaster of Tempe Prep, Scoggin played a leading role in developing the Great Hearts charter model. Great Hearts employ a Great Books curriculum and make extensive use of the Socratic Method in class discussions. Scoggin obtained the original Tempe Prep Great Books curriculum from a Catholic school in South Bend Indiana, and the similarities between Great Hearts and the best Catholic schools don’t stop with curriculum: students read original texts rather than summaries, wear uniforms and adhere to high expectations of discipline and conduct. Foreign languages, the arts and sciences and athletics all receive a strong emphasis. Great Heart Academies do not teach religion but do have a very strong emphasis on character development.

The Great Hearts model is great for many but not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. Two of the three Ladner children for instance attend Great Hearts schools and as parents Anne and I have been thrilled with the education. Our oldest child however chose to attend another outstanding charter school.  The argument between the two Ladner boys over which school is “better” never ends. Occasionally it induces sufficient boredom to produce a tear of blood which slowly rolls down the Papa Ladner’s cheek while he helplessly looks on with a dumbfounded expression.

But I digress…

The magic of choice lies in the ability to match the strengths of a school with the needs of a child. All Great Hearts students attend by choice and they have other options. You occasionally will hear someone say something to the effect that classical education should be forced on everyone. I am confident that this would end in disappointment, due to the fact that we need to let students and teachers opt in to this type of schooling. The demand for the high-quality classical education offered by Scoggin and his team greatly exceeds supply. The Great Hearts waiting list exceeds 10,000 students, and has continued to grow despite the opening of new academies.

The below video gives a good overview of the schools and their philosophy:

Dr. Scoggin and his team are hard at work trying to bring this outstanding model to scale. Great Hearts currently has 16 academies in operation in the Phoenix area and will be opening a school in San Antonio Texas next year.  Joined with the world class BASIS charter schools and a small collection of high quality stand-alone charters, quality high school options continue to expand. Dr. Scoggin is helping to expand the high-quality options available to Arizona parents without either paying tuition or purchasing what is a prohibitively expensive home within the attendance boundary of a distressingly small number of elite district high schools.

About the author

Dr. Matthew Ladner @MatthewLadner

Dr. Matthew Ladner is the Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He previously served as Vice President of Research and Goldwater Institute. Prior to joining Goldwater, Dr. Ladner was director of state projects at the Alliance for School Choice. Dr. Ladner has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform. Most recently, Dr. Ladner authored the groundbreaking, original research Turn and Face the Strain: Age Demographic Change and the Near Future of American Education, outlining the future funding crisis facing America’s K-12 public education funding. He also coauthors the American Legislative Exchange Council's annual Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform. Dr. Ladner has testified before Congress, the United States Commission of Civil Rights and numerous state legislative committees. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received both a Masters and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. Dr. Ladner is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Educational Choice. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.