Monday, October 26, 2015

Ed Shorts. End-of-October Edition

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2015 at 12:00 PM


Lots of educational bits and pieces I won't be able to get to individually, so here's a list of things which have happened or been talked about recently, or are about to be talked about in the near future.

Education Town Hall at Catalina Magnet High. Last Wednesday, a crowd nearly filled the Catalina High auditorium for an education town hall, whose purpose was to explain and discuss the need for more funding for education. Proudly sharing the stage with southern Arizona Democratic legislators were representatives from the Metro Tucson Chamber of Commerce and local realtors. The base of support for increasing our education spending is growing. And it's likely to take center stage this week, because . . .

There may be a deal on the education funding lawsuit. It looks like a tentative, behind-closed-door deal to settle the lawsuit over education funding has been reached. What is it? Only a few people know, and as I write this, none of them are Democratic legislators. The current plan is to hold a special session in the middle of the week. If that happens, that will probably signal they have enough Republican votes to pass a deal Ducey can live with, without needing any Democratic votes they might have to wheel-and-deal to obtain. If they can pass something—a big "if," given the range of views on the Republican side—most of the funding package will likely need ratification from voters, maybe a two part ratification if they plan to sweep funds from First Things First as well as take money from the State Land Trust. If the voters OK the funding—another big "if" (especially in the case of First Things First)—the money won't begin to flow until 2017, unless the legislature decides to put up some money from the general fund now, which wouldn't need voter approval. Lots and lots of moving parts, lots of variables. This is a first, tentative step.

High stakes testing may be scaled back a bit. The Obama administration says it thinks we've gone overboard with our standardized testing regimen. What does that mean? Not a whole lot yet since there aren't many details, and it probably won't mean a whole lot when more details are revealed. One idea is that standardized testing should occupy no more than 2 percent of students' school time. That would mean no more than three-and-a-half days of testing a year, which still sounds like a lot. However, that doesn't include the amount of time spent teaching to the test or giving pretests. Lots and lots of moving parts, lots of variables. The best thing about the statement is the acknowledgement that people have been right to complain about the post-No Child Left Behind emphasis on high stakes testing. That could put a bit of wind in the sails of people who are advocating testing every few years instead of every year, allowing parents to opt their children out of high stakes testing, and making student, teacher and school evaluations include more than a score on a test. And speaking of high stakes tests . . .

The results are in from last spring's AzMERIT tests. Apparently, the results from the state's AzMERIT tests have been tabulated and sent out, but they haven't been released to the public. We know the scores will be low, but we don't know how individual schools or school districts did. Low compared to what? Compared to nothing, since these tests are different from the previous AIMS test, so there's no basis for comparison. But there will be lots of agonizing, lots of justifying, lots of explaining over the next few weeks. My prediction: Scores at schools with lots of low income and minority students will fall more precipitously than at schools with higher income students. Some will use that as a reason to scream "Failing schools!" even louder, but it will be a mathematical/statistical result of moving the cut score, not of lower achievement at those schools.

The AZ School Board may vote on Common Core. Ed Supe Diane Douglas is scheduled to talk to the AZ School Board advocating that it get rid of Common Core. Of course, Arizona doesn't actually have a tomato (or a potato) called Common Core. Instead we have a to-mah-to (or a po-tah-to) called Arizona College and Career Ready Standards. Same standards, different name. Given Douglas' rocky relationship with the Board and the fact that most of them disagree with her on this topic, it's unlikely anything will happen. (UPDATE: Common Core rejected by a 6-2 vote)

TUSD and Deseg plaintiffs reached a tentative deal on magnet schools. This may be the closest to a done deal of all the items on this list. TUSD and the deseg plaintiffs have been feuding over what's going on in the magnet schools, and the courts have threatened to cut funding at the schools. Now it looks like the district and the plaintiffs have come to an agreement. It's probably more accurate to say the district has mostly come around to the plaintiffs' way of thinking on the schools, mainly on increasing funding and replacing long term substitutes with permanent teachers. Next, the two sides have to sell the deal to the courts. With them working together, there's a good chance the court will agree.

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