Tuesday, October 18, 2016

We Must Not Allow . . . Runaway Graduation Rates . . . to Create an Achievement Score Gap!

Posted By on Tue, Oct 18, 2016 at 2:40 PM

George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson, Dr. Strangelove. - COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA.ORG
  • Courtesy of
  • George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson, Dr. Strangelove.

Kidding. I'm kidding with that headline about not letting runaway graduation rates lead to an achievement score gap. (Hat tip to General Buck Turgidson's "Mineshaft gap!" in Dr. Strangelove, starting at the 4 minute mark on the video.) It's great that graduation rates are on the rise across the country, hitting an all-time high of 83.2 percent. I hope that number keeps heading higher. But consider for a moment what increasing the number of students who stay in school until they graduate does to overall student achievement rates.

Since this country began, we've striven to increase our student enrollment rates. Universal K-12 enrollment has been our goal, and we're closer to it than ever before. But a consequence of keeping more students in school is that schools have a growing population of students who are less likely to be high achievers. True, some students drop out because of factors beyond their control, but often they leave because school isn't working for them. When you keep those reluctant students in school, you increase the student population which is likely to score low on achievement tests, and they're also likely to make up the largest population of behavior and attendance problems. Every time we work to hold onto a student in danger of dropping out, we increase our educational challenges.

In 1920, about 27 percent of high school-aged students were in school. In 1950, it was around 75 percent. It shot up into the 80s in 1960 and has inched up and down since then, until now it's in the high 80s or low 90s. (The percent of K-8 students has always been higher than for high school students, but it has followed a similar upward trend.)

Think about today's high schools, with all their well-documented problems. Then think about what they might be like if we kicked out 10 percent of the students—those who combined the lowest achievement scores with the lowest attendance rates and the highest rates of behavior problems. School achievement scores would shoot up, not because the remaining students were scoring higher but because the students whose scores were dragging down the average would be gone. Attendance rates would improve for the same reason. And classroom disruptions would become less frequent. School would be a bit more like the "good 'ol school days" some people reminisce about, when that "problem 10 percent" wasn't in school.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

NAACP Ratifies Resolution Calling For a Moratorium on New Charter Schools

Posted By on Mon, Oct 17, 2016 at 3:11 PM

  • Shutterstock
Since the NAACP created a resolution, to be ratified at a later date, calling for a moratorium on new charter schools, it has run into all kinds of resistance. The expected pro-charter groups opposed the resolution, as did the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

This weekend, the NAACP approved the resolution. I sent a personal email congratulating the group on its courage, and took out a membership for the first time.

Black children, who make up 15 percent of the overall school enrollment, make up 25 percent of the charter school population. Clearly the schools are a popular option in black communities. But the NAACP's concern is that too many of the charters attended by black children "mirror predatory lending practices." I'm not sure the analogy works exactly, but the concept is accurate. If you want to find poorly run charter schools where the people who "own" them are out for a quick buck at the expense of the children, look at schools serving children from low income families, whether black, brown or white. It's tough to get away with offering shoddy education to the children of high income, well educated parents, but unfortunately, it's all too easy to stick the words "college preparatory academy" into the name of a school serving low income students and sell it as a way for children to get a better education than they get at their local public schools. As poorly as district schools sometimes serve their children, some charters do even worse.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

My Picks for the TUSD School Board: Cam Juarez, Kristel Foster, Betts Putnam-Hidalgo

Posted By on Wed, Oct 12, 2016 at 11:54 AM

  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
Before I discuss my choices for the TUSD board, I want to make it clear that these are my personal picks. The Weekly will make its endorsements sometime in the future, and I have no input in those decisions.

I want to see Cam Juarez and Kristel Foster reelected to the board because I believe TUSD should continue in the direction it is heading, which is mostly positive—though it's clear, of course, that there are areas in need of improvement which they and the district must focus on and address. I want Betts Putnam-Hidalgo to serve on the board because she will be a source of informed, intelligent dissent. Though I often disagree with Betts—not so much in what she wants for the district as the way she wants to go about it—her input will promote valuable discussion of difficult issues, pushing the board to make decisions which will help move the district forward. I agree with all three candidates in their overall beliefs in promoting progressive ideas regarding social and educational issues.

It would be foolish not to recognize that Tucson's school district has areas of weakness, many of them longstanding. Superintendent Sanchez and the three board members who generally support him have made progress in addressing some of the issues facing the district, but there is obviously more that needs to be done. However, these problems are not unique to TUSD, nor can they be fixed easily.

I spend a great deal of time and effort keeping up with what's going on in education across the country. Over and over, I read about districts with glaring problems and passionate, vocal critics. Most of them are in urban centers with large minority populations. That shouldn't be a surprise. The problems facing our urban centers are of a magnitude and complexity you rarely find in other parts of the country, and the problems extend far beyond the realm of education. In that context, it shouldn't be surprising that TUSD, which is in a reasonably large city and serves a majority-minority student population, has its share of challenges and a wide range of critics.

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Monday, October 10, 2016

More on the Financial Backers of 'TUSD Kids First'

Posted By on Mon, Oct 10, 2016 at 11:15 AM

A few weeks ago I posted about the independent expenditure campaign, TUSD Kids First. The main takeaway was that TKF had collected a total of $35,150, most of it from five local businesspeople: Committee Chair Jimmy Lovelace, $3,334; Treasurer Kathleen Campbell, $8,170;  Cody Richie, $7,500; Jim Click, $7,500; and Tom Regina, $5,000. At the time, the TUSD board candidates and TKF had submitted their Pima County campaign finance reports listing their contributions through Aug. 18. Since then, a new set of finance reports have been filed which include contributions through Sept. 19. The only new contribution to TKF was from Jimmy Lovelace for $216.05. However, new contributions to the candidates reveal more about the priorities of the independent expenditure committee.

TDK appears to have two main objectives. The first, which has been clear since the IE began in February, is to get rid of either or both of two current board members, Cam Juarez and Kristel Foster. That would shift the balance of power to a new board majority, replacing the current majority formed by Juarez, Foster and Adelita Grijalva to one which included Mark Stegeman and Michael Hicks. The second objective, which has become clearer with the most recent financial statements, is to elect Brett Rustand as a member of the new majority. 

Three of the major TKF contributors, Ritchie, Campbell and Flake, have been active in contributing to individual board candidates. Let's go through them one by one.

We'll begin with Cody Ritchie, even though at $7,500, he's not the largest TKF contributor, nor is he one of the two people running the committee. The reason to begin with Ritchie is, he's the principal owner and president of Crest Insurance Group. Board candidate Brett Rustand is a vice president at Crest, one of more than twenty employees with that title; it's a large company. That means Ritchie is Rustand's boss and most likely would be delighted to see his employee sitting on the TUSD board. Ritchie is a generous political donor who has given over $100,000 to political candidates over the past ten years, exclusively Republican candidates, including most recently, more than $5,000 to Donald Trump. His one contribution to a 2016 TUSD board candidate was for $1,000 to Brett Rustand. He gave $1,500 to Michael Hicks' reelection campaign in 2014.

Next is Kathleen Campbell who gave $8,170 to TKF and is its treasurer. She isn't listed as giving any contributions to board candidates. However, her husband James gave $1,000 to Mark Stegeman's campaign and another $1,000 to Brett Rustand. Other than their contributions related to TUSD board races, the Campbells aren't big political donors. The only other recent contribution I found was $1,250 to Martha McSally's reelection campaign.

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Conservative AZ Leaders to TUSD: 'Let's You and Him Fight'

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2016 at 1:30 PM

  • Courtesy of
I don't know if Tom Horne and John Huppenthal, Arizona's two most recent ex-superintendents of education, ever get together, and I don't know if either of them spend any time with recalled Republican State Senator Russell Pearce. But the three of them definitely should find time to gather and celebrate now and then. They have every reason to high five one another as they look down from Phoenix at the political and personal battles raging in and around TUSD and say to each other, "Look at the mess we created down there. We did some good work, didn't we?"

Conservative Republicans outside of the Tucson area no longer have to expend much energy trying to take down the school district which serves the children of the city they love to hate, the Democratic-leaning metropolitan area they think of as "The People's Republic of Tucson." They took a problem-ridden district and planted within it the bitter seeds of dissension and animosity. They helped create anti-district alliances among groups on the right and the left which previously had been at odds. Then they sat back and watched with satisfaction as forces in the school district and the community tear each other apart.

TUSD has long been a district with a reputation of poor management and poorer financial practices, and it couldn't hold onto its superintendents, shedding them almost as regularly as trees shed their autumn leaves. But for all that, the district has always had its share of strong schools, strong teachers and strong programs. Among its strengths was the Mexican American Studies program which had a national reputation for innovation and excellence. It served a portion of the Hispanic community, as well as some non-Hispanic community members, who wanted to give their children a representation of Mexican and Mexican-American history and culture different from the more mainstream depiction which disparaged them. A dedicated core of teachers and administrators worked diligently to create a curriculum and an ethos which instilled pride in students while it dispelled some of the negative stereotypes which are pervasive in the normal school curriculum and society at large, empowering students with knowledge of the positive aspects of their history and traditions and spotlighting ways society has conspired to keep them poor, powerless and self hating. The program was well known and respected in some parts of the Tucson community, and disliked in some others, but beyond those groups, it mostly flew under the radar. It was just one of many programs in the school district about which the general public had little knowledge.

Then, a golden opportunity to demonize MAS fell in the lap of the right wing scream machine. Three words spoken at a school assembly by Delores Huerta, an icon of the labor movement and the fight for Hispanic rights, were used to spark conservative outrage. "Republicans hate Latinos," Huerta said.  The phrases and sentences surrounding those three words qualified them and made them less incendiary, but all anyone heard from her talk was, "Republicans hate Latinos." National right wing media seized on the words, and Arizona's conservative community latched onto them with a vicious glee. It was Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks saying she was "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas" all over again. It was John Lennon saying the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Unlike the Maines and Lennon episodes, Huerta's words didn't lead to record burnings, reminiscent of book burnings, cheered on by self righteous, cheering mobs, but they led to a reinvigorated wave of anti-brown agitation, fear and hatred.

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The Stampede for TUSD School Board

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2016 at 12:56 PM

TUSD Board Candidates at League of Women Voters Sponsored Forum - JONATHAN HOFFMAN
  • Jonathan Hoffman
  • TUSD Board Candidates at League of Women Voters Sponsored Forum

On Thursday, Sept. 29 the League of Women Voters held a forum for candidates seeking election to the Tucson Unified School District governing board. The current board consists of five members: Adelita Grijalva, Michael Hicks, Cam Juárez, Kristel Foster, and Mark Stegeman. The terms of Juarez, Foster, and Stegeman are up and all three are running for re-election. However, the election is at large and nonpartisan and a number of other candidates have joined the fray. These other candidates include: Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, Lori Riegel, Brett Rustand, and Rachael Sedgwick.

The candidates were each given two minutes for an opening statement. They then answered questions, two of which were provided in advance. The advance questions were in regards to the ongoing desegregation lawsuit and district administration transparency. The candidates were then provided with questions from the audience to which they gave one minute responses. Steve Lynn was the moderator.


Alas, TUSD is not without its controversies. We have seen reports of student violence in and around Palo Verde High School, illegal grade changes by the principal of Pueblo High School (allegedly to increase graduation rates), the changing of absent/tardy records at Pueblo, the fact that less than half the budget goes to the classroom (TUSD: 48.7 percent, state average 53.6 percent), multi-million dollar contracts buried in consent agendas, and who could forget the hijinks when half a dozen boys and girls chained themselves to chairs in an effort to disrupt a district meeting?

It is important to note that the schools themselves vary widely from total failures to wildly successful. University High, which is nationally recognized, is an example of a TUSD school that is succeeding in virtually every category. Schools that do well do so on their own. Those that are in need of guidance and support find little from the administration.

As mentioned earlier, the current board consists of Adelita Grijalva, Michael Hicks, Cam Juárez, Kristel Foster, and Mark Stegeman. Grijalva, Foster, and Juarez make up a majority of the board. More often than not they vote as a block, giving them control of the board and thereby the district. Stegeman and Hicks tend to vote with the majority on routine matters, but are regularly at odds with the majority when it comes to making changes to the status quo. There has been ongoing tension between the board majority and its minority.

The Event

The tension between board members was evident at the forum. Fortunately for all concerned, Juarez and Foster sat at one end of the table and Stegeman at the other. Foster took the lead in attacking Stegman, sometimes by name, sometimes not. It did seem, however, that Stegeman had to correct, or “fact check” as he put it, statements from Foster before answering the question at hand. Stegeman did not retaliate, though towards the end he did mention some of the details of news stories that embarrass (or should embarrass) the district. An example is the controversy that ensued when when it was reported that three members of the internal auditing committee were married to employees of the district which was a violation of the charter, two resigned, the third stayed on and voted for the new watered-down charter that allowed him to stay. Foster was lucky in that she delivered her closing statement after Stegeman, so when she delivered the final laundry list of criticisms he had no opportunity to respond.

The other candidates pretty much left each other alone, though Riegel chastised Juarez for referring to University High students as “upper class,” and Putnam-Hidalgo had to pause in the middle of an answer to ask Juarez to stop talking to her while she was speaking (he apologized at his first opportunity).

None of the candidates were critical of the now discontinued Mexican American Studies Program (MAS), there was unanimous approval with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Putnam-Hidalgo was the biggest fan gushing about how “very successful” it was and that the district should “bring it back.” Riegel expressed support and suggested that it be expanded to include other ethnicities. She went on to say that she arranged to have a Holocaust survivor speak at University High School after some anti-Semitism was observed there. Stegeman said that any “hook” that inspired an interest in learning was great. Juarez said that the program gave Latino students confidence.

Putnam-Hidalgo pointed out the irony of a career path that paid more as educators moved further away from contact with students. She also claimed that the superintendent encouraged teachers to not report or document incidents or problems to make it easier to “game the numbers.”

Stegeman, Riegel, and Rustand expressed the need for increased student discipline and teacher support. Rustand also spoke in favor of “site based leadership,” and he is not a fan of “high stakes testing.”

None of the candidates were critical of the over forty year (that’s four-zero year) old desegregation lawsuit.

Jonathan Hoffman is the Weekly's resident Libertarian columnist. 

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Is TUSD Stiffing Teachers? The Star Says So, Repeatedly.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 3, 2016 at 3:04 PM

  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
If you've been looking at coverage of education issues in the Star recently, you've read that TUSD is shafting teachers by keeping their compensation unnecessarily low. In July of this year, Alexis Huicochea wrote an article headlined, Tucson Unified going slow on teacher raises despite Prop. 123. Then last Friday, Tim Steller wrote a column with the headline, TUSD teachers' money balanced district's books. Most likely, neither of the Star staffers wrote their own headlines, but their stories make a similar point: TUSD is holding back money that should be going into teacher compensation.

Is it true? That's a complicated question which I can't answer to my complete satisfaction. I'm sure the claim in the Huicochea article is mostly false. I don't know how accurate Steller's column is, though I know he didn't make his point clearly and forcefully enough for me to arrive at a satisfactory answer.

Before looking at the two articles, I want to separate out two related but distinct issues. One is the question of how much money teachers make through their salaries and other compensation. The other is where the money comes from—which funding sources are used to pay teachers. Both are worthy of discussion, but they're two separate topics, and when they're tangled together, it can lead to sloppy logic and false conclusions.

The funding source issue is part of a very complex discussion about budgets which is beyond my ability to sort out successfully, though I try. Huicochea and Steller aren't experts in the art of budget analysis either, based on what they've written. I don't get the sense they understand the process any better than I do. And even people who have the necessary background in school district budgeting and accounting and make the effort to sort out budget issues can disagree.

The Star pieces are focused on two different TUSD funding sources: Prop 123 and Prop 301. Their assertions, so far as I can tell, are at least partly accurate when it comes to the specific use of the money flowing from those two propositions. But even if there were questions about how the funding was distributed, does that mean teachers got less money than they should have received, as the pieces maintain? Let's start by looking at Huicochea's article.

In her article, Huicochea left the distinct impression that TUSD teachers were only getting a $700 raise, far less than teachers in other local districts, and according to her article, the reason was, the district reneged on its promise to devote most of its Prop 123 funds to teacher salaries. But if you look at the new employee contract, it shows returning TUSD teachers received a $2,000 raise. Here's the 2015-16 contract. Here's the 2016-17 contract. You'll see two identical looking teacher salary tables, but the numbers on the 2016-17 contract in each category are $1,500 higher than they were in 2015-16. Moving up a year in experience adds another $500. That means a returning teacher gets a $2,000 salary boost.

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Cards Against Humanity Is Offering A Science Scholarship for Women

Posted By on Mon, Oct 3, 2016 at 10:00 AM

That's right, one of the world's most popular adult card games, Cards Against Humanity, is offering a Science Ambassador Scholarship to women who are seeking an undergraduate degree in science, engineering, or math. But that's not all: the winner of the scholarship will receive full tuition coverage for up to four years and will also be highlighted for their hard work in their chosen field.
click image SAS LOGO
  • SAS Logo

So what's the catch?
The SAS requires all candidates to submit a three-minute video of themselves explaining a topic in science that they are passionate about learning and sharing their discoveries with others. The video will be reviewed by a board of sixty women who work in the field of science and engineering and who hold higher educational degrees. The ideal candidate will be an ambassador of their chosen field and must be in college in the fall of 2017. Sounds doable, right?

Although, the video requirements are a little tricky, so pay close attention to what they expect from each participant. Here are some pointers from their website:
  • Deliver a mini lecture, not a personal statement, as if you are teaching or lecturing.
  • Don’t spend lots of time introducing yourself, just jump right into your topic.
  • The video should be three minutes, no shorter or longer.
  • You can discuss any topic in science you like, not necessarily your field of study.
  • Upload the video to YouTube, and make sure the video is set to public.

    Do you want to help support this scholarship?

    Any one can support this scholarship by purchasing a Cards Against Humanity science pack expansion co–authored with Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’s Zach Weinersmith and Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait, which goes directly to help fund the scholarship (and let's be real, who doesn't love expansion packs?) Another way to help is by spreading the word to college students, so more women with STEM degrees can hear about this amazing opportunity-because they definitely deserve it.

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