Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Trump's Election Has Been Very Good For K12 Inc.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 2:10 PM

The impending demise of K12 Inc., the for-profit online school corporation, has been an occasional source of schadenfreude in my posts. Online education as the sole source of schooling for K-12 students is a bad idea for all but a few people, and K12 Inc. needs millions of students, which requires a regular infusion of new students, to make a profit. The corporation's schools are failures by nearly every standard you can apply to them, and its stock prices have fallen steadily as a result. It had all the earmarks of a failing corporation, and I watched expectantly for it to crash and burn.

That changed November 9, the day after Trump's election. As you can see on the stock report at the top of the post, K12 Inc.'s stock price has soared since that fateful day. The Trump-era market is bullish on for-profit privatization in all its forms, including education.

Now, along comes Betsy DeVos as Trump's pick for Secretary of Education. DeVos is a champion of school choice—charters, vouchers and homeschooling. So long as it helps dismantle the school district model of public education (and where possible, promotes religious education), she's for it. In Michigan, DeVos' home state where she spends millions of dollars buying pro-school-choice politicians and setting up nonprofit advocacy groups, 80 percent of the charter schools are for profit, and accountability is kept to an absolute minimum. Even charter advocates complain that the Wild West approach to charters allows too many low quality Michigan schools to remain open.

But charter schools don't do well in sparsely populated areas where distances work against them. That's one reason DeVos and other school choicers support online education, where your "school" is always as close as your computer. Distance is no obstacle for distance learning, so online schooling opens up rural education markets.

We know DeVos held an "investment interest" in K12 Inc. before it went public, but we have no way of knowing if that continued. We may find out if she makes a full financial disclosure during her confirmation hearings.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Dollar a Day, and Other Observations About Ducey's Education Funding Proposal

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 2:39 PM

Governor Ducey surprised me by proposing $114 million in new education funds for the upcoming state budget. That's $90 million more than I expected. According to Senator Steve Farley (D-Tucson), most of that comes from highway funds. Meaning, to paraphrase It's A Wonderful Life, every time a school bell rings, a roadway gets a pothole.

More than $100 million for education isn't nothing. It's not nearly enough (It moves us from 49th in per student spending all the way to . . . 49th), but it's a significant amount of money. Unlike last year when Ducey called money covering the increase in the number of students and inflation "new money"—that was a lie—this time, it's actually new money, above and beyond the required stay-even funding. We need to remember, however, this is only a proposed budget. The legislature passes the budget, not the governor. It's going to take some gubernatorial arm twisting to get the anti-"government schools" crowd to vote for all that new money. Don't be surprised if the final education budget comes in quite a bit lower. I hope no one is taking Ducey's money to the bank yet.

Let's take a look at how Ducey wants his proposed education funding to be spent.

His proposed teacher pay hike gets the most buzz, but it's only $13.6 million, compared to almost three times as much—$38 million—for "results-based funding." The pay raise comes to about a dollar a day, which is more of an insult to teachers than a pat on the back. It's wealthy, Cold Stone Stone Cold Doug Ducey saying, "Here's a crisp new dollar bill for each of you for the great work you're doing!" I hope he doesn't expect current teachers to go out of their way to thank him, or prospective new employees to flood school districts begging for one o' them high payin' teachin' jobs. Saying "I raised teacher salaries" makes for a great campaign pitch come reelection time, but a dollar a day doesn't put food on a teacher's table.

That $38 million for "results-based funding," on the other hand, is real money for those lucky schools that get a chunk of it. It's a third of Ducey's new money, and it will go to 10 percent of Arizona's schools. That comes to an average of more than $350 per student for each of the recipients, which is more than the $325 per student schools received from the Prop 123 money. All his other proposals are small ball stuff, but this one can have some big league consequences. It's enough for the schools to increase and improve their teaching supplies and technology and still have money left for significant teacher raises, all of which will make those schools more attractive to parents and teachers. And most of it will go to districts and charter schools educating the most privileged students. The main educational beneficiaries will be the current winners in the state's income inequality wars. To the victors go the "results-based funding" spoils.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ducey 'Next Step' Watch: Day 237—Talk Is Cheap Edition. Ducey's Funding-Lite, Destructive Education Proposals.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 12, 2017 at 9:00 AM

  • Illustration from Photospin image
A few days ago I wrote that I'd try to suspend my disbelief and cynicism regarding the education proposals in Ducey's State of the State address until Friday when he releases some budget numbers. Couldn't do it. The generally positive reception of his ideas in the press has left a major hole in the analysis of his speech. I wrote that I liked most of what Ducey proposed, adding there are a few exceptions, but I didn't discuss the exceptions. Those bad ideas are either cost free or can be accomplished by rejiggering the current education budget—specifically his ideas to relax teacher certification rules and to give more money to "high achieving" schools—which means the worst of his education plans can be implemented on the cheap. It's time to look at them more closely.

Ducey laid out something like ten separate education-related proposals in his address. That leaves the impression that he's given the topic considerable thought and has laid out a comprehensive package of changes and reforms, but it also means he can pick and choose which items he plans to emphasize and implement. After all, who expects him to tackle all ten items during this legislative session?

While making his grandiose education proposals, Ducey said we shouldn't expect him to spend a lot of new money on education this year.
“Now, I’m not promising a money tree. There’s no pot of gold or cash hiding under a seat cushion."
Realistically, for him to be serious about enacting some of his most important proposals, like increasing the funding of schools, raising teacher pay and expanding full day kindergarten, the cost would begin at $100 million and move upwards toward $400-800 million. Meanwhile, most budget projections agree the governor has about $24 million in loose money to play with — the rest is accounted for—with lots of places those dollars can be spent. I suppose Ducey could free up a few more dollars with draconian cuts to other government agencies. But $100 million? $400 million? $800 million? Hardly.

We'll find out Friday, but I suspect Ducey will put a bit of money into the big ticket items as a down payment to show he's serious, then he'll push less expensive items he can enact with the willing support of Republican legislators.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Ducey 'Next Step' Watch: Day 235 — State of the State Edition. Great Ideas! Terrific Ideas! Wallet Still Safely Stowed in Back Pocket.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 9:00 AM

  • Illustration from Photospin image
Loved the education part of Gov. Ducey's State of the State address—with a few exceptions, of course. Great stuff, mostly. Unfortunately, it'll take lots of money to accomplish even half of what Ducey proposed. Lots and lots of money. And he didn't commit dollar one.

My understanding is, the state is expecting to see about $24 million in revenue that's not already accounted for. Even if all that went to education, it only comes to about 7 percent of the $350 million a year voted in when Prop 123 passed, so it's not a hell of a lot of money. I've read that it'll cost the state about $20 million just to cover the extra costs from the minimum wage hike. And of course, education isn't the only area in dire need of additional funding, or the only sector Ducey made financial promises to. So that puny little $24 million, a tiny fraction of the state's nearly $10 billion yearly budget, will have to be stretched way beyond the breaking point for it to make any kind of a difference anywhere.

Here are some of the education proposals in Ducey's speech. As you read them, count the potential costs on your fingers and toes, with each digit worth $10 million. Warning: pretty soon, you'll need to start in on your neighbor's fingers and toes as well. It's gonna take a lot of "This little piggies" to get us all the way to market.
• Increase investment in public schools above and beyond inflation.
• Raise teacher pay.
• Pay down teachers' student debt.
• Create "Teacher Academies" at our universities and community colleges where prospective teachers' educations are paid for and teaching jobs will be waiting upon completion, debt free.
• Give a $1,000 signing bonus to teachers who commit to work in low-income schools.
• Expand full day kindergarten.
• Connect schools in rural areas and on tribal lands to high speed internet and create a statewide coding and technology initiative.
• Increase per pupil funding at excelling schools, with even more going to excelling schools with low income students.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

United We Dream National Educators Week

Posted By on Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 12:00 PM

United We Dream has asked educators to "come out this January 9 as an unafraid educator and pledge to protect immigrants in your classrooms and community."
Sign this pledge to commit to taking action the week of January 9th - just a few days before the regime of terror of Donald Trump begins.
You can declare yourself an Unafraid Educator or Unafraid Ally publicly by printing the appropriate sign, putting your name on it and posting it on social media. You can get more information about how educators can help in the detailed and informative #HereToStay Toolkit for K-12 Educators & Schools.

According to the group's website:
United We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation. Our powerful nonpartisan network is made up of over 100,000 immigrant youth and allies and 55 affiliate organizations in 26 states. We organize and advocate for the dignity and fair treatment of immigrant youth and families, regardless of immigration status.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

TUSD Magnet Schools, Desegregation, and the Next Step

Posted By on Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 9:00 AM

  • Courtesy of Shutterstock
It's no surprise that a number of TUSD schools lost their magnet status. A magnet school is supposed to have something special about it to attract students who are outside the neighborhood, with the purpose of improving the school's ethnic balance, and the district has failed to meet the court's required goals for the schools. The six schools are Ochoa Elementary, Robison Elementary, Safford K-6, Utterback 6-7, and Cholla and Pueblo high schools. The schools aren't closing, but they will no longer be considered magnet schools.

This is a failure for TUSD and its students, an opportunity lost. Most studies indicate that students achieve at higher levels in more integrated schools, especially minority students. On top of that, society benefits when people learn to know each better other across ethnic lines, and integrated schools are an ideal place for that to happen.

However, there's another side to the story. TUSD is, depending on how you look at it, in good company or bad company in its failure to integrate its schools. The famous 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, made it unconstitutional for states to demand that schools be segregated, but across the nation 68 years later, segregation has increased since 1970, and there are few signs that trend will turn around any time soon. Recently I did a reasonably extensive online search looking for urban school districts whose integration efforts could be called successful. Few came even close to qualifying. One of the rare exceptions is the Jefferson County Schools in the Louisville, Kentucky, area. The way it has succeeded is by creating a county-wide school district, then dividing it into 13 separate clusters, each containing an economic and ethnic student mix, and even this successful plan nearly collapsed any number of times due to intense public pressure. There may be a case of an urban district which has successfully desegregated its schools using the magnet school model, but I haven't come across it.

Charter schools, by the way, tend to be more segregated than district schools, so going with charters isn't a deseg solution.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Private School Vouchers Are Bad For Arizona. Discuss.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 4, 2017 at 11:18 AM

It's almost a sure thing that the Republican-led AZ legislature will try to add more funding and more students to our two private school voucher systems this year. They try it every year, and they usually succeed. The only questions are, what will their additions look like, and will they make it to Gov. Ducey's desk?

The Arizona School Boards Association has put together a three minute primer on the state's two voucher systems: Student Tuition Organizations (aka backdoor vouchers) and Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (aka Educational Savings Accounts, also aka Vouchers on Steroids). The information in the video is pretty accurate, though it's possible to quibble around the edges. As for its anti-voucher slant, which I agree with, you don't have to agree to learn more about how the two programs work.

Remember, vouchers have nothing to do with charters. Charters are publicly-funded, privately run schools which get more-or-less the same amount of tax dollars per student as district schools. Vouchers are about using tax dollars to pay for tuition to private schools.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Has Arizona Reached Peak Charter?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 1:01 PM

  • Illustration from graphic
I've been wondering lately, has the growth in the number of students in Arizona's charter schools slowed significantly? This is just speculation, built on wisps and indications I've noticed over the past few years. But it may be that our charter schools have completed their rapid expansion and reached something like an equilibrium in their percentage of the overall student population.

I've been sensing this for awhile, but a possible confirmation came from an article titled Charter School Enrollment Continues To Rise In Arizona. It sounds like it should be an affirmation of the continued growth in the number of students in charters, but a bit of number crunching makes it seem like it's damning the increases with faint praise.
About 180,000 students currently attend charter schools in Arizona. That’s an increase of 8,000 students in the last year.

At the same time, district school enrollment has stayed the same.
Let's look at those numbers. Adding 8,000 students amounts to a 4.7 percent charter enrollment increase across the state. That's not bad, adding a little under five percent in a year. But with 180,000 students, charters have less than 20 percent of the state's total student enrollment. Over a million students attend district schools. The 8,000 student increase amounts to less than one percent of the district school population.

That 180,000 student, number is on the Arizona Charter Schools Association website. But the association's 20 Years of Charters publication says the charter population was 190,000 in 2013-14. If that figure is correct, charters have actually lost 10,000 students from a few years ago. If it's a projection, it means the association was far too optimistic about enrollment growth. An enrollment chart in the publication shows increases have slowed since charter schools first opened in the mid-1990s.

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Space Drafts! Searching for Planet 9 and Resolving Supernovae

Join UA Planetary Scientist Kat Volk to search for Planet 9 in our outer Solar System and… More

@ Borderlands Brewing Company Wed., Jan. 25, 7:30-9 p.m. 119 E. Toole Ave.

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