Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What John Oliver Said About Charter Schools

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 1:51 PM

John Oliver and his staff clearly did their charter school homework. On Last Week Tonight last Sunday, Oliver discussed problems with the lack of vetting of people who open charters and the lack of oversight once schools are open. He shows people plagiarizing their charter applications, others using charters as their personal ATMs, and schools closing without notice. It's not meant to be a takedown of charters. It's more of a spot-on harangue about the need to tighten charter school rules and regulations to keep the bad actors out.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Greg Miller Out At the State Board of Education

Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2016 at 4:42 PM

  • LinkedIn
Wednesday afternoon the press released the news that Greg Miller, current president of the state Board of Education, quit. Not only will he no longer be board president, but he says he plans to leave the board entirely. Miller and Ed Supe Diane Douglas have feuded since she stepped into office in January, with Ducey generally taking Miller's side, so it's surprising to hear that, according to Howard Fischer's article, Ducey may be behind the ouster.
Greg Miller said aides to the governor told him they wanted him out as the top board official. Miller said Ducey, who is due to make new board appointments as early as this week, believed the change would help smooth over what has been at best a rocky relationship between the board and state schools chief Diane Douglas.
Miller is the CEO of Challenge charter school in Glendale, and his wife Pamela is executive director and vice president. His daughter Wendy is principal. The school appears to be doing well, as do the Millers. According to the school's 2012 tax forms, Greg made $121,875, as well as $26,956 in "Retirement and other deferred compensation." His wife Pamela made the same. Wendy made $99,167. There's the question out there whether Challenge charter benefits from Miller's school board presidency, but it's only a question. I've never seen any evidence that the school benefits from his political influence.

Which makes this paragraph from Fischer's article fascinating, especially the passage I've highlighted in bold.
[Miller] said he agreed to quit [the board] if he could control the wording of the press release, the timing of the announcement and got some assurances that the charter school he runs would get "political protections that I no longer could provide.''
Fischer, a very careful reporter, put quotes around the words, "political protections that I no longer could provide,'' meaning they're Miller's words. Is Miller saying his school has benefitted from political protection? Why would that be necessary? Is he implying he's afraid Douglas might use her office to target the school, or is there something else we should know?

I'm guessing Miller's statement will be clarified sometime in the near future. Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ducey 'Next Step' Watch: Day 89. "No More Reading Tea Leaves" Edition

Posted By on Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 3:45 PM

  • Illustration from Photospin image
  • Courtesy of Shutterstock
Bill Buckmaster went and did it. On his Aug. 10 radio show, Bill asked his guest, Doug Ducey, "What is the next step for getting more money into the classrooms?" In the next few minutes, Ducey, employing his usual word-salad-sprayed-through-a-garden-hose style of answering questions, said lots of things about improving education but never said a word about increasing funding. What we were pretty sure we knew about Ducey's position since the beginning of our "Next Step" Watch is now official. No. New. Money.

Here's some of what Ducey said, with commentary.

•"[Prop 123] put additional resources into K-12."
Well, yes and no. True, there's more money flowing into schools courtesy of Prop 123, but calling it "additional resources" is heavy-duty political spin. This isn't additional funding, it's giving the schools part of what the legislature withheld illegally starting in 2009. We don't pat bank robbers on the back for returning the money they stole, do we? And we don't say the bank has "additional resources" when it gets its money back.

•"I want to see our teachers better rewarded."
Great. I assume "better rewarded" means higher salaries, though I have to admit, it's dangerous to make assumptions. Maybe Ducey wants to pass out "Good Job!" medals that teachers can wear with pride as they try to figure out how to pay their rents and mortgages and put food on their family tables. But beyond Prop 123, which raised our teacher salaries a bit, where will we get more money to make our salary schedules competitive with other states?

•"I want to see results and outcomes that come from additional resources."
So. If Ducey doesn't see enough "results and outcomes" from the "additional" Prop 123 funding, he's not likely to give schools more money. And if he sees strong "results and outcomes," that means we don't need any more money, right? Brilliant! Ducey's "No more money" argument wins either way.

Continue reading »

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Want To Be a Top High School? Better Not Have Too Many Low Income Students.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 15, 2016 at 3:17 PM

  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
Newsweek published its 2016 America's Top High Schools listings. I'm not a fan of these things. Their criteria are usually questionable, and they favor schools in high rent districts, making it look like those schools are doing a better job educating their students than schools in low rent districts. But this one is more interesting than most because it has two lists: one just considering student achievement and the other factoring in students' economic status.

Let's start local. University High is in 30th place on the Newsweek list. It's the second ranked Arizona school, below Tempe Preparatory Academy in 15th place. The only other Tucson-area school on the list is Catalina Foothills High, which came in 310th.

What, no BASIS schools, which do so well on the U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools List? Nope, not here. The reason is, Newsweek asks for the percentage of students on free or reduced lunch, and since BASIS doesn't provide lunch for its students, it couldn't provide the information.

Newsweek's listings include the percent of students on free or reduced lunch for each school, which adds a side order of economic reality to the menu. What you learn from those numbers is, low income and high rankings don't mix. Only one school in the top 50 has more than half of its students on free/reduced lunch, and that school is at 50.8 percent. A total of four schools topping 50 percent make it into the top 100. University High, with 16.4 percent on free/reduced lunch, isn't one of the four.

My favorite part of the Newsweek's listings is its Beating the Odds 2016 list, which factors in the percentage of low income students in the schools. As you might expect, the list is wildly different from the original Top High Schools list.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

"Have You No Sense of Decency?" Part 2: Decency Edition

Posted By on Tue, Aug 9, 2016 at 2:47 PM

  • Joseph Welch
A few days ago, I wrote about the famous takedown of Senator Joe McCarthy in 1954 by the attorney Joseph Welch, which began McCarthy's downward political slide. Welch said,
"Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. . . . Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?"
Cruelty. Recklessness. No sense of decency. Sixty-two years later, that fits Donald Trump like a glove.

Trump, we have learned again and again, has no sense of decency. But what about decent Republicans who are disgusted with their presidential candidate and are willing to put country over party? Are there any of those? The answer is a resounding yes.

Senator Susan Collins is the latest Republican to come out against Trump (though who knows, there may be more before you read this). 
"Donald Trump, in my judgment, would make a perilous world even more dangerous," Collins told CNN's Jamie Gangel. "I worry that his tendency to lash out and his ill-informed comments would cause dangerous events to escalate and possibly spin out of control at a time when our world is beset with conflicts. That is a real problem."
And there's the letter signed by 50 Republican security officials.
Fifty of the nation’s most senior Republican national security officials, many of them former top aides or cabinet members for President George W. Bush, have signed a letter declaring that Donald J. Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”

Mr. Trump, the officials warn, “would be the most reckless president in American history."

Continue reading »

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Election Integrity Resurfaces as a National Issue, Thanks to Vladimir Putin

Posted By on Mon, Aug 8, 2016 at 12:21 PM

  • Wikimedia
The very first blogging I did was in 2007 when I covered the trial involving a public records request for voting records of Pima County elections. Sitting in the courtroom beside Mike Bryan, then the proprietor and sole writer on Blog For Arizona, I furiously scribbled down a play-by-play of the proceedings while Bryan, a lawyer, wrote the analysis. By the end of the week, I asked Mike if I could write about education and whatever else I wanted on BfA. After giving me a short grilling to see if I had anything worth saying, he said yes and handed me the keys to the kingdom (Me: "Mike, do you want to look over what I'm writing before I put it online?" Mike: "No, here's the password. Write away.")

The specific issue at the trial was the 2006 Regional Transportation election. The results showed the measure passing with about 60 percent of the vote, but some people questioned whether the vote count was legit, and they wanted access to all relevant materials so they could check the results for themselves. During the trial and afterward, I developed a layman's understanding of the concerns of the local Election Integrity Committee and others around the country who were certain that our elections could be, and possibly had been, stolen.

The local and national work has continued since then, mainly out of the media spotlight. Now election integrity concerns are making the news because people are wondering if Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to put his finger on the U.S. election scales. Last week an article spoke of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson's concerns that our electronic voting systems could be vulnerable to sophisticated hackers here and abroad, and Wired Magazine published an article, America's Electronic Voting Machines are Scarily Easy Targets.

I hope these issues get the national, public airing they deserve. There's little question that voting machines as well as vote transmission and counting systems can be hacked to change election results. The most pertinent question right now is, how can the systems be made as secure as possible going forward, and how can the results be double-checked to make sure they represent the will of the voters?

Continue reading »

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Ducey 'Next Step' Watch: Day 78. Primaries Edition

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 2:41 PM

  • Illustration from Photospin image
  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
It's been two months and a few weeks since Prop 123 passed. As promised, some money has been distributed to districts around the state which they wouldn't have seen otherwise. That's the first step Governor Ducey was talking about in the lead-up to the election. With vote-by-mail ballots making their way to people's homes marking the official opening of the primary elections, it's time to ask once again, where do we stand, Next-Stepwise?

The AZ Republic has a good article on the subject. Here's what I learned.

Ducey is still pushing his No New Taxes mantra—no surprise there—and is also saying, No New Funds. According to the article, Ducey's next step is a push for "outcomes, not funding." Watch for news from Ducey's Classrooms First Initiatives Council, which will recommend ways to redistribute our current education funding. Spoiler alert. Expect charters to do very well in the proposals, along with schools in high rent districts. Since this is a zero sum game, expect school districts with poor and minority children to be the losers.

The heavy hitters in the business community, like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, agree with Ducey. Prop 123 relieved the pressure for funding increases, which is just fine by them. Their advice to the man in the governor's chair is, "Keep those yearly tax cuts coming, Doug!"

Continue reading »

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

NAACP Calls For a Moratorium on Charter Schools

Posted By on Thu, Aug 4, 2016 at 11:33 AM

  • Shutterstock
A resolution from the NAACP at the organization's National Convention in Cincinnati in July calls for a moratorium on charter schools. It isn't official policy until it is voted on at the National Board meeting in the Fall.

The resolution includes a number of concerns about charters. It states that charters increase segregation; some low-quality charters in low-income areas "mirror predatory lending practices;" the schools' boards are generally appointed, not elected; many use harsh disciplinary measures; and government oversight of charters is too weak.

The document states:
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the NAACP reaffirms its 2014 Resolution, "School Privatization Threat to Public Education," in which the NAACP opposes the privatization of public schools and/or public subsidizing or funding of for-profit or charter schools.
Later language, however, talks about making sure charters currently in operation are better managed and overseen, meaning it isn't calling for the elimination of charters. It states, "the NAACP hereby supports a moratorium on the proliferation of privately managed charter schools."

The resolution is stronger than language in the Democratic Party platform, which has similar concerns yet praises "high quality public charter schools [which] provide options for parents," but there's not a lot of daylight between the two documents. As would be expected, Democrats for Education Reform, which represents the "education reform"/privatization wing of the Democratic party, is very critical of the NAACP resolution, as it is of the education planks of the Democratic platform related to charter schools.

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Tucson Cold Wet Noses Fundraiser

Raffle prizes, drink specials, food trucks, bake sale, raise funds to pay veterinarian bills for 40 adoptable… More

@ Shelter Cocktail Lounge Fri., Aug. 26, 5-9 p.m. 4155 E. Grant Road.

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