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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 WIKIMEDIA.ORG GRAPHIC
  • Illustration from wikimedia.org 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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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The City Of Tucson Makes a Statement

Posted By on Tue, Dec 27, 2016 at 9:00 AM

PUBLIC DOMAIN PICTURES
  • Public Domain Pictures
Last week, the City of Tucson joined a number of other concerned cities across the nation by adopting a resolution supporting immigrant immigrant rights and condemning the kind of mass deportation policies Trump promised during the campaign. It passed unanimously.

Resolution #22699 is long and detailed. It refers back to a resolution adopted in April, 2012, which was "a declaration of five principles to guide Arizona's immigration discussion," as well as other resolutions and memorials adopted since then. The current resolution states:
The Mayor and Council condemn any threat, by any elected official, of mass deportations, and publicly proclaim through this Resolution that the City shall not participate in any such actions.

The Mayor and Council further publicly proclaim through this Resolution the commitment to protect all members of our community so they can live their lives free of fear and can feel safe in our city.
The mission and policies of the Tucson Police Department in regards to human rights and immigration are specified in 12 points, including: prohibiting racial profiling; recognizing that "unauthorized presence in the United States is not a criminal offense"; affirming it "will not make immigration status inquiries during consensual contacts with members of the public and will not make such inquiries of victims and witnesses of crime"; and affirming that "School Resource Officers, when interacting with minors, shall refrain from asking about immigration status."

The City also published a valuable Resource Guide for Immigrant Families, which begins,
Following the harsh language and statements regarding immigration in the 2016 presidential campaign, we understand that many immigrant families are currently experiencing high levels of anxiety and fear. We know these can be difficult times, but Tucson is committed to doing everything we can do to ensure that as residents of our city, you feel safe and valued. As an Immigrant Welcoming City, we will stand united and protect one another.
The guide explains immigrants' rights and legal options and provides a list of organizations providing legal help and support.

Other local governmental and educational organizations should follow suit. They now have two excellent templates to guide them: the resolution and resource guide provided by the City of Tucson and a resolution passed by TUSD a week earlier.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

More Money For Schools Leads to Better Outcomes, According To Two Recent Studies

Posted By on Thu, Dec 22, 2016 at 1:57 PM

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Two recent studies take the topic of school funding and achievement head on, and they conclude that more money improves student achievement, and even boosts earning power after graduation. According to the studies, the results are strongest for children from low income families. It looks like "throwing money at schools," as critics like to typify spending increases, pushes students forward.

Results of studies on education are always worth questioning because it's so hard to run a controlled study. Children aren't genetically similar lab rats; every child is unique in nature and nurture. And you can't separate children into neat control groups and experimental groups. So researchers have to do their best to pull results from messy, real-world education data.

One group of researchers spent decades using a set of student data to "prove" that class size doesn't affect learning. Then another group of researchers took the same data set and created a convincing argument that lowering class size actually does improve student achievement. For years, education researchers on the conservative end of the spectrum have "proven" that you don't get any bang for added education bucks. When they're being more cautious, they say there's no evidence that increasing funding has any positive effects. Now, some researchers have created two high quality studies which indicate the opposite. Like all studies of this kind, the results aren't take-it-to-the-bank certain, but these are pretty damn robust. The two studies are summarized here, with links to longer discussions by the studies' authors.

The studies take advantage of the fact that since 1990, 26 states changed their school funding and 23 others left theirs alone. That allowed them to compare changes in student achievement in districts with increased funding to districts where funding didn't change.

The problem is, how do you compare student achievement? One group of researchers used the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) exam which has been given to a national sample of students since the 1970s and is considered the most valid and reliable standardized test there is by educators across the political spectrum. The researchers were able to look at individual student scores in districts they were comparing so they could match up students who were similar in terms of race and income. The result was, student scores in districts with added funding increased more than those in districts where funding stayed the same.

If the authors have it right, more money for schools with low income students means a significant improvement in achievement.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

'Classrooms First' Report. What It Means For Arizona Education

Posted By on Wed, Dec 21, 2016 at 8:31 AM

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Ducey proposes billions in new taxes to pay teachers! Oops, sorry, my bad. Wrong governor. That should read, [Washington State Governor Jay] Inslee proposes billions in new taxes to pay teachers. The Washington State governor wants to add $4 billion in taxes so starting teacher salaries can increase from the current $35,700 to $54,578. Meanwhile, our governor Ducey has been toying with us for the 215 days since Prop 123 passed, putting out teasers about raising education funding, but he hasn't proposed a penny, and it's unlikely he'll call for a significant increase in the upcoming state budget. He could surprise us, of course. But don't hold your breath.

One more thing. Before the $4 billion Gov. Inslee is proposing, Washington is already spending $2,500 more per student than Arizona.

Which brings us to the recently published final report from Ducey's Classrooms First Initiative Council. The main thrust of the document is to change the way we distribute money to K-12 schools. If we don't see a significant budget increase, the recommendations, if implemented, will create financial winners and losers. The amount each school receives will increase or decrease. If it stayed the same, why bother changing things? Inevitably, some schools will get a bigger slice of the pie, and others will have their slices cut a little thinner.

If the recommended redistribution becomes law, it will be the most significant change in the way money is given out to schools in decades. And if I read the report's recommendations correctly, and combine them with what I know Arizona conservatives have been advocating for years, school districts with lots of low income students will be the losers, while charters and districts with high income students will be the winners.

Continue reading »

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Out Of the Mouths Of Conservatives

Posted By on Mon, Dec 19, 2016 at 4:48 PM

COURTESY OF STATIC FLICKR
  • Courtesy of static flickr
Conservative talk radio loves to condemn the bias of the mainstream media. The hosts have persuaded their audience to ignore and discount any information coming from the MSM. The result is, the media has been delegitimized, the normal guideposts are down, the referees are discredited.

Of course I'd believe that, disliking conservative talk radio as much as I do. Naturally I'd blame them for harming our national discourse by demonizing the media. But I didn't say it. My first paragraph is a paraphrase from a column written by Charlie Sykes, a well known conservative talk show host from Wisconsin. Here it is in his words.
One staple of every radio talk show was, of course, the bias of the mainstream media. This was, indeed, a target-rich environment. But as we learned this year, we had succeeded in persuading our audiences to ignore and discount any information from the mainstream media. Over time, we’d succeeded in delegitimizing the media altogether — all the normal guideposts were down, the referees discredited.
It's a fascinating column from a guy like Sykes whose conservative credentials are impeccable. "I helped advance the careers of conservatives like House Speaker Paul D. Ryan; Gov. Scott Walker; Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee; and Senator Ron Johnson," he wrote in the column. He dislikes collective bargaining and is a staunch supporter of school choice. He and I have nearly nothing in common politically or ideologically. The only thing we share is a dislike of Donald Trump. And that's where his trouble began.

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More on 'Classrooms First' and Education Spending

Posted By on Mon, Dec 19, 2016 at 9:00 AM

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Don't expect to see additional money for education coming out of the 2017 legislature. Ain't gonna happen, unless I'm happily mistaken. (Man, would I like to be wrong about this!) Instead, expect to see them talk about ways to change how we spread around the current funding, and about how to get more money into the classroom. That's how the Classrooms First Initiative Council framed the issue in its Final Report, and it's how Republicans are going to frame their argument when they write their budget, as if the most important thing is doling out the current funding more fairly and spending it more efficiently. They're going to use that to duck the biggest issue facing our schools: not enough money.

The fact is, any inequities in the way we dole out money to schools and inefficiencies in the ways schools spend it pale in comparison to our unconscionable underfunding of K-12 education in Arizona.

Ducey calls his group looking at education funding his Classrooms First Initiative Council for a reason. A favorite conservative ploy to change the subject from increasing school funding is to talk about the percentage of money that makes it into the classroom. So let's take a look at that bit of misdirection.

It's true, Arizona schools spend a lower percentage of their overall funding for instruction than most other states. It's true and inevitable. The less money schools have overall, the higher the percentage that goes to pay for fixed expenses like building maintenance, operating expenses, transportation and food services. You simply can't do much to lower those costs. But you can always cram a few more desks into a classroom, put off new textbook and computer purchases and, of course, pay your teachers insultingly low salaries. The less money schools have, the lower the percentage that makes it into the classroom.

But let's say Arizona schools figure out how to get a larger percentage of their funding into instruction. Let's say they raise classroom spending by five percent. That sounds like a lot more money in the classroom, right? But it isn't. It's less than $400 per student.

Continue reading »

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Friday, December 16, 2016

More Money For Education? Beware of Graham-Keegan Bearing Gifts

Posted By on Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 9:00 AM

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"Hey look, everybody, a brand new education finance pony! And there's money inside!"

Yeah, maybe, but I don't think so. Prove me wrong. Please, prove me wrong. Show me lots and lots of new money for education. But what I see is a new education funding plan that moves around the existing money without a commitment to add a single new dollar. And the way the money moves will very likely hurt district schools with low income kids, and help charter schools.

Ducey's Classrooms First Initiative Council published its long-awaited, long-delayed Final Report. The Council's mission was to come up with ways to redo our state education financing system. It came up with 12 recommendations, none of which specifically says the schools need more money. Recommendation 10 says we should increase teacher salaries. How? Doesn't say. Maybe new funding, maybe making cuts elsewhere, who knows? Number 11 says we need to create a funding priority for low income schools. With new money or existing funds? Again, doesn't say. But the first nine recommendations are filled with all kinds of ideas about changing where education money comes from and how it's spread around. Most of them were proposed years ago by Lisa Graham Keegan, former Arizona Superintendent of Education, former senior education policy advisor for John McCain during his 2008 presidential run and current top education advisor to Governor Ducey, albeit unofficially. She's a friend of charter schools—when she was in the State Senate, she pushed through the original charter legislation—and a friend of vouchers—she got her charter bill through by threatening voucher legislation if she didn't get her way. Then she went on to be the Arizona Superintendent of Education, where she initiated the wild-west-style approach to creating charters, the more the merrier, and letting them do pretty much whatever they want to do.

A story in the Star holds out hope for more education funding, but I'm not convinced. According to the article, Ducey said he's figuring out a way to get more money. How? He's had 210 days since Prop 123 passed and he promised a "next step" for school funding was coming. But now, after all that time, if he has a plan, he's not saying what it is.
“We’re going to have an exciting education agenda this year,” the governor said. “And you’re going to hear about it in the State of the State” address.
A few days ago, Ducey lied at least three times about this year's wonderful additions to education funding which weren't really additions to education funding in his 2016: Year in Review. No doubt those lies will be repeated in his State of the State address, with new lies about new funding heaped on top without any real plans to move us out of the dollars-per-student cellar.

Continue reading »

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Sundance Film Festival 2016 Short Film Tour

Eight short films selected from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival – the premier showcase for short films… More

@ Loft Cinema Thu., Jan. 19, 7:30 p.m. 3233 E. Speedway Blvd.

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