Friday, July 15, 2016

The Democratic Party's Progressive Education Platform

Posted By on Fri, Jul 15, 2016 at 12:13 PM

  • Shutterstock
In 2008 I supported Obama's primary bid, but I wrote at the time that Hillary Clinton's statement on education was more progressive and creative than Obama's. Unfortunately, as president, Obama has held true to his timid campaign statements on education and adopted a less-than-progressive educational agenda. With his appointment of Arnie Duncan as Secretary of Education and his embrace of the Democratic hedge funders and other members of the Billionaire Boys Club who created Democrats for Education Reform, he joined the Democratic wing of the "education reform"/privatization movement, even though Linda Darling-Hammond, his educational advisor during the 2008 campaign, was pulling him the other way. We ended up with an administration that continued George Bush's educational legacy by throwing its support behind high stakes testing and the expansion of charter schools.

If this year's Democratic education platform is any indication, the party may be moving in a more progressive educational direction. The tepid first draft of the education platform was revised due mainly to members of the Sanders delegation working together with some Clinton supporters. In an indication of how significant the changes are, DFER is furious.

If you want a detailed description of the changes, go to Valerie Strauss's post in her "Answer Sheet" column in the Washington Post. Here are some highlights.

While both drafts of the platform support "great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools" and "oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources," the revised draft says public schools and charters should be "democratically governed." That's a big difference when it comes to charters, since their boards are often made up of a tight group of supporters appointed by the school, and charters are notoriously opaque about their finances and operations. It also adds this.
"We believe that high quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools."

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ducey 'Next Step' Watch: Day 55

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 3:00 PM

  • Illustration from Photospin image
Lest we forget.
  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin

When Doug Ducey was pushing Prop 123, he promised that it was only a "first step" toward improving Arizona education, leaving the impression that more money would be forthcoming after it passed. His actions, however—cutting the state education budget while giving tax cuts to his rich friends who invested in his campaign—made it abundantly clear, he never had any intention of spending more on education than he absolutely had to.

Once Prop 123 passed, Ducey was asked, if it was just a first step, what comes next? His answer:
“We’re going to take the rest of the day off,” he said. “We’re going to celebrate a little bit.”
That day has stretched into 55 days without a public statement about the promised next step. I've seen nothing in the news. I've received three AzAWESOME (why arizona rocks.) emails from Ducey's communications team, along with an AZ Briefing Room and a Week In Review email. Only two of them mention education briefly, and they say nothing about any plans regarding K-12 education.

The eight week silence is deafening.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

California Looks Into K12 Inc. The Result: a $168.5 Million Settlement (or $2.5 Million, Depending on Who's Counting)

Posted By on Tue, Jul 12, 2016 at 9:00 AM

  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
Imagine a group of students walk through the school doors sometime during the day, spend a few minutes lounging around the office, then leave. The school marks them present and collects their per-student money from the state.

According to an investigation by California's Attorney General, that was business as usual at K12 Inc.'s online school, California Virtual Academy—emphasis on the word "business," because K12 Inc. is a publicly traded, for-profit corporation. Students would sign into school on their home computers, then leave a few minutes later, and they would be marked present. That's not just a problem at the California school. According to a number of investigative articles about K12 Inc.'s online schools around the country, teachers are urged to hang onto students who are enrolled but don't spend enough time online or do enough work to pass their classes. Once they've been around long enough to qualify for state funding, they can be cut loose.

Misreporting attendance was only one issue that led California to reach a $168.5 million settlement with the company. According to the Attorney General,
"K12 and its schools misled parents and the State of California by claiming taxpayer dollars for questionable student attendance, misstating student success and parent satisfaction and loading nonprofit charities with debt."
The settlement is $2.5 million plus $6 million to cover legal costs to the state, and $160 million to wipe out debts CAVA owes to K12 Inc. 

Charter school supporters aren't complaining about the ruling. The California Charter Schools Association joined the California Teachers Association in applauding the decision. K12 Inc. is a major reason why some pro-charter organizations recently published a paper demanding improvement of online charter schools.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Rep. Randy Friese Tells Us Where He Stands on K-12 Funding

Posted By on Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 10:00 AM

  • Randy Friese
Voters and the media should demand that candidates for state legislature explain their positions on K-12 funding, in detail. If they don't do it on their own, they should be asked the question by every journalist who interviews them and by the public at every forum they attend—with follow-up questions to pin them down on specifics.

Rep. Randy Friese, LD-9, set the tone in a recent campaign email and on the front page of his campaign website. Full disclosure: Friese is my representative, and I have donated to his campaign. But I will be happy to describe and analyze statements on education from any legislative candidate anywhere in the state. You can send them to me at

Friese begins by noting that our schools are inadequately funded. It's closing in on two months since Prop 123 passed, yet we still haven't heard any details about Ducey's promised next step.
Was this a promise? Or was this just rhetoric?

In the absence of any proposed second step from the governor's office or republican legislative leadership nearly two months later, I'm concerned it was rhetoric.
Friese writes that he would put a freeze on corporate tax breaks until we restore school funding. He would have the legislature put a renewal of Prop 301 on the ballot before it expires in 2021 so its 0.6 percent sales tax for schools doesn't expire. He would change the amount of money the state draws from the State Land Trust from the levels set by Prop 123 so they are lower when state revenues are strong.

Friese ends with this.
In order to address our K-12 education funding needs, state leaders should propose a multi-year funding plan. The governor should call a special legislative session this summer to enact this plan. Only then will Arizona students, teachers, and parents be assured that state leaders are committed to properly maintaining our system of public education as required by our constitution.  

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Prop 123, Tucson Area Schools, and Salary Hikes

Posted By on Tue, Jul 5, 2016 at 10:00 AM

  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
I read the article in the Sunday Star about teacher salaries in the Tucson area post-Prop 123, three or four times. I was trying to figure out exactly what it meant. The thrust of the article is, TUSD is being stingy with its salary hikes after receiving the recently disbursed Prop 123 funds while many other districts in the area are being more generous. But the article lacked head-to-head, apples-to-apples, salary-to-salary comparisons of teacher compensation across the districts, so I don't know if its conclusions reflect what's happening to teachers' paychecks. I tried to look a little deeper to understand the teacher salary reality in the Tucson area. That shed a little light on the subject, but not much.

If, as the article implies, TUSD allowed its teacher salary to fall below that of neighboring districts, it made a serious mistake. Because of the current teacher shortage, it's a sellers market. Teachers, especially the top prospects, are likely to get multiple offers, so they can pick and choose between districts, and salary is likely to be a serious consideration. If Superintendent Sanchez's decision to be "fiscally conservative" when it comes to raises, as he is quoted saying in the Star article, puts the district at a competitive disadvantage, then he made a bad decision. True, Prop 123 monies could face a court challenge, and an economic downturn could mean a loss of funding in the future, but it's better to take a long term gamble if it improves the short term situation where too many classrooms lack full-time teachers. And there's another issue, of course. TUSD teachers deserve a raise, and Sanchez is doing them a disservice if he's being less generous than other districts.

But is the TUSD salary raise as low as the Star article states, and is it lower than neighboring districts? I honestly don't know. According to the article, TUSD teachers will "see $700 added to their base salaries." However, the information on the TUSD website paints a different picture.

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Diane Douglas on Testing and the Classrooms First Initiative Council

Posted By on Thu, Jun 30, 2016 at 4:15 PM

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas. - COURTESY OF THE ARIZONA  DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
  • Courtesy of the Arizona Department of Education
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas.
I was at Wednesday night's sparsely attended meeting with Ed Supe Diane Douglas. About 30 people showed up in the main library's conference room to hear Douglas talk about what's going on in Arizona education, a far cry from the packed auditorium at her Pima Community College event in April, 2015. Maybe the small crowd was because it's summer, when parents and teachers' minds are on other things, or maybe it's because Douglas is no longer new news as she was last year.

Most of the meeting was made up of audience comments and questions, but Douglas made a few statements that were worth noting, on state testing and Ducey's Classrooms First Initiative Council.

Douglas once again made it clear she's no fan of the overuse of standardized testing. "We need to test our students less," she said. And she indicated that results of the state's AzMERIT test are being misused. "[Standardized] testing was never intended to be an assessment of a teacher, a school or a district," she stated. Douglas said she is working on a more comprehensive A-F school grading system that will include more factors than a school's state test scores.

Douglas only spent a few moments talking about Ducey's Classrooms First Initiative Council, whose task is to propose ways to shift around education funding without adding new revenue. She's a member of the council, and it looks like she shares some of my skepticism about the group's unspoken agenda. (My recent posts on the subject are here, here and here.) Douglas said she was concerned that the council was "a special interest group," though she didn't mention what that "special interest" might be. However, a statement she made soon after is probably a clue to what she was alluding to. She said she is a supporter of charter schools, but she also noted that, 20 years after charters were set up in Arizona, 85 percent of students still choose to go to district schools, and we must be sure we do nothing to harm those students. I'm seeing dots connecting those two statements, which would mean she worries that charters will come out the funding winners in the council's final proposals, to the detriment of school district funding. She's spoken before about her concern that the pro-charter faction has outsized influence in the governor's office. In a press release from Douglas in February, 2015, Douglas wrote, "Clearly [Ducey] has established a shadow faction of charter school operators . . ." Douglas has tempered her language since then, but I get the feeling her sentiments haven't changed all that much.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Winners and Losers in the Classrooms First Initiative Council Proposals

Posted By on Tue, Jun 28, 2016 at 8:34 AM

When you're shifting funds around in a revenue-neutral situation, you're going to create winners and losers. It's a zero sum game, so when one party gets a dollar more, another party gets a dollar less. The most important question when you discuss those kinds of funding shifts—really, the only important question—is, who are the winners and who are the losers?

That's the situation we're facing with Ducey's Classrooms First Initiatives Council which I wrote about last week. Ducey has tasked the council with coming up with a new formula for spending the state's K-12 education dollars without adding a penny to the overall budget. During its public meetings, it has listened to lots of arguments and proposals from actors on all sides of the education debate, but when it all comes down to dust, the arguments and proposals mean little. All that matters are the recommendations the council sends on to the governor. And it's not the fine, fancy logic and language the proposals are couched in that's important. It's who wins and who loses.

I want to try to inexpertly pick apart some of the possible proposals the council will put forward to see how they shift the flow of money. I say "inexpertly" because the proposals are general, without specific details, and the devil is always in the details, and also because I don't claim to know all the complexities of our very complex system of education funding. So consider this the beginning of a conversation we need to have before, not after, the council's proposals make it to the governor's desk and he sends them on to the legislature.

The buzz word at the most recent council meeting was "equity," and as is true with most buzz words, it's best to ignore it when you're trying to figure out what's going on. Basically, "equity" means being fair and even-handed. In education, that means giving every student as close to an equal chance of getting a quality education as possible, even if it costs more to educate some students than others. That's a great idea which most people talking about education say they agree with. But when everyone uses the same term, no matter what side of the debate they're on, the term is rendered meaningless. It's like "freedom." Everyone is for it, but it takes on different meanings depending on who's talking about it.

So let's look at some of the more prominent ideas in front of the council and try to figure out what they mean in terms of who gets more money and who gets less. The rest of this post gets pretty deep in the weeds, so here's the short version for those who want to leave early. The way I read the proposals, charter schools will be the winners, along with school districts with high income students. Districts with low income students will be the losers.

Continue reading »

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

What Happened at Tuesday's Classrooms First Initiative Council Meeting?

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 9:01 AM

  • Illustration from Photospin image
  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
So far as I can tell, no one in the media has reported on Tuesday's Classrooms First Initiative Council Meeting where school funding proposals were considered, nor has Ducey or anyone in his office made a statement about it. The minutes may be published soon, though based on minutes from earlier meetings, the document will be short and general. However, we now have an online audio of the meeting, all 2 hours, 45 minutes and 50 seconds of it. I'll try to wade though the thing, though I imagine I'll do some skipping around. If anyone else wants to venture in, please report your impressions in the comments.

As I wrote in an earlier post, this meeting is the kind of "next step" Ducey was talking about before the Prop 123 vote, which involves looking at ways to shift around existing education dollars, not add more funding. So the question is, what funding shifts will the council recommend, and since this is a zero sum game, who will be the winners and losers?

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