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Friday, March 17, 2017

The Asterisk in Ducey's Plan to Fund All-Day Kindergarten in 'Lowest-Income Schools'

Posted By on Fri, Mar 17, 2017 at 3:30 PM

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Need another reason to be wary of Ducey's promises? Here's one: his all-day kindergarten funding pledge. It's not quite what he said it is.

Here's what Ducey said in his 2017 State of the State address:
"My budget gives the lowest-income schools dollars to start or expand full-day kindergarten."
Note the word "schools" in the phrase "lowest-income schools." Apparently that's not what Ducey meant. He meant "lowest-income charter schools," but if the school is inside a district, that's not enough. The whole district has to qualify as "lowest income" or No Money For You.

This was news to me until someone sent me a story by Michael Hernandez, an intern at Arizona Public Media (Let's hear it for the future of journalism!): All-Day Kindergarten Funding Out of Reach for Tucson's Public Schools. For Ducey's funding pledge to kick in, 90 percent of your students qualify have to qualify for free or reduced lunch. If you're a charter school, it's just that simple—90 percent on free/reduced lunch, and you get the money. But a whole district has to meet that number to qualify. So TUSD doesn't qualify, or Flowing Wells. Even Sunnyside with 86 percent of its students on free/reduced lunch doesn't make the cut.

According to the article, no Pima County school district will get a penny from the program, but ten charters in the county qualify.

Even in this rare instance where Ducey puts together a plan that favors low-income schools, he makes sure charter schools get more than their share of the proceeds.

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"Kiss Me, I'm the Descendant of Irish Immigrants!"

Posted By on Fri, Mar 17, 2017 at 9:26 AM

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Full disclosure: I don't have a drop of Irish blood in me that I know of. I don't wear green on St. Patrick's Day, or drink green beer. I don't kiss people because they're Irish. But that doesn't stop me from recommending a terrific op ed in today's New York Times by Fintan O'Toole, a columnist for The Irish Times: Green Beer and Rank Hypocrisy.

Stop reading this right now and link to his column! Or, if you prefer, stick around and read what I have to say about it.

O'Toole's basic thesis is, don't forget that most of the Irish-Americans we celebrate today are descendants of reviled immigrants.
[The Irish] were nobody’s ideal of the desirable immigrant. The typical Irish Catholic arrival in New York or Boston was a peasant with little formal education and few material resources. Worse, these people were religious aliens — the papist hordes who threatened to swamp Protestant civilization and, in their ignorance and superstition, destroy enlightened democratic American values.
Today in a proclamation, Trump celebrates "the achievements and contributions of Irish-Americans to our nation . . . overcoming poverty and discrimination and inspiring Americans from all walks of life with their indomitable and entrepreneurial spirit.”
Even by the crooked yardstick of the Trump administration, the disconnect is surreal: The president will salute the legacy of one wave of immigrants even as he deploys against other immigrants the same calumnies once heaped upon the Irish.
O'Toole says of those members of the Trump administration with Irish ancestry, like Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway:

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Mark Hamill Uses Twitter Force Against the Trump Death Star

Posted By on Wed, Mar 15, 2017 at 5:00 PM

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This is too good to pass up. Kevin Eck, recently hired staffer for Betsy DeVos' Education Department, was unhappy with Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker, for his criticism of Trump. So in November Eck tweeted:
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Now that Eck is at the Dept. of Ed, Hamill decided it was time to reply.
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Eck is one of three recent Education Department hires who have been condemned for racist tweets, like this one.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

'Give More Money to Schools in High-Rent Areas' Lisa Graham Keegan Says (Or Almost Says)

Posted By on Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 10:56 AM

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Lisa Graham Keegan is the bluebird of "education reform" happiness. Keegan, former state legislator who sponsored Arizona's original charter school bill (and got it passed by threatening Democrats that a voucher bill was coming next if the charter bill failed), then the Superintendent of Public Instruction who got charter schools rolling (and budgeted as little as possible for charter school oversight to make sure the "invisible hand of the marketplace" could work its magic), isn't one of those privatization proponents who spends all her time talking about "failing government schools" and abysmal standardized test scores. She'd rather write, as she did in a recent op ed in the Capitol Times, that you can find excellent schools everywhere.
These models of excellence can be found in charters, traditional district schools, and district magnet schools. They’re in likely and unlikely places: affluent areas and low-income communities, rural, suburban, and urban.
Isn't that nice? Yes it is. And I have to say, I agree with her wholeheartedly — up to this point, anyway. Unfortunately, though, her sunny depiction of educational excellence is a soft-sell setup for her real point: that we should give more money to the schools she defines as "excellent," a definition that just happens to favor district and charter schools with lots of kids from high-income families.

Keegan, who has played a major role as an educational advisor to both former governor Jan Brewer and current governor Doug Ducey, is pushing Ducey's "results-based funding model" which awards "excellent" schools with more money. She and Ducey maintain that successful schools deserve to be rewarded for their success.

The reward system ignores a few education-related points. First, in most European and Asian school systems—the ones that eat our schools for lunch, "education reformers" never tire of reminding us—extra money is funneled into schools where student performance is low to cover the cost of improving the quality of the schools, not into schools where students are already doing well. Second, the Keegan/Brewer/Ducey definition of "excellence" leans heavily on standardized test scores, and, as virtually every reasonable study indicates, in the U.S. and around the world, test scores rise as family income rises.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: Why Does Trump Call the Press 'Vrag Naroda'?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 13, 2017 at 3:13 PM

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"Vrag naroda" is Russian for "Enemy of the People." I didn't pull the phrase from some online English-to-Russian translation engine. It is, or was, a much used term in the Soviet Union to describe people who the leadership believed were dangerous and were sent away to some distant prison camp, or executed. Until Stalin died, anyway. Nikita Khrushchev, when he came to power, decided to tone down the rhetoric a bit, because he thought Enemy of the People "eliminated the possibility of any kind of ideological fight."

Trump apparently disagrees with Krushchev. He thinks Enemy of the People is an excellent term to use against people, like journalists, who state facts or espouse views he finds objectionable.

A few weeks ago when I wrote about the literary antecedent of Trump's use of the phrase—Ibsen's play, An Enemy of the People—I was being too clever by half. It's true that Ibsen uses the term ironically to refer to people who try to tell the truth—journalists, scientists, whistleblowers—and are condemned for their efforts by the powers that be, just like Trump is doing. But really, that was an English major/English teacher showing off. Far more important is the Soviet Russia reference, given the Trump campaign and administration's many ties to Russia. Trump, I'm certain, didn't pull the phrase out of thin air, any more than the use of the word "purge" to describe the ousting of people suspected of loyalty to Obama from positions of influence is a coincidence. It's a chilling reminder of the close philosophical, ideological and personal connections between the people surrounding Trump and Russia.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Grandmas, the Declaration of Independence and Cursive

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 8:34 AM

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA
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Did you know grandmas can't print? Did you know you can only read the Declaration of Independence in the original historical version? Yeah, neither did I.

I don't give much of a damn whether or not schools teach cursive. If it's a choice between cursive or recess time, I say go with recess. If it's cursive or a has-nothing-to-do-with-teaching-to-the-test project, I say go with the project. But if there's time enough and it doesn't cut out anything valuable, sure, why not? Teach cursive if you want.

But I hate ridiculous, sounds-like-common-sense con jobs trying to justify anything, teaching cursive or otherwise. That's what this post is about.

I read an article about the revival of cursive in the classroom. Arizona is now requiring cursive instruction, which is part of a national movement, so it's news. I've heard arguments that cursive instruction encourages some kind of higher level thinking, but so do any number of other educational activities, so that's a silly argument. But not as silly, as ridiculous, as logic-challenged, as maddening, as the arguments in this article.

One cursive proponent says, if children know cursive, they can read a letter from grandma. Sounds logical, right? Grandma sends a birthday card or a postcard from Italy, and the poor little grandchild looks at it, turns to mommy in tears and says, "I (choke) can't read what grandma wrote (sob)." My question is, how stupid is grandma—or grandpa, to make this less sexist (though the article doesn't mention him)? Didn't everyone in that generation learn to print? That's what I do when I send birthday cards or any other written communication to my grand children. I print, so they can read it. For the younger one, I write in all caps, since that's all she writes and reads at this point. That's being, I don't know, thoughtful. Considerate. Loving. My cursive is such a miserable scrawl even I have trouble reading it sometimes, so if I wrote cursive, I'd have to slow down anyway to make it legible. It would take as much effort as simply printing, so they can read it.

But if you don't think about it, you might say, yeah, that makes sense, let's teach kids cursive so they can read grandma's letters.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Sen. Yarbrough Gets Slammed Big Time By the New York Times

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2017 at 4:32 PM

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Arizona's ongoing tuition tax credit scam was well documented back in 2009 courtesy of some terrific investigative reporting, and it continues to come up in our media now and again. Nothing has changed—what else is new in Arizona?—but at least it's out in the open for anyone who wants to read about it. It's nice to see this Oldie But Goodie getting some national coverage in a New York Times story, DeVos and Tax Credit Vouchers: Arizona Shows What Can Go Wrong. The story's poster child for tax credit profiteering is our own state Senate President Steve Yarbrough.

The Times story begins, "Steve Yarbrough is one of the most powerful men in Arizona." Then it talks about our backdoor voucher program, tuition tax credits, where people give money to School Tuition Organizations and get all of it back when they pay their taxes, meaning their "donation" costs them nothing. The taxpayer picks up the tab, since 100 percent of that money otherwise would have gone into the state coffers. The STOs use most of the money to pay for students' private school tuitions. It can pay for poor kids to go to private schools, but the money can also be used to pay full tuition for millionaires' sons and daughters to attend the most exclusive, expensive private schools in the state. The more you know about this program, the worse it gets.

The dirty secret hidden inside the voucher plan, the Ka-ching! that puts a twinkle in Sen. Yarbrough's eye, is that ten percent of the tuition tax credit money goes to pay the STO's overhead. If your STO pulls in, say, $18 million, like Yarbrough's Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization did in 2014, the most recent year with an online tax form from the STO, that means $1.8 million can be used to pay for the expense of collecting money from donors and handing it out to schools. That's good money if you can get it. Yarbrough gets a $125,000 salary out of the deal. But as the Times piece points out, that's only part of his total take. He owns HY Processing which does the bookkeeping/tech work for the STO, for which it makes $636,000 a year. Yarbrough owns the building that houses the STO, which brings him $52,000 in rent. The STO paid for his car.

I imagine Yarbrough smiles all the way to the bank when he's on his way to the State Capitol to do "the people's work"—with Steve Yarbrough being Steve's favorite "people."

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thoughts on the Sanchez Resignation and the Next Steps for TUSD

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 6:03 PM

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As most everyone knows by now, H.T. Sanchez resigned as TUSD superintendent Tuesday. You can read the official Separation and Release Agreement here. It's a clean break agreement. No one is admitting guilt on either side. Members of the board can't speak badly about Sanchez, and Sanchez can't speak badly about the board. If anyone violates this "non-disparagement" agreement, that person can be sued and, if found guilty, is responsible for paying the damages. That should effectively button lips on both sides. Sanchez gets $200,000 for leaving, which I figure is more-or-less half of what he would get in salary if he stayed until his contract was up.

People in the community will continue to talk about Sanchez, I'm sure, but TUSD is saying, "Let's move on." I agree.

What comes next? Unless the board majority has a Plan B with someone already in mind as the next superintendent, the next step is up in the air. So, a few thoughts.

First, I'm folding my hands and praying a secular prayer that the board hires a competent, effective superintendent with as little fussing and fighting as possible. I'm not sure how many great potential superintendents are job hunting right now, but I imagine a number of applicants for the job will be reasonably capable. A great superintendent can move a district forward, usually by small steps, not by leaps and bounds. A bad superintendent can be a drag on the district and bring it down a few notches. A competent, caretaker superintendent can keep things running with a modicum of efficiency and, with a bit of luck, lower the hysteria level just a little. I'll add that I hope the new superintendent is both confident and cautious. People will be pushing and pulling the Supe from all directions, and the best response, at least in the near future, is to plot a steady course instead of bending with whatever wind is strongest.

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