Thursday, April 13, 2017

Diane Douglas Got Trumped. And DeVosed. And Maybe Duceyed. And It's a Damn Shame.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 6:15 PM

  • Courtesy of the Arizona Department of Education
Education Superintendent Diane Douglas called it "fake news that was published by a failing news organization," and criticized the "so-called reporters" for writing a misleading story in the Arizona Republic. She also complained about a "hack media lawyer."

I'll give her this. At least her Trumpian put-downs were in a three page letter, not a series of tweets.

As anyone who reads my posts knows, I've had kind words to say about Douglas in the past. When she took office, I feared she would do her Tea Party worst, but instead she's combined a "do no harm" attitude toward schools and students with a willingness to listen to teachers and parents, and she put together a list of thoughtful recommendations, many of which I agree with. The only people she gave any serious grief were Doug Ducey and his Board of Education, leading me to shout, "Go Diane!" Compared to the two previous superintendents, Tom Horne and John Huppenthal, she's been a pleasant surprise.

Last September, Douglas publicly announced her support for Trump in an official news release. It was an odd thing for her to do, not because she supported Trump—I expected that—but because she stayed silent during the campaign for Prop 123 which had far more to do with her job than the presidential election. Her public, official support of Trump told me she really, really likes the guy.

And now comes this letter adopting not only Trump's dislike of the media and of lawyers who oppose him, but adopting his language as well, word for word. It looks like Douglas has gotten back in touch with her inner right-wingnut. And that's a shame.

The subject of her dispute with the Republic makes her condemnation of the paper even more shameful. It's over information about the current use of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts which she should have, and could have, given to the paper promptly and in usable form. Instead, according to the article, she took almost two years, releasing the data the day the state House was voting on the vouchers-for-everyone bill, and in a form that was close to unusable. The ESA bill, the pride and joy of Doug Ducey and the Goldwater Institute, praised by U.S. Ed Sec Betsy DeVos, Jeb Bush and education privatizers everywhere, passed without a vote to spare. If Douglas had given the information to the Republic earlier and in usable form, an article might have swayed one on-the-fence Republican who voted Yes to vote No instead, and the bill would have died.

You gotta wonder, was Douglas part of the cabal working to pass the bill, even if it meant withholding important information?

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rep. Grijalva Sues Trump Administration Over Border Wall

Posted By on Wed, Apr 12, 2017 at 4:05 PM

Grijalva to Trump: I'll see you in court!
  • Grijalva to Trump: I'll see you in court!
Congressman Raul Grijalva (AZ03) has teamed up with the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity to sue the Trump administration over the proposed border wall.

The suit seeks to ensure that environmental laws—and all the red tape and studies that come with them—are enforced as Trump moves forward with his beautiful wall.

“American environmental laws are some of the oldest and strongest in the world, and they should apply to the borderlands just as they do everywhere else,” Grijalva said in a prepared statement. “These laws exist to protect the health and well-being of our people, our wildlife, and the places they live. Trump’s wall—and his fanatical approach to our southern border — will do little more than perpetuate human suffering while irrevocably damaging our public lands and the wildlife that depend on them.”

The filing in federal court comes one day after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions used a visit to Nogales to announce new Justice Department policies designed to increase criminal prosecutions of undocumented immigrants.

Center for Biological Diversity Executive Director Kieran Suckling said in a prepared statement that the proposed border wall "will divide and destroy the incredible communities and wild landscapes along the border. Endangered species like jaguars and ocelots don’t observe international boundaries and should not be sacrificed for unnecessary border militarization. Their survival and recovery depends on being able to move long distances across the landscape and repopulate places on both sides of the border where they’ve lived for thousands of years.”

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In 13 Years, Every Private School and Home-Schooled Student Could Have a Voucher

Posted By on Wed, Apr 12, 2017 at 1:51 PM

Coming to a private school near you, and the home-school down the block: taxpayer-funded ESA money for children whose parents never considered sending their kids to a district or charter school.

Courtesy of a bill Ducey signed a few days ago, the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, aka Vouchers on Steroids, will soon be available to every child in Arizona. The restrictions on who can apply for an ESA are gone. Rich or poor, in districts and schools with "A" to "F" grades, with or without learning disabilities, every child qualifies. True, a last minute deal to lure in a few reluctant Republican legislators added limits to the number of ESAs which can be given out, topping out at 30,000 by the 2022-23 school year, but the Goldwater Institute had its fingers crossed when it made the deal. The limits will be gone as soon as G.I. and Ducey can figure out a way to get rid of them.

But even without the limits, there's a catch. To get an ESA, a child has to attend a district or charter school for at least 100 days the year before, which means students already in private schools or being home-schooled can't apply for the vouchers. But that catch has an escape clause. Children entering kindergarten can get the voucher money without ever setting foot in a district or charter school.

So why wouldn't parents who plan to have their kindergarteners attend a private school apply for an ESA, which, once they get it, will continue year after year until their children finish high school (or, if there's money left over, until it's all used up paying for college)?

And why wouldn't parents who home-school their children start the ESA ball rolling when their tykes hit four or five, and keep the money rolling in until their children finish high school (or, if there's money left over, until it's all used up paying for college)?

After all, those parents will get a $4,000-a-year voucher at the low end and as much as $20,000, or even more, for children with educational disabilities. Free money! It's all upside, no downside. They'd be fools not to take advantage.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

BASIS Makes a Rare Response to Criticism: Part 2

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 1:31 PM

Here's a statement I would be happy to read from the people who run BASIS schools:

"We take some of the most talented children in the country and turn them into the best educated students in the world."

I could quibble with a statement like that, questioning whether the BASIS curriculum and methodology are the best way to educate kids, but I wouldn't bother. Sure, there's more than a bit of hyperbole in a declaration like that, but its message accurately describes the BASIS system, which is: Talented kids in, well educated students out. It sure beats the myth BASIS has been promoting for years, that it takes everyday, average students off the streets and turns them into educational world beaters.

And I have to say, happily, the latest statement from BASIS is closer to acknowledging the truth that BASIS's students are a select group than I can remember hearing or reading from the organization, ever.

In a few recent posts, I've written about an op ed in the Washington Post which said that BASIS charter schools teach a select group of students, which accounts for much of the schools' academic success. To my surprise, BASIS broke its usual code of silence and responded to the op ed. And in the process, it agreed that, yes, the schools' student body is not a random collection of Arizona students.

The WaPo op ed said BASIS "cherry-picks" students. BASIS turned that on its head and says it's the parents who do the cherry-picking, not the school.
There is “cherry picking” involved at BASIS Charter Schools, but it is not the type that the blogger alleges. BASIS Charter Schools do not pick their students (and cannot, by law). Rather, it is students and parents who pick us. Students and parents, in states with liberating charter laws, are able to choose between hundreds of different programs and curricula, “cherry picking” the best fit for their child.
It sounds like we all agree that for one reason or another, BASIS students are a select, cherry-picked group. A little later in the statement, BASIS doubles down on the selection process, saying it's a sign that school choice works.
To say that BASIS Charter Schools cannot or should not offer a specific type of programming (in our case, an academically accelerated, AP-infused, liberal arts academic program) that will be attractive to some families, but not attractive to all, is to attack and undermine the whole purpose of the school choice movement.
I find myself in complete agreement with BASIS when it says its program is "attractive to some families, but not attractive to all." Parents who want the "academically accelerated, AP-infused, liberal arts academic program" the schools provide and believe their children are up to the challenge are the most likely people to send their children to BASIS. Parental choice skews the schools' student bodies toward academically talented, motivated students. But that's not the whole story. In fact, both the parents and BASIS are involved in the selection process.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

BASIS Makes a Rare Response to Criticism

Posted By on Tue, Apr 4, 2017 at 5:00 PM

It almost never happens that BASIS responds to its critics. The charter chain isn't shy about promoting itself, but it rarely answers people who question its assertions. Back in 2014, I received a response when I posted about BASIS' high national high school ranking. Julia Toews, then the Head of BASIS Tucson North, thought my analysis was unfair, so I gave her space to respond in a guest post right here on The Range. And once when a national publication published an op ed using misleading BASIS enrollment figures to make its point, BASIS made sure to point out, correctly, that the figures were misleading. That's about it so far as I've seen, and I follow stories about BASIS pretty carefully.

So this came as a surprise. A few days ago the Washington Post published an op ed which took a look at BASIS' student population and found that it enrolls significantly more White and Asian students than the general Arizona population, its schools tend to be placed in high income areas and it has high attrition rates, all of which means that its students tend to be higher academic achievers than the average Arizona student population. I posted about the op ed, but more important, it was summarized in the Yellow Sheet, a publication of the Arizona Capitol Times which is mainly read by a Who's-Who of Arizona because of its high subscription cost. The next day, the Yellow Sheet ran a response from BASIS. I'm guessing the reason for this special occasion was, BASIS wasn't about to let anyone say bad things about it to Arizona's most powerful citizens without a rebuttal.

I'm going to discuss BASIS' response in another post. This post is already running long and my discussion of what BASIS wrote will be even longer. What I want to do here is describe what my criticism of BASIS is, and what it isn't.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

'Vouchers on Steroids' ESAs Used Mainly By Affluent Parents

Posted By on Mon, Apr 3, 2017 at 10:30 AM

Here's the Republicans' ESA pitch: "We just want to give poor children the same opportunity to attend private schools as rich kids have." Here's their real goal: "We want to give rich kids as much taxpayer money to pay for private school tuition as we can." According to a well researched article in the AZ Republic, they're doing a great job of meeting their real goal.

Empowerment Scholarship Accounts—aka Education Savings Accounts, aka Vouchers on Steroids—are a transfer of state funds into accounts for individual students which parents can spend on pretty much any educational expense, so long as the child isn't enrolled in a district or charter school. The way the law is written right now, only some students qualify for ESAs. A bill in front of the legislature would make all 1.1 million of Arizona's public school children eligible.

The AZ Republic article reveals that money from Empowerment Scholarship Accounts goes disproportionately to students from high achieving school districts.
This year, more than 75 percent of the money pulled out of public schools for the Empowerment Scholarship Account program came from districts with an "A" or "B" rating, the analysis showed. By contrast, only 4 percent of the money came from school districts rated "D" or lower.
The top rated districts, those with the highest scores on the state standardized tests, tend to serve students from higher income families, while the lowest rated districts are almost always in low income areas. When 75 percent of the money goes to students from those top rated districts and only 4 percent goes to the lowest rated, it's pretty clear who's taking advantage of the funds.

Here's another jaw-dropping bit of information the article pulls from the data. For students from those "A" and "B" districts, the average amount of the ESA for each student is $15,3000. For the "D" and "F" districts, the average amount is $6,700. Individual kids from the top rated districts are pulling in more than twice as much as kids from the lowest rated districts.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Pima County Supe Ally Miller Taken Out of County Building on a Stretcher

Posted By on Fri, Mar 31, 2017 at 6:48 PM

Supervisor Ally Miller suffered a medical episode earlier today. - FILE PHOTO/RANDY METCALF/TUCSON LOCAL MEDIA
  • File photo/Randy Metcalf/Tucson Local Media
  • Supervisor Ally Miller suffered a medical episode earlier today.

Multiple sources have told the Weekly that Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller was taken out of her office on the top floor of the county's downtown headquarters on a stretcher by an emergency crew earlier today. No word yet on what happened to cause Miller's medical emergency or her current condition.

Miller has provided an update via her Facebook page. It appears a vase fell on her head:

A vase fell off the top of a shelf and hit me on the top of the head yesterday. As you might imagine a head wound does bleed alot. CT scan is all good and they stapled the wound together at St. Mary's. I will be back to work on Monday. Thanks for your concern and good wishes everyone.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Another Look at the BASIS School Enterprise

Posted By on Thu, Mar 30, 2017 at 4:30 PM

It's been awhile since I've written about BASIS schools. Most of what needs to be said has been said already, by me and others. And besides, the "BASIS education miracle"—which isn't miraculous in any way, shape or form—has become background noise in the "education reform"/privatization propaganda machine. The charter schools no longer need the intense scrutiny they did back when privatization enthusiasts used BASIS as the poster child for all that's wonderful about charters. My most recent post on the subject was on the arcane subject of the BASIS business pyramid, a nest of separate but interlocking business entities which encompass nonprofit charter schools, for-profit U.S. private schools and one international private school in Shenzhen, China.

So I was pleased to see the topic revived in a lengthy, informative overview of the BASIS enterprise in the Washington Post written by Carol Burris, the executive director of Network for Public Education. She does an excellent job of summarizing the way the schools operate. The new news for me is the possibility that the charter schools may be in financial trouble. More about that at the end of this post.

Burris' whole piece is worth a read, but if you don't want to take the time, here are the Cliff Notes.

BASIS, Burris acknowledges,"provides a challenging education" for its students. But who are the students? Burris has a chart comparing the ethnic mix of Arizona's BASIS charters to the rest of the state.
Ten times as many Asian students, a fifth as many Latino students, significantly more white students. Clearly, BASIS has a selective, non-representative ethnic population. It also has a tenth of the students with learning disabilities as Arizona schools in general and no English Language Learners. And since the schools don't have a lunch program which would provide free and reduced lunches, they don't have many low income students who would depend on that service. Add the placement of the schools in higher income areas and the lack of transportation services to bring students from other, less affluent areas, and you have a student population that sits firmly atop the socioeconomic and academic ladders.

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Frida: Portraits by Nickolas Muray

Tucson Botanical Gardens and Etherton Gallery are collaborating to bring the photography show Frida: Portraits by Nickolas… More

@ Tucson Botanical Gardens Oct. 10-May 31, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. 2150 N. Alvernon Way.

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