Thursday, January 22, 2015

Diane Douglas: Arizona's Poor Education Isn't News To Me

Posted By on Thu, Jan 22, 2015 at 10:30 AM

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas says Arizona's education is poor and that too many children are not receiving the education they deserve.

Douglas gave her first speech to members of the state House Education Committee yesterday, following news that the recently released "Quality Counts" report—which rates all states on overall student achievement, students' chances for success and school finance policy—had given Arizona a D+, raking us 47th out of 50.

"As a former school board member, who has talked with countless parents and teachers and has visited innumerable classrooms, it isn't news to me," she says in a statement.

The former Peoria Unified School District board member highlighted the Common Core Standards, which were later renamed here as Arizona's College and Career Ready Standards, as one of the problems that could continue contributing to the state's crippling education system.

"The continual disruption of standards, accountability, assessment and educator evaluations has caused uncertainty and stress in the education community as well as among Arizona parents," Douglas says. "This is not the first time Arizona has changed its entire education system to reflect the latest fad, top-down approach, or cure-all sold as the solution for student achievement."

She also touches on the newly-established AzMERIT test, which is substituting the years-long standing AIMS test. She refers to both as unproven methods. Really, she feels the two were forced down the state's throat by the federal government, so she urges the state Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey to "stop the madness."

Then there is the whole thing about teachers leaving the profession "at alarming rates."

"In fact, 24 percent of first year and 20 percent of second year teachers in  Arizona quit after the 2013-2014 school year," she says. 

I'm glad she recognized that teachers' shitty salaries contribute to that problem—Arizona's average teacher salary is ranked 42nd in the country.

Throughout, there isn't mention of Ducey's proposal to cut millions from public schools', community colleges' and universities' budgets. 

But there's this:

"I fully realize the strain that previous expenditures and tight budgets have placed on all involved. Our current fiscal environment does not make our job of putting education on the path to improvement any easier," she says.

These are her solutions:
Continuous Improvement of Arizona Standards for Arizona Students

First, Arizona’s children deserve high standards in education. I intend to establish an annual deliberative and ongoing process for standards review by a broad spectrum of Arizona classroom teachers, colleges, businesses and, yes, parents to ensure continuous improvement. It is long past time that we start asking parents what they expect for their children’s education rather than telling them what they must accept. Our continual improvement process will allow us the flexibility to make whatever changes are needed―without asking permission from Washington, D.C. or seeking agreement from more than 40 other states. We can make moderate changes in a transparent process each year. This will allow students and teachers to absorb changes without disruptions and without major costs to districts.

Support for Our Teachers

Standards and assessments cannot take the place of effective teachers connecting with
individual children. Make no mistake, standardized and high stakes testing measure
demographics, not student achievement or teacher performance. For many children, the personal confidence shown in them by a caring teacher is something they will remember as a key moment in their life. Our teachers’ content knowledge and skills must be built upon, rather than erased and replaced with new fads. I know first-hand just how hard our teachers work and how much they care about their students. We must commit to work just as hard to support them. We have an opportunity to build upon the teacher preparation programs that are training the next generation of Arizona educators. By enhancing the quality of these programs, we can positively impact teacher retention and work to stabilize the growing need for highly qualified teachers.
For many years teachers have been asking for additional support. I intend to listen and come to their aid.

Safe and Meaningful Education Data

Next as Superintendent, I will build on the information technology progress the Department of Education made during the previous administration. 
Our first step is to complete accurate data systems. But data is not useful, unless it can be distributed to teachers as information they can actually use to improve classroom instruction. In addition, I am committed to strengthening our data security. Every child should have their data collected only if necessary, and it should be protected with the care that parents expect and deserve.
She mentions her support for the inclusion of Chicanos', Latino-American', Native-Americans' and African-Americans' heritage and contributions to state and country in history classes.

But she's been playing devil's advocate with this whole thing since the Tucson Unified School District mess and saying teachers are teaching the content wrong.

"All ethnicities will be properly represented in history, language arts, music, civics and all other appropriate areas of study," she says. "Teaching children by ethnicity is academic segregation, reinforcing in young minds that somehow we are different and separate from each other. These standards changes will allow children statewide to look at each other not by color or ethnicity, but as fellow Arizonans, respected for their own unique history and culture, which has contributed to this state."

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