Thursday, January 21, 2016

Positives and Negatives in Douglas' State of Education Address

Posted By on Thu, Jan 21, 2016 at 11:34 AM

Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction doesn't have much power or authority. An Ed Supe can work with the legislature to pass legislation, like Huppenthal did putting an anti-Mexican American Studies statute on the books, then declaring TUSD's MAS program out of compliance and demanding that it be dismantled (Douglas has done nothing similar, and I dearly hope she never does), but it's the legislature and the governor-appointed State Board of Education that actually make the big education-related decisions. So there's not much sense grading Douglas on how much she's actually accomplished during her tenure. Instead, I want to look at how she did in her recent ascension to the bully pulpit in her State of Education Address. Let's look at the positives, negatives and neutrals in order, one by one.

⬆️ "For education, it is too early to tell if we are only spending enough money to settle a lawsuit and temporarily placate the public, or if we are seriously taking the first step to building the best education system in the nation, right here in Arizona." Absolutely right. This legislative session will let us know if Ducey and his legislative enablers hope to "placate the public" by paying 70 cents on the dollar on what they owe the schools by law or plan to increase the K-12 budget in a more substantial way.

⬆️ "During my first year in office I saw firsthand the barriers keeping many of our children from an excellent education." Yes, there are barriers to education, and Douglas has done a credible job of describing them during her tenure.

↔️ "But there is reason to be cautiously optimistic." I wish I could agree, but since Douglas said "cautious," not just "optimistic," I'll give this a neutral rating.

⬆️ "AZ Kids Can’t Afford to Wait! turns voter feedback into actionable proposals to improve Arizona’s education system." The document Douglas put together had lots of "actionable proposals" which are generally sensible and reflect comments and suggestions from people across the educational spectrum. It's more of an educational document than a political document, which is a good thing.

⬆️ "While on my We Are Listening tour, the call for more education funding was loud and clear. Arizonans asked me to fight for more money for our classroom teachers. It didn’t matter if the attendees were urban or rural, conservative or liberal, or Republican, Independent or Democrat―no other topic came close in terms of the volume of feedback I received." Recent polls indicate that a majority of Arizonans think we should raise teacher salaries. And they're right, we should.

⬆️ "In response to that clear message from the people of Arizona, in September I called for an immediate appropriation of $400 million for this fiscal year to go to classroom teacher salaries and classroom size reduction." Good proposal. It's worth noting that it's more than the $300 million-plus in Ducey's proposal, and Douglas is only talking about teacher salaries and classroom size. She's not saying it's enough to cover all our educational needs—unlike Ducey, who says less than what Douglas proposed is plenty enough.

↔️ "That additional funding [in Proposition 123] will be an important first step to tackling the teacher shortage our state faces. But there is still much work to be done to retain and attract the best teachers for our children. We must not think that our work is done." Prop 123 is so problematic, the most favorable thing I can say about it is that I'll probably end up holding my nose and voting for it. But Douglas is absolutely right, it should be viewed as a first step, and "We must not think that our work is done."

↔️ "When I addressed you last year, I made it clear that stopping the substandard and inadequate Common Core was my top priority as Superintendent. . . . Less than one month later, the Board did exactly that when it voted 6-2 to sever Arizona’s ties to Common Core. The vote was a victory for all Arizonans and returned control of our standards to Arizona parents and teachers." It's ridiculous to make stopping Common Core—or "killing" it, as Douglas said on her campaign website—her top priority. But the 6-2 vote, in itself, isn't going to make a hell of a lot of difference, unless the standards Arizona comes up with are regressive.

⬆️ "I have worked tirelessly to ensure the privacy and protection of students’ most personal information. I have reviewed the Department’s data governance policies and process and significantly increased the security." Student privacy is an increasing problem, courtesy of computers' nearly unlimited ability to store information. If Douglas has increased security of information at the state level, good for her.

⬆️ "One of my deeply held beliefs is that the only people who truly impact a child’s educational development are parents and classroom teachers. To support parents in that vital role, I announced this week the release of a new Parent Gateway on the Arizona Department of Education web site. This area currently provides parent-friendly resources on a variety of education issues. In the near future it will be home to informational videos and tutorials that cover topics of interest to parents." I took a quick look at the ADE Parent Gateway, and it looks pretty good. I recommend people look it over and see if things should be added or removed, then go to the Parent Webpage Feedback page to make your suggestions.

⬆️ "I will work with members of this body to see that basic parental rights, including the right to opt children out of testing, are returned to the people of Arizona." I'm pretty sure "this body" she's referring to is the legislature. I agree that parents should have the right to opt their children out of state testing, and the Feds have made it less problematic with their recent restructuring of the law on testing.

⬆️ "At the Arizona Department of Education, I have implemented a program to target assistance to disconnected youth in the highest need zip codes in Arizona. This project, envisioned by my predecessor, is now seeing fruition." I don't know what the plans are, but it sounds good. We'll see what happens.

⬇️ "Just as deregulation of business works, so does deregulation of all our schools." Nope. The deregulation movement is a frightening push to take away important regulations which protect the public. Sure, some regulations are outdated and unnecessary, but regulation pruning should be done carefully and judiciously, with a sharp scalpel, not a blunt hatchet, and I fear Douglas favors the blunt hatchet approach. I'll be happy to be proven wrong.

⬇️ "We need the federal government to give back much of our land to bolster our state land trust revenues." This suggestion is of the same cloth as the proposals made by the crazies holed up in Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Douglas is following far right wing thinking on this one. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

⬆️ "The purpose of Arizona’s education system should not be simply to create a long line of college applicants and worker bees. Our children are not a source of human capital that exists only to feed the economy. They are our heritage and their education should prepare them to keep bright the flames of the torch of liberty and preserve the Republic for future generations. We must focus on creating a well-educated populace of informed citizens with the knowledge and skills to make their own decisions and pursue their own dreams, God-given talents and aspirations." While Douglas and I differ on the particulars of the way this statement should be carried out, it's an important affirmation of the idea that education is more than job training. I say Amen to that.

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