Education

Friday, September 22, 2017

Why Teachers Are Leaving (And New Teachers Aren't Replacing Them)

Posted By on Fri, Sep 22, 2017 at 3:31 PM

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  • Courtesy of pixabay
Teacher shortages are a national problem. According to a recent survey, the number one reason teachers give for leaving the profession—55 percent of them—is dissatisfaction. By comparison, financial considerations are cited by 18 percent. Between the top and bottom are Financial/personal reasons, Retirement, and Pursuing another job, in that order.

This isn't new news. It's from the 2012 School and Staffing Survey put together by the National Center for Educational Statistics along with a follow-up survey in 2013. It came up again in a recent panel discussion in Washington DC, and sadly, it's more relevant today than it was five years ago. As with any survey, the numbers are approximate. General dissatisfaction covers low salaries as well as a host of other issues, and in a place like Arizona with its bottom-of-the-barrel salaries, money concerns certainly rank higher than elsewhere.

But as a teacher who retired just when our national obsession with high stakes testing was revving up and class sizes were climbing, I'm certain a growing sense of dissatisfaction pervades the teaching profession, driving many a gifted teacher out of the classroom and making potential new teachers think twice about going into the field of education.

When I went into teaching and began my 30-plus year career, it was because I wanted to teach. I wanted to be part of helping young people learn. I wanted to be part of helping young people grow. I wanted the freedom to shape my curriculum in a way that suited my interests and teaching style so I could maximize my enthusiasm and effectiveness.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Looking at Tucson Unified's AzMERIT Scores: Another Approach

Posted By on Tue, Sep 19, 2017 at 10:19 AM

COURTESY OF PHOTOSPIN
  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
Last week, I took the Star to task for its article about Pima County districts' AzMERIT scores in the post, To Understand Pima County Test Scores, Follow the [Parents'] Money. (The post had more likes, shares and comments than most of my recent pieces, and a number of letters in the Star voiced similar criticisms, meaning the Star article bothered a lot of people.) Comparing Tucson Unified's test scores with districts whose students come from more affluent homes where parents have more formal education makes little sense, I wrote. In Arizona, around the country and around the world, children from higher income families score higher on standardized tests than children from lower income families regardless of the quality of schools they attend.

I've written often that if you want to create a reasonable analysis of Tucson Unified's AzMERIT scores, you have to compare them to scores in districts with similar demographics. Well, I've decided to put my keyboard where my mouth is. I'm beginning a rough study to see how test scores in Tucson Unified schools compare with scores of similar schools in similar districts. Why am I telling you what I'm planning to do even though I've only just finished the thinking process and haven't begun the research? To keep myself honest, for one. If I put my approach in writing, I'll be forced to stick to it and report the results as honestly as possible (which I'd try to do anyway, but it's always tempting to fudge a bit). And to let readers know what my approach is before I write about my findings so you're less likely to think I began with my conclusions and worked back to the data that "proved" what I already decided.

On my computer, I have two databases from the AZ Department of Education. One lists the total number of students in every district school in the state along with the percentage of students on free or reduced lunch. The other breaks down the 2017 AzMERIT scores of every school in detail, by gender, ethnicity, English Language proficiency and grade level. Looking at the two data sets, I can compare how schools with similar student bodies scored on the state tests, and I can compare the scores of subgroups in the schools.

Here's my methodology. Scratch that. "Methodology" is to high fallutin' a term for my crude analysis—I won't be using any sophisticated statistical tools—of a blunt instrument—a high stakes test whose validity as a measure of student achievement is questionable. So, here's what I'm gonna do.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

It's 'Tucson Unified' Now

Posted By on Mon, Sep 18, 2017 at 9:18 AM

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As I was leaving the studio of the Bill Buckmaster Show Thursday, Bill told me that TUSD's new superintendent, Dr. Gabriel Trujillo, was on the show last week, and Trujillo mentioned that the district is rebranding itself as Tucson Unified in place of the longstanding tradition of referring to it as TUSD. It's not a huge deal, obviously. It doesn't change the way the district operates or educates its students. But I like it. Words matter, and the feeling the public has about the district matters.

The words "Tucson Unified" have a nice, positive ring to them. They link our city name with a sense of togetherness, indicating that Tucson is unified in our pursuit of education for our children.

The rebranding process has been going on for awhile. It began before Trujillo was chosen as interim superintendent, then superintendent, but I hadn't noticed it until Bill pointed it out to me. From this point forward, I'll use "Tucson Unified" instead of TUSD in my posts.

If you haven't had a chance to hear Dr. Trujillo, the interview on the Buckmaster Show is a good place to start. You can listen to it on the show's website. He comes across as smart, positive and personable. Early indications are, the board made a good pick.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Business Leaders Say, Raise Taxes to Fund Schools

Posted By on Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 9:58 AM

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I've been out of town for three weeks. Did I miss anything?

Let's see. TUSD has a new superintendent, Dr. Gabriel Trujillo. Looks like a pretty smart choice. He's getting stamps of approval from people on various sides of district issues, which is promising. And board member Mark Stegeman has voted against him twice so far, which makes Trujillo sound even better to me. Best of luck, Dr. Trujillo. You'll need it.

Then there was the Mexican American Studies decision from Judge Tashima, a clear-the-bases, grand slam home run for MAS supporters. Ex Ed Supe John Huppenthal didn't like the program because it taught students they were victims of a racist system; the judge said Hupp's dismantling of the MAS program was the result of racial animus. Hupp didn't want Mexican American youth to think of themselves as oppressed; Hupp suppressed a program which used historical facts to show ways Mexican American students and their ancestors have been oppressed. Earlier Ex Ed Supe Tom Horne was upset that MAS taught ethnic chauvinism; he went around the state telling white people their privileged status was threatened by the program. One term to describe the Hupp and Horne statements in light of the judge's decision is "irony." MAS supporters are probably more fond of the term "vindication."

And then there's the statement by Jim Swanson, the leader of Ducey's Classrooms First Initiative Council, that our schools need an additional billion dollars in added tax revenue. It's not exactly new news. Other business leaders raised the idea in June. But for Swanson, Ducey's hand-picked head of his council to explore ways to improve education, to say Ducey isn't doing enough to fund schools, and to go into such detail about the reasons why the extra money is needed, that's really something. The public already supports increased education funding. A statement from Swanson and other business leaders helps build a statewide consensus which will make it harder for Republicans to pretend to be pro-education while saying they don't want to "throw money at schools."

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Preschool Enrollment: U.S. (and Arizona) vs. the World

Posted By on Wed, Sep 13, 2017 at 9:08 AM

COURTESY OF BIGSTOCK
  • Courtesy of Bigstock
Concern and complaints abound over U.S. students' low scores on international tests compared to other industrialized countries. The favorite culprits accused of causing the disparity are, in no special order: (1) Failing schools; (2) Failing teachers; (3) Failing parents (4) Low expectations; (5) Lack of common curriculum; (6) Too much common curriculum; (7) Inadequate funding; (8) Socioeconomic inequality. I'm sure I missed a few.

But one possible culprit that doesn't come up as often as it should is lack of opportunities for quality early childhood education. The U.S. sits near the bottom of the list when it comes to the percentage of 3 and 4 year olds enrolled in educational programs. Is that one reason for our low scores on the international tests? Maybe so, maybe no, but it should be a larger part of our national discussion, even among the privatization/"education reform" crowd, who are all about charter schools and vouchers for private schools. If they care more about education than privatization, maybe those folks should be more into promoting early childhood education.

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) administers the PISA international student testing, and it analyzes the results as well as other relevant educational information. It recently published Starting Strong 2017, a 200 page document focusing on early childhood education and care. Starting on page 128, it compares the enrollment rates of 3 and 4 year olds in pre-primary education in 2014 in about 35 countries. In the U.S., 40 percent of three year olds were in educational programs compared to an OECD average of 70 percent. Only five countries had lower numbers. Among four year olds, the U.S. enrollment was 70 percent compared to an OECD average of 85 percent. Only three countries had lower numbers.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

To Understand Pima County Test Scores, Follow the [Parents'] Money

Posted By on Mon, Sep 11, 2017 at 10:32 AM

COURTESY OF PHOTOSPIN
  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
The Star's front page story about Pima county school districts' scores on the AzMERIT test has its facts right, but it doesn't include all the relevant information. As a result, readers are likely to draw the wrong conclusions—that TUSD and Sunnyside are doing a terrible job educating their students, while Pima county's suburban districts are shining stars in Arizona's educational firmament.

Hank Stephenson, the new education reporter at the Star, is a good journalist who does the necessary leg work and phone work to get the story—far, far more of it than I do as a humble blogger—but with this article, he's earned a spot at the top of the front page by telling only part of the story, which does a serious disservice to our two districts with the lowest income students. Unintentionally, I believe, Stephenson has followed one of the Star's unwritten maxims: If TUSD bleeds, the story leads. So let it bleed.

TUSD must be doing a terrible job educating its students, or so the story makes it sound.
Southern Arizona’s largest school district is dragging down the county’s results. Students in the Tucson Unified School District performed well below the state average on the standardized test and were also outperformed by students in eight of Pima County’s nine major school districts.
Sunnyside must be doing even worse, according to the story.
The test results were even worse for Sunnyside Unified School District, which scored the lowest of any of Pima County’s nine major districts.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Vouchers On Steroids: Let the Voters Decide

Posted By on Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 9:00 AM

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Voucher supporters don't believe in a fair fight. Pro-voucher legislators don't trust the voters they work for. They're trying to quash a referendum on the vouchers-on-steroids-for-everyone law passed last session, using any means necessary. If that effort fails, expect them to repeal and replace their own voucher law next session, rendering the referendum null and void.

If the referendum actually does end up on the ballot in 2018, it will make for an interesting battle. There's no way to predict which way the vote will go.

When Republicans first passed the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts law—aka Educational Savings Accounts, aka Vouchers on Steroids—a limited number of Arizona families were able to use the ESAs. But from the beginning its advocates said their plan was to make vouchers universal so everyone from welfare recipients to billionaires could get government money to pay for private schools, or pretty much any other form of non-public education. "Eventually" came in the last legislative session. They got what they wanted. If the law stays in effect, it will take twelve years for every child who isn't attending a district or charter school to receive between $5,000 and $30,000 a year to pay for their educations.

Along came a group, Save Our Schools, which began a quixotic quest to overturn the law. The effort should have been doomed from the start. Logic says you can't collect enough signatures to put a referendum on the state ballot without lots of funding. But the group's shoe-leather-driven volunteer effort worked. The referendum got the signatures it needed. Clearly, lots of Arizonans want the vouchers-for-all law off the books.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

DACA Demonstration in D.C. ("Up, Up with Education! Down, Down with Deportation!")

Posted By on Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 2:07 PM

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Coincidence once again placed me in D.C. at a historic moment. A little more than two years ago, I stood in front of the Supreme Court and witnessed the joyous moment when the Court moved the country forward, deciding gay marriage is legal everywhere in the U.S. Today I stood in front of Trump's White House protesting his alarming decision to move the country backward, tossing out DACA and putting its fate in the hands of a deeply divided, ineffective Congress, leaving 800,000 Dreamers and their families walking a razor's edge for the next six months as they wait to see if they will be allowed to remain in the country legally.

Except for the White House in the background, the march and demonstration could have been in Tucson or pretty much any city in the country.

We gathered at Lafayette Park across from the White House, walked along H Street, then down 15th Street.
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Staff Pick

James G. Davis (1931-2016): Down at the Tower Bar, A Retrospective

Celebrating the career of Tucson artist James G. Davis with a selection of paintings and prints made… More

@ Etherton Gallery Sat., Sept. 9, 7-10 p.m. and Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Nov. 11 135 S. Sixth Ave.

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