Education

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Title IX Pep Assembly

Posted By on Fri, Jul 12, 2019 at 3:41 PM

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It was a typical Friday pep assembly sometime in the late 1970s, early 1980s at Clackamas High School outside of Portland, Oregon, where I taught English.

Students and staff filled the bleachers in the gym on either side of the basketball court. We knew pretty much what to expect. The pep band would play. Some students might perform a skit, present some awards or give us a little pep talk. The girl's drill team might dance. For certain, we'd hear a coach or two tell us about that night's boys basketball game.

What we didn't know until the coach walked out in the middle of the court and announced it was that we would be watching a 10 minute scrimmage by the girls basketball team.

I knew we had a girls basketball team. Title IX mandated it. But that was all I and most of the rest of the crowd in the bleachers knew. Few people other than family and friends had gone to any of their games. We had no idea what to expect.

As I waited for the team to come out onto the court, I turned my eyes toward the gym ceiling and said a silent teacher's prayer. "Please let the young women do a competent job out there on the court. Please don't let them make fools of themselves. And if they don't play well, please, students, please don't laugh and make things even worse."

The team, divided into two squads, ran onto the court and began their pregame warmups. They looked . . . not bad. It was a promising beginning.

A few moments later, out came a half dozen of the school's jockiest boy athletes decked out in full cheerleader regalia — short skirts, sweaters with padded bras underneath, pompoms. They skipped and whooped and waved their pompoms in the air, then assumed their cheerleading positions in front of the crowd. Because, the boys decided, if the girls were going to invade their turf on the court, the boys would take the cheerleaders' places on the sidelines. Fun!

I was still in full teacher prayer mode when the scrimmage began. A minute into the game, I realized the girls didn't need any divine, or teacherly, intervention. They were moving the ball up and down the court, dribbling and passing effectively. They knew how to shoot.

They were good!

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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Congratulations, U.S. Women's Soccer Team. Thank You, Title IX

Posted By on Tue, Jul 9, 2019 at 2:44 PM

ALEX MORGAN, LINDSEY HORAN, MEGAN RAPINOE. COURTESY OF FLICKR
  • Alex Morgan, Lindsey Horan, Megan Rapinoe. Courtesy of Flickr

The U.S. Women's Soccer Team, new World Cup champions, deserve every bit of praise and glory bestowed upon them by their fans and the media. But somewhere in the midst of the speechifying, it would be great to hear one of them say, "I want to thank the U.S. Congress, without which this victory would not have been possible probable."

That's the 1972 Congress I'm talking about, the one that voted Title IX into existence. We can thank that piece of legislation for the dominance of U.S. women athletes on the world stage.

Title IX changed everything for women's athletic programs in our schools, though not a word of it refers to sports. It reads,
"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
The crafters of Title IX knew how revolutionary those 36 words were, and they were crafty enough to keep that to themselves until it worked its way through Congress and was signed into law by President Nixon. Most legislators thought Title IX had something to do with equal pay at universities, if they thought about it at all.

But Title IX changed the playing field, literally. It meant women's sports were supposed to receive equal funding to men's sports. Women and girls had the same right to participate in school sports as men and boys, in colleges and K-12 schools.

Take Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the three time gold medalist in Olympic track and field. As a young girl, she was a cheerleader, because that's what girls did if they wanted to be part of a school sports program. Thanks to Title IX, she became a member of her high school track team, and the rest is herstory. Joyner-Kersee was one of countless women who found their athletic calling — or simply had a chance to participate in sports at the schools they attended — because of Title IX.

It's a wonderful story, but as often happens when a group of people are granted rights they hadn't previously enjoyed, it wasn't as simple as that. The implementation of Title IX followed a bumpy road.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

Why the Common Wisdom About TUSD's Declining Enrollment Is Wrong

Posted By on Fri, Jul 5, 2019 at 1:34 PM

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Two men I admire, Jim Nintzel, the editor here at the Weekly, and talk show host John C. Scott, have frustrated the hell out of me recently. Both men know more about Tucson and Arizona than I would if I lived another lifetime. Both are intelligent, perceptive analysts of the political scene. Neither accepts the “common wisdom” just because it’s what other people think.

Well, they don’t accept the common wisdom in most cases, anyway. When it comes to TUSD, though, Scott and Nintzel seem to go along with the prevailing notion that the school district is doing a terrible job and has brought its problems, specifically its loss of students, on itself.

Common wisdom always has a kernel of logic to it. If TUSD has lost an average of 900 students a year for the past 18 years, it’s only logical, it's something they’ve done. Isn't it? How can it not be the district's fault?

The problem is, the common wisdom about TUSD is wrong.

This all came up because of one of my recent posts, A Multi-Factored Look At TUSD's Enrollment Decline. My main point was that the district’s precipitous enrollment decline over the past 18 years has more to do with outside factors than with the district itself. Two of the factors were created by the state legislature when it green-lighted charter schools and open enrollment in 1994, creating two new forms of competition for students. The third factor is the city’s population, which essentially stopped growing around 2000, meaning TUSD hasn’t had an influx of new students to replace the ones who left.

When I talked about this on John C. Scott’s show, he came back with a litany of sins TUSD has committed which have led to parents pulling their children out of the district — problems with student discipline, poor administration, poor money management and so on.

Most of what Scott said about TUSD is true, but not his contention that the problems he listed are the primary reasons students have left the district.

Nintzel agreed with me about the mechanism for TUSD’s enrollment decline, but said I haven’t paid enough attention to parents' dissatisfaction with the district which led them to send their children elsewhere.

Nintzel is right that dissatisfaction with TUSD leads many parents to seek other options for their children, but often, their dissatisfaction has more to do with the changing ethnic and economic makeup of Tucson than anything the district has done.

The arguments made by Scott and Nintzel aren’t wrong factually. They’re wrong in emphasis, putting too much blame on the district and too little on national demographic shifts and Arizona’s Republican politicians’ continuing efforts to dismantle our district-based, publicly run school system by encouraging school privatization. Compound those factors with Tuscon’s glacial population growth over the past few decades, and you have a recipe for plummeting enrollment.

Unfortunately, their views mirror the local “common wisdom” about TUSD. Attacking TUSD has turned into a blood sport, and that’s bad news for the district and the city. When people magnify TUSD’s problems, it encourages even more people to leave the district. And the notion that TUSD is responsible for the problems it faces gives the impression that the district should be able to turn this thing around if it can just get its act together. What the district actually needs is thoughtful, incremental improvements to help it better serve the needs of the community.

Let me lay out what I believe to be true about the changing nature of TUSD and many similar urban districts across the country. Admittedly, this is a subjective view, but it’s based on extensive study of urban education in the U.S.

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Friday, June 28, 2019

The Privatization Movement is Losing Support From Democrats and the Occasional Billionaire

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2019 at 4:10 PM

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Vouchers have never been very popular with a majority of Democrats. But charter schools? Plenty of Democrats, voters and politicians alike, have supported them with the same enthusiasm as Republicans. President Obama, Vice President Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan were big charter boosters, creating policies which led to an increase in the number and distribution of the schools around the country. Presidential hopeful and former Newark, New Jersey, mayor Cory Booker has long been a vocal charter advocate. And they weren't alone. Many Democrats in local, state and national office either actively supported the spread of charters or quietly accepted their presence, and Democratic voters followed suit.

That's changing. Democratic candidates who give full-throated endorsements to charter schools are becoming an endangered species. Biden is shifting away from his support of charters. Booker tries to avoid the subject. Democrats across the political landscape are emphasizing increasing teacher salaries, boosting funding for Title 1 and putting more money into school infrastructure. Charters, many of them are saying, are siphoning money away from the schools which educate the vast majority of our children.

Democratic voters are moving in the same direction.

That could spell trouble for the charter school movement, which has counted on bipartisan agreement that our public schools are a mess and we need an infusion of new schools and new approaches — read, charter schools — to give children, especially poor and minority children, a better chance at a quality education. If one side of the political aisle representing half the country's population no longer supports charters, the schools' future becomes shaky.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Did I Underestimate the Impact Of Open Enrollment In My Last Post?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 26, 2019 at 2:33 PM

COURTESY OF BIGSTOCK
  • Courtesy of BigStock

Last week I wrote that Arizona's open enrollment policy is one of the three major factors leading to the decline in TUSD enrollment since 2000, the others being charters schools and a slowdown in Tucson's population growth. I estimated somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 students living inside district boundaries attend schools in other districts.

It looks like I low-balled my estimate. The actual figure appears to be at least double what I came up with, meaning the impact of open enrollment on TUSD's loss of students, and on Arizona's education landscape, is more significant than I realized.

Since Arizona's new open enrollment policy was put into operation in 1995, students can attend any public school that has an empty desk. In district, out of district, it doesn't matter so long as parents can find a way to transport their children to the schoolhouse door. Students inside a school's attendance area and inside the district get first shot at going to a school, but after that, it's open to everyone.

So how many students living in the TUSD attendance area go to schools in other districts? In my post I arrived at a range of students by the back door. I looked at the number of open enrollment students in the Catalina Foothills School District — a whopping 3,000 out of a total student population of 5,200 — along with anecdotal information from Vail School District and used that to arrive at an estimate of 1,500 to 3,000 students. I was pretty sure that was low, but I wanted to stay on the conservative side.

A few days after I finished the post, by one of those odd coincidences which happen all the time, an Arizona Charter Schools Association piece came across my desktop with figures about how many students participate in open enrollment. In the study it cited, 31 percent of students in 9 Maricopa County school districts went to public, non-charter schools which weren't their neighborhood schools. That's twice the 16 percent who attend charter schools.

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

A Multi-Factored Look At TUSD's Enrollment Decline

Posted By on Thu, Jun 20, 2019 at 1:32 PM


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Tucson Unified School District has been losing students steadily since 2000. Lots of students. At its turn-of-the-millenium high point, the district had 62,500 students. This school year, the number was 46,000. That's a loss of 16,500 students, over 900 a year.

Why is TUSD losing students year after year? The answer you're most likely to hear is, the district is the problem. It's the administration. It's the teachers. It's the curriculum. It's "D," all of the above. Fix the administration, fix the teachers, fix the curriculum, and the numbers will climb.

But the standard answer is far too simple. The district may deserve part of the blame for declining enrollment, but most of the drop was inevitable, created by changes in Arizona's educational landscape and a slowing of Tucson's population growth.

For the sake of argument, let's start with the assumption that TUSD is no better or worse now than it was at its 2000 high water mark of 62,500 students and see what else is causing the district to lose students.

I see three factors beyond the control of the district as the major reasons for the enrollment decline.

Two of the factors were created by the Arizona legislature's push for "school choice." The first is the emergence of charter schools. The competition for a limited pool of students means that every student inside the TUSD boundaries who attends a charter is one less student in the district. The second is the state's open enrollment policy, which lets parents send their children to schools in nearby districts. Open enrollment gets far less attention than charter schools, but it is a significant force pulling students living inside the TUSD boundaries to suburban school districts with more affluent, whiter populations.

The third important factor is the slowdown of Tucson's population growth. Students lost to charter schools and open enrollment haven't been replaced by an influx of new students.

Let's look at the factors one by one.

Charter Schools

Arizona's first charter schools opened their doors in 1995. They grew steadily, but since they started from zero, it took awhile for them to have an impact on school districts' enrollment numbers.

In 2000, 50,000 Arizona students were enrolled in charters. I don't have any direct data on how many of those charter students lived inside the TUSD boundaries, but a reasonable estimate is about 3,500. TUSD students made up about 7 percent of the state's public school population in 2000, and 3,500 is 7 percent of the state's charter school population.

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Monday, June 10, 2019

Is The Charter School Bandwagon Losing Momentum?

Posted By on Mon, Jun 10, 2019 at 3:14 PM

ILLUSTRATION FROM WIKIMEDIA.ORG GRAPHIC
  • Illustration from wikimedia.org graphic

"The charter school movement is in trouble." So begins an article in the Washington Post. I think that's an exaggeration. Charter schools aren't in trouble as such — their numbers are still on the rise — but they may be cresting. Their once-shiny reputation is tarnishing. Charter proponents' mouths have made too many promises the schools can't keep, and people are beginning to take notice.

Some folks who have read my charter-related posts think I'm opposed to charter schools. Not so. I support any school — district, charter or private — with good teachers, a good curriculum and a strong overall educational philosophy. Plenty of charters fit that description. I would have no problem recommending a charter school to parents if I thought it was a good fit for their children.

What I'm against is the charter school PR machine, part of the ridiculously well funded "education reform"/privatization movement. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year demonizing public education while praising charters as the answer to our educational prayers, then propping up the schools with funding above and beyond what they get from the state.

District schools deserve criticism, but not the "failing schools" slam they get from privatizers, and charters hardly deserve the lavish praise they receive from their financial patrons. That's why I go heavy on charter criticism. With all the money and effort perpetuating the myth of charter school superiority, I feel it's my duty to debunk their myth-making whenever I can.

The first charters began in the early nineties. Arizona's charters opened for business in 1995. The schools have had nearly 30 years to prove their worth. Yet when you look at legitimate studies comparing charters and district schools, the results are pretty much a wash. In one state, charter school students have better scores than similar students in district schools. In another state it's the district schools that have the edge. Charter students may have higher test scores in fourth grade math while district schools top charters in eighth grade English, or vice versa.

People on both sides of the argument can cherry-pick the data to fit their narrative, but when you look at the numbers as a whole, the differences in student achievement are so slight as to be insignificant. If parents choose well, they can send their children to excellent charter schools, but if they fall prey to false advertising, they might end up sending their children to some of the worst schools you'll find anywhere.

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Friday, June 7, 2019

Grow with Google headed to Joel D. Valdez Main Library

Posted By on Fri, Jun 7, 2019 at 11:16 AM

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Grow with Google is a day-long FREE event on Monday, June 10 at Joel D. Valdez Main Library that will include workshops and one-on-one consultations for businesses, nonprofits, and job seekers. Google staff will be on-site at this special event aimed to boost economic growth and a skilled workforce in southern Arizona.

You don't want to miss this one!
  • 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
    One-on-One Coaching
    Register for your 20-minute consultation in the library on the day of the event. Consultations will be offered in English and Spanish.
In addition to one-on-one coaching four workshops will be offered. Reserve your spot in your preferred sessions with Google online. Space is limited.
Questions? Visit library.pima.gov or call Infoline at (520) 791-4010.

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