Education

Monday, January 20, 2020

Results-Based Funding: The Haves and Have-Mores

Posted By on Mon, Jan 20, 2020 at 2:16 PM

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"This is an impressive crowd - the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elites. I call you my base." George W. Bush
Bush made the comment at a high-rollers charity dinner where presidential candidates poke fun at themselves and their campaigns. Like any good self-deprecating joke, Bush's quip is on the money. In this case, literally on the money.

The HHM, the haves and have-mores. They're as much Doug Ducey's base as they were George Bush's. You see their fingerprints all over Ducey's education agenda. When he favors tax cuts over bringing schools back to their 2008 funding levels, that's all about the HHM. And he was thinking about their children when he created the results-based funding scheme. The way the funding is given out, the HHM's children are nearly certain to come out winners.

In my last post I compared how much results-based funding went to students in TUSD, Vail and the BASIS charter chain. Vail, it turns out, gets more than three times as much per student as TUSD. With one exception, every BASIS school is fully funded. That's because funding is based on the percentage of a school's students who pass the state's high stakes test, which is right in the wheelhouse of schools in high rent areas. For a district like TUSD which draws from many families living below the poverty level, passing the state test and qualifying for the funding is more hit-and-miss.

In a world where Ducey is governor and the legislature is majority Republican, the rich get richer, and their children get a richer education courtesy of results-based funding.

I decided to take a deeper dive into the data to see how the money is distributed to schools with children across the economic spectrum. I found funding inequities everywhere I looked.

Before I lay out the numbers, here are a few things I know for sure.

• A school doesn't deserve results-based funding just because it has no more than 10 percent of its students living below the poverty level.

• A school with 60 percent of its students below the poverty level is not 10 times more deserving of results-based funding than a school with 59 percent of its students below the poverty level.

• Any competent computer programmer could create a system for giving out the results-based funding in a more equitable way.

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Results-Based Funding: A Tale Of Two Districts And a Charter Chain

Posted By on Thu, Jan 16, 2020 at 10:56 AM

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If Doug Ducey bragged about adding $70 per student to the K-12 education budget, the news would be received with yawns from the vaguely interested and howls of outrage from people who know Arizona needs to add a thousand dollars per student to reach Mississippi funding levels, two thousand to reach Arkansas and three thousand to reach Louisiana. In Arizona funding dollars, that translates to an added one billion, two billion and three billion dollars respectively.

So $70 per student, about $72 million total, doesn't even qualify as small potatoes compared to the funding Arizona needs to equal some of the poorest southern states, let alone the rest of the nation. It's chump change.

But Ducey is getting away with bragging about $72 million for schools by spending it, using words from his State of the State speech, "to reward and replicate success in our best public schools." Those "successful" schools will get either $225 or $400 per student from a program with the impressive-sounding name, results-based funding. True, only a quarter of the state's district and charter schools get any money, but it's supposed to be a reward for success, which sounds like a good thing.

Except that "success" is measured by the percentage of a school's students who pass the state's AZMerit exam, and as most everyone knows, students from higher income families tend to do a whole lot better on the tests than students from lower income families. So if it's all about passing rates, all the money would go to schools in high rent areas, and that would be too obviously, grossly unfair, even for Governor Ducey.

What to do?

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Friday, January 3, 2020

Charter Schools: The Good, The Bad and The Costly

Posted By on Fri, Jan 3, 2020 at 3:08 PM

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Two recent, lengthy reviews on charter schools are both worth taking a look at.

One is a series of articles by the Arizona Republic reporter Craig Harris, who visited seven states to put together a big picture look at the charter school scene. Harris is probably the most even-handed reporter I've read on the subject. Most writers, including me, come at charter schools with some set agenda, which means the analyses are shaped by the writers' educational preconceptions. That's what makes Harris' reporting so refreshing. He detests charter waste and fraud and has gone after financial corruption in Arizona's charter sector with a passion. But when he looks at schools themselves, he tries to evaluate them on their merits. He finds things to like and dislike.

Harris' most recent investigative report focuses on charters in states other than Arizona which have a record of increasing the performance of students from low income families. The article links back to the earlier articles if you want to read the whole series.

The other important piece of investigative reporting comes from the Network for Public Education, a group begun by educational historian Diane Ravitch and others which has grown into a significant force in the educational battles raging across the country. NPE is decidedly against education privatization and the so-called "education reform" movement in general, which means you're not likely to hear much from them in the way of praise for charter schools. The recent report from NPE details the $1 billion in federal money wasted on charter schools which either never opened or closed since receiving the funds.


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Friday, December 20, 2019

The Predatory History Of For-Profit Colleges

Posted By on Fri, Dec 20, 2019 at 1:49 PM

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It needs to be written in big, bold, flashing red neon letters: Beware of For-Profit Education. Kindergarten through college, all of it. If for-profit education is not banned outright, then we need to regulate and enforce the hell out of it.

Case in point: the for-profit college industry.

For-profit colleges have taken some recent, well deserved hits after decades of swindling their students. Just this month, the University of Phoenix was fined $191 million for its misleading advertising and predatory recruiting tactics. The 105-campus, for-profit Corinthian College chain dissolved in 2015 under the weight of its own misdeeds.

The Obama administration began the latest attempts to clamp down on the worst excesses of the industry — there were a number of earlier attempts — and set about forgiving college loans for students who were bilked by for-profit colleges. The Never-Obama Trump administration has reversed many of the previous administration's regulatory measures, while Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was held in contempt of court for accidentally-on-purpose bungling the process of loan forgiveness.

Not many people were talking about the sins of the for-profit college industry when I began blogging about them a decade ago, beginning with a piece I wrote in November 2009, For profit colleges need oversight as well. At the time I thought I was being prescient. I thought I was ahead of the curve. It turns out I was actually three decades behind, or 60 years behind if you go back to the genesis of the problem at the end of World War II.

Here is a brief history of the abuses of for-profit higher education and ongoing, bipartisan attempts to fix the unintended consequences of well-meaning legislation which allowed the industry to run roughshod over its customers, followed by the George W. Bush administration's intentional reversal of anti-profiteering regulations so it could run rampant once again. I'm drawing most of the information from a long, detailed history contained in a report by the Century Foundation.

For-profit education scams date back to the 1944 GI Bill, which gave returning soldiers the opportunity to enroll in colleges and training programs. Unscrupulous entrepreneurs took advantage of the easy government money and offered bogus programs to GIs. Investigative reports exposed the fraud as early as 1946 in articles like the Saturday Evening Post's “Are We Making a Bum Out of GI Joe?” Congress passed a series of laws to correct the abuses beginning in 1948 and continuing through the 1950s.

In the 1960s, programs which were part of President Lyndon Johnson's War of Poverty opened new opportunities for scam artists to create fraudulent training programs. In 1971, Carl Bernstein, a few years before he and Bob Woodward began on their famous reporting on the Watergate break-in and its aftermath, wrote a series of articles about abuses at trade schools in Washington DC. Other investigative articles followed in other areas of the country. As a result, the office of Health Education and Welfare imposed new restrictions.

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

What Will It Take For Arizona's Education Funding to Catch Up With Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and That Distant Star, West Virginia?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 12, 2019 at 1:43 PM

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The next Arizona legislative session is on the horizon. Legislators are dropping bills ranging from the sublime — another attempt at ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment — to the ridiculous — prohibiting teachers from discussing the environment from an economic or social perspective.

It's never too early to talk about next year's K-12 education funding, even though the budget is usually the last thing the legislature votes on. So let's talk about it.

When I began blogging in 2008, I wrote a post, We’re Number One!.. In Lowest Per-Student School Spending. It was based on an article in the Star which cited a study putting Arizona at the bottom of the nation in per-student spending.

Ten years later, in 2018, we spent a thousand dollars less per student than in 2008 when you adjust for inflation. To get back to 2008's lowest-in-the-nation levels would have taken an additional billion dollars. We caught up a little this past legislative session thanks to pressure from the #RedforEd movement, but not much. We're still spending significantly less per student than we did a decade ago.

According to the state rankings for 2017-18 from the National Education Association, Arizona's per-student funding is $8,123. It's better than Utah and Idaho, but that's it. We're third from the bottom. The national average is $12,920, half again as much as we spend. You might find different figures elsewhere depending on how the numbers are crunched, but the NEA's are in the same ballpark as most other sources, and since it uses a consistent methodology across the country, we can compare spending state to state.

We have about a million students in our district and charter schools, which means it takes a billion dollars to add a thousand dollars per student. Arizona is $4,800 below the national average, so just to be average, we would have to spend another $4.8 billion a year.

It's true, Arizona isn't a rich state. It's possible average is more than we can manage. Maybe third from the bottom is the best we can do.

Or maybe not. I looked at what four southern states spend per student: Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and West Virginia. All four states have a median income about $10,000 lower than Arizona's. According to a listing of states from richest to poorest, they rank among the five poorest states, while Arizona comes in at 27. Yet all four states have figured out how to spend significantly more per student than Arizona, between a thousand and four-and-a-half thousand more.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Where Have All The Teachers Gone? (Long Time Passing)

Posted By on Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 2:52 PM

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A long time has passed since my first year of teaching. Fifty years ago this September I began my 30-plus year career as a high school teacher. (Yes, I'm that old.) I taught in a one-high-school district outside of Riverside, California. The district wasn't my first choice, but it was the only job I was offered. Teaching jobs were scarce.

The next year I applied for a job in the Portland, Oregon, area. Again, only one district offered me a job, which I took. I stayed there until I retired in 2003.

I was an English teacher, which was a liability. Too many prospective English teachers were chasing too few jobs. But the jobs were there if you looked. By the time I had been teaching a few years, though, college education profs were warning their students, if you're planning to get a credential in English or social studies, you could be in trouble. Openings in those areas were few and far between. It would be a good idea, students were told, to get a second credential in another area to hedge your bets. People who could teach math, science and special education were in demand, not English and social studies teachers.

Over the years, I may have had some colleagues who didn't have traditional teaching credentials. If so, I don't remember them, and I'm sure they weren't in the English department. I can say with reasonable certainty, no classrooms in schools where I taught had full time substitutes. There were plenty of credentialed teachers to go around.

Today, too many Arizona teachers lack a teaching credential. Too many classes are being managed by full time substitutes. And Arizona is hardly alone. The same is true in other states.

Where have all the teachers gone?

I kept my 1969 contract, my version of taping the first dollar I made to the wall. My salary was $7,140. That's in 1969 dollars, of course. A 1969 dollar would be worth a little more than seven dollars today. So figuring for inflation, my first year salary was the equivalent of $50,000 today.

Today's average starting salary in Arizona is in the $35,000 range.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ex-Education Superintendent John Huppenthal And I Have a Rare Moment Of Agreement, About State Grades

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2019 at 8:52 AM

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It's the oddest thing. Ex-Superindent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal doesn't appear to like A-F state school grades any more than I do. And, to raise the level of oddity a notch, he was superintendent in 2011 when the state grading system went into effect.

I was a regular Huppenthal critic when he served as Education Superintendent from 2011 to 2015. These days, he is a frequent commenter on my posts, and I continue to disagree with him on almost every educational issue worth disagreeing on. But under my last post criticizing the state grading system, Huppenthal chimed in with a total of five comments, which he summed up when he wrote, "The letter grading system does more damage than good. And, I am the guy who originally put it into state law." He went on to write, "They mix two calculations which can't be mixed: growth and achievement."

I agree with every word.

As I wrote in the previous post, the A-F grading system doesn't help much when, to use the example of two elementary schools in TUSD, a school with about 25 percent of its students passing the state's high stakes test and another school with about 70 percent passing both got a "B" state grade in 2019.

It doesn't make any sense to regular human beings that schools with such widely different student passing rates should get the same grade. To understand, you have to know that the school with a 25 percent passing rate increased about ten points from 2018, while the 70 percent school dropped about four points. You also have to know that student growth makes up half of a school's grade.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

They've Improved The State's School Grading System. Now It Tells Us Even Less Than It Used To.

Posted By on Mon, Nov 18, 2019 at 3:34 PM

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First came high stakes tests, the educational equivalent of trying to improve children's physical fitness by measuring their body mass index, strength and stamina, then measuring them again next year. And the next year. And the year after that.

High stakes tests yield terabytes of data, but no measurable student improvement. All we learn from the time consuming, curriculum distorting exercise is, test scores correlate with family income. Actually, we don't even learn that. We knew it already.

Then came A-F school grades issued by the state based on students' scores on the high stakes tests. In their original form, they were just a different way of presenting schools' test scores. The only added value was, they made intuitive sense to people who want a simple way of rating schools. We all know what letter grades on report cards mean, so the system was easy to understand. Schools with an "A" or "B" grade were likely to have mostly middle-to-high income students and high academic achievement. The "C," "D" and "F" schools were likely to have lower income students and lower academic achievement.

Lots of people complained about the grades, with good reason. They echoed the class bias of test scores, but the grades made the results were even more judgmental. They lavished praise on schools with high income students — "You get an A! You get a B! — while they labeled schools with low income students anywhere from average to failing. No matter how talented the teachers and administrators at the schools teaching low income students were, no matter how hard they worked, it was nearly impossible for them to get the top grades schools with higher income students received as a matter of course.

People at the Department of Education heard the complaints, so they decided to try and make the grading system more nuanced. Educators, statisticians and computer techies set to work to create a weighting system which made the grades more equitable.

The changes were at least a partial success. The current state grades reflect more than the students' family income. That's a step in the right direction, isn't it?

Well, maybe. But the changes create a new problem. If the new, improved grading system doesn't tell us which schools have the highest test scores, what does it tell us?

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