Thursday, March 21, 2019

How Did Edbuild Get Arizona's Per-Student Funding Numbers So Wrong?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2019 at 1:51 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

I have a column in the print edition of the Weekly discussing Edbuild's national study on per student funding. The fact is, Arizona does a reasonably good job of balancing its funding across districts, but Edbuild's study says Arizona's funding gap between predominantly white and nonwhite districts is the worst in the country — a $7,613 difference. That figure is wildly wrong.

This post is a short-version review of how badly Edbuild crunched the numbers. We're going to take a look at a hypothetical school district to see where Edbuild went wrong.

The Gulliver Valley School District is a small district with only two schools, Liliput School and Brobdingnag School. Because Liliput is in a sparsely populated area, it only has 47 students, and it spends $19,700 per student. That sounds like a lot of money, but it costs more to educate a small number of students.

Brobdingnag is in a more populated area. It has 2,425 students. Because of economies of scale, it is able to educate its students for $6,400 per student.

Here's a math problem. How much does Gulliver Valley District spend per student overall?

Now, you might decide to take the per-student funding number for each school and average the two. If you did, you would say the district spends $13,050 per student.

But that's not right. You can't just average the per student cost of two schools when one has 50 times more students than the other. It's more complicated than that.

If you weight the funding figures for the two schools based on the number of students in each school, you come up with a figure of $6,653 per student for the entire district. That's the right answer.

Edbuild, for some reason, chose the first, overly simplistic way of arriving at the average per student funding over a number of districts rather than the second. That's why Edbuild's numbers are so wrong.

If you want to know more, go to my column in the Weekly.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Share Your "Tales From Tumamoc" at the Cuéntame Más Camper

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2019 at 4:06 PM

The Cuéntame Más: Tales From Tumamoc mobile recording studio is open to the public on select days through April 7. - PHOTO BY BILL HATCHER, COURTESY UA NEWS
  • Photo by Bill Hatcher, Courtesy UA News
  • The Cuéntame Más: Tales From Tumamoc mobile recording studio is open to the public on select days through April 7.
Have you hiked Tumamoc Hill recently and noticed a little camper parked by the gate at the middle? "Cuéntame Más" the trailer says.

As part of an interdisciplinary oral history project run by scholars from the University of Arizona, a mobile recording studio has been set up to collect stories of hikers walking by.

"It is essentially Story Corps for Tumamoc," said Ben Wilder, director of Tumamoc Hill, in a release. "We want to hear what Tumamoc Hill means to you to better understand the unique connection between people and this place."

The UA Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry and the Desert Laboratory Tumamoc Hill have collaborated on this project and the camper, which opened for storytelling on March 12.

On select days between now and April 7, the camper will be open for hikers to stop by and share their stories. The tales will be taken down on audio, and each speaker has the option of having their photo taken by National Geographic photographer Bill Hatcher.

The images and stories will be shared via Desert Lab and Confluencenter on Instagram at @confluencenteruofa and @desert.laboratory.

"Just as Humans of New York is able to give you a sense of the vibrant culture of a city and intimate stories we all have, Tales From Tumamoc will capture the remarkable stories right here in the heart of our city," said Javier Duran, director of the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry in a release.

To find out when the camper will be open and collecting stories, and to learn more about the project, click here.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Arizona Spends $7,613 More Per Student In White Districts Than In Nonwhite Districts? Really? (Answer: No, Not Really)

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 2:47 PM


According to a recent study by Edbuild, Arizona spends $7,613 more per student in predominantly white districts than predominantly nonwhite districts. That would make us the most inequitable state in the nation when it comes to funding our school districts.

Edbuild's study was picked up by media outlets across the country. You can read all about it in the New York Times, the Washington Post and hear about it on CNN and NPR, to name a few major outlets that carried the story. It's also been covered by Arizona media.

If the $7,613 figure comes from a reputable nonprofit which focuses on problems of funding inequality and segregation in the nation’s public schools and is repeated often enough in the media, it must be right. Right?

Wrong. As I explain in an article which will be running in Thursday's print edition of the Weekly, the figure is not only wrong, it's wildly wrong. Arizona may do a lousy job of funding its schools, but it does a reasonably good job of spreading the money out evenly across districts.

For almost 30 years, Arizona has used a funding equalization formula to distribute money to school districts. Before that, schools were funded primarily by local property taxes, which meant districts with expensive homes were rolling in education dough while districts with lower property values struggled to find enough money to run their schools.

Arizona's equalization system is far from perfect. Some school districts, mainly in high rent areas, find ways to game the system and bring in extra money for their students. But compared to other states, we do a fairly good job of evening out the money each district receives.

Instead of being labeled as one of the worst offenders in the way we distribute our education funds, we should be praised as one of the best.

Here are three reasons I know we're doing a reasonably good job of equalizing education funding:

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Latest College Admission Scandal? Yawn.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2019 at 3:16 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

Some parents paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions of dollars, to bribe and cheat their children's way into big name colleges. That means an equal number of deserving students were denied admission. Fifty people have been named in the scandal so far.

And that's supposed to be a big deal? The college admissions scandal of the century? You can't be serious.

Here's a genuine scandal: the number of "legacy" students at top colleges. Take Harvard as an example. Legacies make up 14 percent of the undergraduate population. One in seven undergrads strolling around Harvard Yard are there because one of their parents strolled down those same ivy-league walkways.

That's about 950 of Harvard's 6,700 undergrads. Next September, 280 new legacies will cycle into the school. And that's just one big-name school.

"Legacies" are students who have a parent who attended the college, which increases their chances of admission. If the parents put a little cash into the college coffers — a lot of cash is even better — admission chances are even higher.

People who work in Harvard admissions have said its applicants are so strong, the college could admit two freshman classes of equal quality. If Harvard got rid of the legacies, 280 more highly qualified students could be admitted.

To be fair, I'm sure some of the legacies have what it takes to do well at Harvard, but I'm equally sure the vast majority would not have made the freshmen class if they had to rely on their own merits. What are the odds that 280 of the top Harvard applicants each year just happen to be children of a handful of alumni?

Back to the college admissions "scandal of the century." All that's happened is the people involved in the scandal have taken the initiative to create their own "Make your own legacy" reality show. It's the same kind of privilege for the same class of people, with a felonious twist thrown in.

Continue reading »

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Monday, March 11, 2019

UA Planetary Scientist to Study Unopened Moon Samples

Posted By on Mon, Mar 11, 2019 at 2:27 PM

  • BigStock
Astronauts in the Apollo Program not only walked on the moon, but they also collected samples to bring back to Earth. Now, one UA planetary scientist will be among the first to study these previously unopened samples.

Jessica Barnes is starting at the UA next semester as an assistant professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. She and her research team have been chosen by NASA to receive funding to study the lunar samples.

  • Courtesy UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
  • Jessica Barnes
Scientists nationwide participating in the Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis, or ANGSA Program, will study samples that were brought to Earth in the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 programs from 1971 and 1972.

Barnes and her team will be studying rock from Apollo 17, the last mission where humans visited the moon on Dec. 11, 1972. Since the samples were brought to Earth, they have been stored frozen and undisturbed.

"The question we want to answer is, are we measuring the true moon signature? Or are there terrestrial influences that have affected the samples during their storage?'" Barnes said in a release. "The beauty of a frozen sample is that it's been kept curated in a different way from the samples stored at room temperature. We could not do this research without opening the frozen samples."

The research team will encase the samples in resin and slice them microscopically thin to analyze their chemical makeup.

Barnes and her team hope that their research will inform the handling and storage of samples collected by the UA-led OSIRIS-REx mission currently en route to retrieving samples from asteroid Bennu.

Barnes' full team includes Tom Zega, also at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Jeremy Boyce and Scott Messenger at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Jed Mosenfelder of the University of Minnesota, Carolyn Crow of the University of Colorado Boulder and Maryjo Brounce of the University of California Riverside.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Instructional Spending Made Simple

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2019 at 1:05 PM


It's coming up on state budget time, and the big national money-in-education story is, Arizona is one of twelve states spending less per student now than they did before the 2008 recession— and we know Arizona was hardly generous with its schools before that. But that story makes it sound like the legislature needs to put a whole lot more money into schools, and that's not something they're about to do.

So it's time to revive the blame-the-schools story about how unwisely Arizona districts spend their education dollars. It's a great way to justify under-funding schools. Nothing says "wasteful spending" like a low percentage of funding going into the classroom.

According to an article that came out last week, Arizona schools put 54 percent of their budgets into instruction. The national average is 60.4 percent.

Shame on Arizona schools! Shame! Shame!

Or maybe not. Let's take a look at those same numbers in a different, but not entirely different, situation.

A family of four has an income of $26,000. It spends $1,000 a month on housing, or $12,000 a year. The remaining $14,000 goes for general family expenses. Housing eats up 46 percent of their income. That leaves 54 percent for family expenses.

Another family of four lives next door and also spends $12,000 a year on housing. However, their income is $30,400, meaning they have $18,400 to spend on general family expenses. For this family, housing only takes up 40 percent of their income, which means they have 60 percent left for family expenses.

I guess you could say the second family makes wise use of its money because it spends 60 percent on food, clothing, transportation, entertainment and other miscellaneous expenses. Using the same logic, I suppose you could blame the first family for budgeting too little on general family expenses.

But you would be missing the point. The point is, both spend the same amount on housing. The difference is, the second family has a bigger pot of money to dip into, so it has more left over for everything else. The other family has to make do on far less.

Now, let's take what we've learned from the example back to the education arena.

Continue reading »

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Friday, March 1, 2019

And the Winners For Civic Engagement Are . . . Schools That Submitted Applications

Posted By on Fri, Mar 1, 2019 at 12:59 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

I suppose it's possible that Mesa Public Schools have the finest civic engagement programs in the state, and that's why its schools make up 17 of the 31 schools recognized by the Arizona Department of Education for their "Dedication to High Quality Civic Engagement." Maybe Mesa schools are that good.

Or maybe their schools' most stellar achievement in civic engagement is engaging with the ADE by turning in applications to receive the honor.

(Two schools in southern Arizona were among those recognized, both in Tucson: TUSD's Safford K-8 School and the Paulo Freire Freedom School University charter school.)

Ex-Superintendent John Huppenthal instituted the program and handed out its first recognitions in 2013. That year 28 schools applied and 22 were recognized. In 2014, 31 schools applied and 27 were recognized. When Diane Douglas took over, she ended the tradition of including the number of schools that applied, so I don't know if she continued the tradition of accepting all but a handful of applicants.

Since 2014, Mesa schools captured at least half the awards each year.

The application isn't especially long or detailed. It asks schools to estimate the percentage of teachers who engage in civic education with their students in ten categories, then asks for a brief explanation of the nature of the engagement. A panel goes over the applications and decides if they make the cut. If so, they are designated Schools of Merit, Schools of Distinction or Schools of Excellence.

Civic engagement for students is important, and it's a nice idea to recognize standout schools, but this honor bestowed on schools by the ADE is meaningless. It gives schools the opportunity to hang a banner in the halls and brag in a newsletter, but that's pretty much it. Apply and you shall likely receive, the ADE signals schools, so long as you're generous in your estimation of the percentage of your teachers whose students are civically engaged.

This is Superintendent Kathy Hoffman's first year and the deadline for the civic engagement application ended before she took office, so she gets a pass on this one. I recommend she takes a look at the six year old program and either figure out a way to make it mean something or choose to opt out of the self parody her two predecessors indulged in.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Charter School Teachers On Strike: A Privatizer's Nightmare

Posted By on Tue, Feb 26, 2019 at 1:44 PM

  • courtesy of flickr

As I write this, teachers in Oakland, California, are out on strike for the fourth day. Some charter school teachers are organizing a sick-out to join the district teachers.

In Los Angeles, teachers went on strike in January, ending with a contract agreement with the district. A small group of charter school teachers joined them on the picket lines.

Charter teachers joining a school district strike should put a scare into the privatization/"education reform" crowd. Here's something even scarier. Last December, unionized teachers from a Chicago charter network held the nation's first charter school strike. The teachers succeeded in getting a pay raise, lowering class sizes and granting undocumented students sanctuary.

Then this month, 200 teachers at another Chicago charter school chain were out on strike for two weeks.
Led by the Chicago Teachers Union, striking charter educators staged a camera-ready civil disobedience campaign that filled downtown sidewalks with loud protests, blocked access to a Loop office tower used by CICS board President Laura Thonn and crowded outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office for a Valentine’s Day card writing campaign.
The new contract will include "pay raises, class-size limits, one week of paid parental leave and shorter work schedules."

The strikes are the visible tip of the charter school unionization iceberg. Many other charters have unionized teachers who regularly engage in collective bargaining with their charter organizations.

It's a privatizer's nightmare.

Continue reading »

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Staff Pick

Menopause the Musical!

The cast of four fabulous women shop for laundry at a Bloomingdale’s sale, sing 25 songs about… More

@ The Gaslight Music Hall Tue., March 19, 6-8 p.m., Wed., March 20, 6-8 p.m., Thu., March 21, 6-8 p.m., Fri., March 22, 6-8 p.m., Sun., March 24, 2-4 & 6-8 p.m., Mon., March 25, 6-8 p.m., Tue., March 26, 6-8 p.m., Wed., March 27, 6-8 p.m., Thu., March 28, 6-8 p.m., Fri., March 29, 6-8 p.m., Sun., March 31, 2-4 & 6-8 p.m., Mon., April 1, 6-8 p.m., Tue., April 2, 6-8 p.m., Wed., April 3, 6-8 p.m. and Thu., April 4, 6-8 p.m. 13005 N Oracle Rd

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