Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Comparative Look at TUSD's AzMERIT Scores

Posted By on Tue, Jan 23, 2018 at 10:26 AM

  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
Back in September, I promised to create a comparison of Tucson Unified scores on the 2017 state AzMERIT test with similar schools in other districts, because I was unhappy with comparisons between Tucson's district and neighboring districts with wildly different demographics. I spelled out how I planned to approach the comparison before I looked at any of the data, and I've stayed true to my basic design.

I compared elementary schools with similar racial and economic characteristics in Tucson, Sunnyside, Flowing Wells, Douglas, Nogales and Yuma. Since very few of the other districts had schools with fewer than 60 percent of their students on free or reduced lunch, I only compared schools with F/R lunch percentages of 60 percent or higher. All the districts other than Flowing Wells have a high percentage of Hispanic students.

I compared the districts' passing percentages with one another using all the schools I looked at. I also divided the schools into four groups based on the number of low income students, using the percent of students on free or reduced lunch as the measure—60-69 percent, 70-79 percent, 80-89 percent and 90-99 percent—and compared the districts' passing percentages within each of the four groups.

Here are the overall findings:
• When looking at the passing percentages of all the schools, Tucson, Douglas and Sunnyside have identical passing percentages in Language Arts. Douglas and Sunnyside have slightly higher passing percentages than Tucson in Math — by 3 and 5 percentage points. Yuma, Nogales and Flowing Wells have significantly higher passing percentages than the other three: 8-14 percent higher in Language Arts, about 10 percent higher in math.

• When looking at the schools in the four categories based on income levels, Tucson's passing percentage is significantly lower than the others in the 60-69 percent F/R lunch category. The gap between Tucson and the other districts decreases as the number of low income students increases. In the 90-99 percent category, Tucson's passing percentage is about average.

• Tucson schools have significantly more variation in their passing percentages than other districts, with schools among the lowest and highest in all four categories.
I also looked at the passing percentages for Hispanic students in the schools. The comparisons were close enough to what I found when I looked all the students that a separate analysis of Hispanic passing percentages doesn't yield significantly different results.

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Brahm Resnik Nails Ducey On His Koch Addiction (Are There Rehab Programs For Funding Abuse?)

Posted By on Fri, Jan 19, 2018 at 6:30 PM

  • Courtesy of Bigstock
Even if Doug Ducey, somewhere in his heart of hearts, wanted to advocate for higher taxes or put a brake on Arizona's private school voucher programs, he couldn't. He's addicted to the massive doses of dark money he gets from the Koch brothers network, and the Kochs are for lowering taxes and dismantling public (read "government") schools, ever and always. Ducey doesn't dare mess with the supplier even if he thought it would be good for Arizona, lest his vital flow of cash dries up. Lack of supply could lead to a painful withdrawal from public life.

On January 14, Ducey went on Sunday Square Off with Brahm Resnik. It was Ducey's first time on the show since he's been governor, and it may be his last, given the tough questions Resnik threw at him about his positions on education and his political debt to the multi-billionaire Koch Brothers. Before I get to the interview, some background is in order.

Doug Ducey first made a name for himself on the national anti-tax stage in 2012 when he was state treasurer and led the fight against Proposition 204, which would have added a billion dollars to education funding by increasing the sales tax. Anyone fighting a tax hike is a friend of the Kochs, and they showed their support by putting $1.8 million into the effort. Their money was instrumental in defeating the measure. [See Note at the end for a correction.]

In 2014, Ducey was running for governor, and he wanted to make sure his Koch connection was still solid.

The Kochs don't supply all the money for candidates and causes they support. Much of it flows from a loosely connected group of fabulously wealthy people who form the Koch network. They come together during regular summits at fancy resorts to plot their strategies and offer up the money necessary to put their political plans into motion.

Ducey attended the network summit in June, 2014, along with conservative favorites like Tom Cotton, Jodi Ernst and Cory Gardner. These gatherings are very secretive. Nothing is supposed to leak out. But someone managed to record the proceedings, including Ducey's moment in the spotlight.

Ducey was introduced to the gathering as someone who "really stood up to a lot of cronyism in the business community in Arizona and led the charge against a tax hike ballot initiative" — referring, of course, to his fight against Prop 204. Ducey followed his introduction with a five minute self-congratulatory talk which let the deep pockets in the room know he was their man. He told them about himself while he stroked their oversized egos, hoping to open their pocketbooks.

"I've been coming to this conference for years," Ducey told them. In politics, he continued, "You're known for the company you keep," referring to the ultra-rich members of the network and the politicians they support. He stated that he had “confidence in the messaging we have here at the conference.”

"I can’t emphasize enough the power of organizations like this," he said as he concluded. “I’m grateful for what this conference does.” What the conference does is fund candidates, both through direct contributions and infusions of dark money. That's "the power of organizations like this" Ducey was talking about.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Where I Went Wrong in My Earlier Budget Post

Posted By on Thu, Jan 18, 2018 at 1:30 PM

Monday I wrote a post about Ducey's proposed 2018-19 budget. I got some of the facts wrong. I thought Ducey had proposed $214 million in new education spending, including $88 million to build or expand schools in Chander, Queen Creek and Tolleson. My numbers were wrong on both counts. I'm going to try and get closer to right in this post. No guarantees I'll be exactly on the money.

I tried my damndest to pull together the details of Ducey's budget proposal by reading a bunch of accounts in the media, but my damndest wasn't good enough. Better would have been to go directly to the source, the official State of Arizona Executive Budget Summary, Fiscal Year 2019. Near as I can tell, Ducey's proposal contains $190.4 million in new money for K-12 education beyond adjustments for inflation and student growth. Here's the part of the proposal listing the education numbers.

Add together the two "Initiative" lists, and you get $190.4 million.

See the item near the bottom, "$5.1 million, New School Construction"? That's the first of 25 yearly payments to cover the $88.1 million needed to build or expand three schools in Chandler, one in Queen Creek and one in Tolleson Union High district. That means every year for the next 25 years, $5.5 million for those schools will be part of the education budget.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

All School Districts Are Not Created Equal in Ducey's Budget

Posted By on Mon, Jan 15, 2018 at 3:59 PM

Chandler, Queen Creek and Vail school districts all have more than their share of students from higher income families. Over two years, beginning with the 2017-18 budget and continuing with Ducey's proposed budget for 2018-19, all of them share in $152 million to build schools in their districts, assuming Ducey's budget makes it through the legislature intact. Tolleson is the only district getting part of the construction money whose family income is close to the state average.

Ducey's proposed education budget is filled with items worth discussing, but I want to start here, with new money for school construction, because it's one of the indications that all school districts are not created equal when it comes to our meager state funding. Four districts will build new schools or expand existing schools, three of them in high rent districts. It may be a reasonable move. Population growth may have their buildings bursting at the seams. But at a time when additions to most school district budgets are being doled out by the teaspoon, these districts are getting money by the steam shovelful.

If you subtract the money going to the four districts from the two year education budget total, it gives the lie to Ducey's claim that he's spreading lots of new education dollars around the state. His claim is a wild exaggeration to begin with, considering how far we have to go to get back to 2009 spending levels, but even that exaggerates the benefits to most districts. Ducey says his 2018-19 budget proposal will bring $214 million in new education spending. Add that to last year's total, $163 million, and you get a two year total of $377 million. But about 40 percent of that figure, $152 million, is going to build schools in four districts. That leaves $225 million over two years for everyone else.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

T.H.R.E.A T. Watch: Immigration, Libel, Treason

Posted By on Fri, Jan 12, 2018 at 12:00 PM

It's a three-legged T.H.R.E.A T. stool, solidifying Trump's authoritarian positions. Actually, a soccer metaphor is even more fitting. Trump performed a T.H.R.E.A T. Watch hat trick. He pounded home three of his administration's authoritarian goals, attacking immigrants, the media and dissent.

The most obviously vile, but not necessarily the most dangerous, of Trump's three recent statements is Thursday's reference to Haiti and African countries as "shitholes." Trump is a master at painting enemies in the worst possible light with his descriptors, and "shitholes" ranks among the best of them. It refers to a hole dug under an outhouse. While the rest of us walk on clean land, Trump's image has people living in those countries wallowing in the most disgusting kind of filth. For Trump, an admitted germaphobe, the image must be especially revolting.

The president has removed any remaining doubt that he's a racist. Up to this point, only a fan could question his obvious racial animus, but when Trump called countries populated by people of color "shitholes," even his most ardent supporters have their work cut out for them — at least those who are interested in defending him from the "racist" label. I'm sure white supremacists everywhere are overjoyed.

Immigrants of color, even those living here legally, have growing reasons to fear for their safety and security.

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Governor, You're No Don Quixote.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 12, 2018 at 11:00 AM

Monday as I waited for Doug Ducey's State of the State Address, I wrote a post predicting what he would say about education. I guessed he would speak in glittering generalities about the importance of education, and that he would promise more funding without talking dollars and cents. And I guessed he would ask us "to dream the impossible dream of raising teacher salaries, spending more money on educational supplies, fixing our crumbling schools and replacing our old buses without raising taxes."

It didn't take a soothsayer or an entrail reader to get that one right. It's what he always says.

Don Quixote, who sang about dreaming the impossible dream in a musical based on the great 17th century novel, had gone mad from reading too many stories about knights and chivalry. He  put on a suit of dented armor and rode forth, determined to right the wrongs of the world. He honestly thought a peasant woman was a princess under the spell of a wicked enchanter. He believed with all his heart that windmills were evil giants he could joust against and defeat while riding on the worn-out nag he thought was a noble steed. He believed in his own beautiful folly. His audience has spent five centuries laughing at him and crying with him, wishing they could believe as well.

Governor, I read Don Quixote. I knew Don Quixote literarily and think of him as a friend of mine. Governor, you're no Don Quixote.

Ducey isn't deluded. He knows his promise to add significant education funding to the state budget is a con job, because there's not enough money in the budget for a serious increase, and he has pledged to the state's businesses and wealthiest individuals — and to his greatest benefactors, the Koch Brothers — that he would only lower taxes, never raise them. His only mention of taxes in the address was an increased exemption for military retirement pay.

Ducey spoke of holding the line on prison spending, then said,
"Let’s spend these dollars – tens of millions of dollars combined – where they can go to better use: In our public schools and for our teachers."
Some simple math. We have about a million K-12 students in Arizona. "Tens of millions of dollars" translates to tens of dollars per student. In a 30 student classroom, that comes to $300 a year. Ducey knows it. Everyone who understands the size of the education budget knows it. But Ducey hopes he can con potential voters into thinking he promised something real.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Everybody in Arizona Is For Education

Posted By on Tue, Jan 9, 2018 at 10:40 AM

I began blogging almost by accident in 2008. I asked Mike Bryan, the owner, proprietor, sole writer and chief bottle washer for Blog for Arizona if I could write about education on BfA, and he said sure. I imagined myself working in an arcane backwater. Few people would be interested in the details of state and national education legislation, public schools, charter schools, all that kind of stuff that interested me as an educator but wasn't on most people's radar. At best I hoped some teachers and administrators would read what I was writing, and if I could get a few people in the media and Arizona politics to pay attention on occasion, I would consider myself a success.

Instead, a decade later, I find myself writing on The Range and competing with the mainstream media and any number of educational professional and volunteer groups for attention. With politicians as well. The governor touts his focus on improving education. His potential Democratic rivals for the office, Steve Farley and David Garcia, can't bring up the sorry state of education funding often enough.

If it sounds like I'm complaining, far from it. I love seeing the increased attention education has been getting in the state. The more the better. And in case this all sounds like bragging, like I think my blogging has pushed the topic front and center, far from it. I don't take a scintilla of credit. Education has bubbled to the surface in Arizona as one of the most important issues facing our state on its own. Its time has come. That's why our schools are at or near the top of every survey of voters' most important concern.

Weekend articles had headlines like "Arizona Legislature begins Monday with focus on education funding" and "School funding is first priority in new legislative session." A preview of the Ducey's coming address to the legislature has the headline, "State opioid crisis and education funding expected topics, State of the State address." Drug addiction seems like the only topic important enough to share the billing with schools.

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Friday, January 5, 2018

How to Raise a Billion Dollars For Schools Without Raising Sales Taxes

Posted By on Fri, Jan 5, 2018 at 4:47 PM

Friday's big education news is a funding package put together by AZ Schools Now to generate $950 million in additional money for schools without increasing the sales tax. That's enough to get us even with where we were in 2008.

Arizona is spending less per student now than it was in 2008 using inflation-adjusted numbers. Exactly how much depends on how you crunch the numbers. AZ Schools Now says it would take a billion dollars, more or less, to get us back to 2008 levels.

A billion, more or less, to get us back where we were. The sad thing is, we've been beggaring our schools for so long, a billion is significantly less than we need. We're at or near the bottom of the country in per-student funding, and adding a billion dollars would only raise us two notches. We'd move past Oklahoma and pull even with Mississippi.

Even though it's not enough, an added billion would mean a hell of a lot to our teachers and students. If we boosted teacher salaries by a few thousand dollars, maybe we could hold on to teachers who are fleeing the state for better pay. And get some credentialed teachers who have left the profession to return to the classroom. And lure a few more college students into teaching programs to increase the future teacher pool. Add in a few dollars more for classroom supplies and equipment, and we'd move closer to giving our children the education they deserve.

But you can be sure our Koch-addicted Governor Ducey, who fancies himself the "education governor," will fight a substantial increase in education funding to his last breath, especially if any of the money comes from income or business taxes. In Ducey's world, if schools get any more money, it has to come from State Land Trust Funds, sales taxes or local taxes. His most solemn pledge is to keep income and business taxes moving downward. Not surprisingly, that's also the bottom line of the Koch Brothers donor network which Ducey counts on to pony up a big pot of money during campaign season.

At the end of last year, Trump and Republicans in Congress were told they had a choice: come up with tax breaks for the rich or No money for you. Ducey knows he's facing a similar ultimatum, and he also knows people are predicting a Democratic wave election in 2018. If the tsunami is big enough, even Arizona could see Republicans swallowed up, especially if they don't have dark money to keep them afloat.

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