Thursday, March 28, 2019

Kamala Harris Wants To Raise Teachers' Salaries

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 2:28 PM

  • Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Green New Deal is an aspirational list of ideas of ways we can improve the environment and lift people's standards of living.

Do we need a Green New Deal? Is it doable? Can we afford it? Democrats are asking those questions seriously while Republicans pretend the GND would mean an end to hamburgers, milkshakes and airplanes.

The best thing about the Green New Deal is people are forced to talk about climate change and the environment. The topics now have a place at the political table. The more politicians and others talk about them, the better the chances we'll do something to address them.

On another front, some Democratic presidential candidates are advocating for Medicare for All. Others are calling for a private/public partnership which guarantees health care for everyone.

What's the best way to deliver health care to the most people? How will we pay for it? Democrats are holding a vigorous debate on the topic while Republicans make another stab at killing Obamacare and claim to have a plan of their own, something which they've been talking about for years but have yet to unveil.

This is another issue which no presidential candidate can avoid talking about. Like the environment, health care has a seat at the political table. It cannot be ignored, and that's a good thing.

Kamala Harris, Democratic candidate for president, has pulled another chair up to the table, this one for teachers. Harris says teachers are underpaid and under-appreciated, and she wants to increase their salaries using a combination of federal and state funding.

Should we increase teacher pay? Can we afford it? What's the best way to do it? Thanks to Harris, every Democratic candidate will have to address those issues, and Republicans will have to figure out how to fight against a salary increase without sounding like they hate teachers and children. The discussion and debate will increase the possibility that teachers around the country will see a substantial pay increase sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Thank you, Kamala Harris.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Miserable Charter School Bill Is Put Out Of Its Misery

Posted By on Tue, Mar 26, 2019 at 3:50 PM

  • Illustration from graphic
There are times when something is better than nothing. When it comes to the charter school bill in front of the legislature, this is not one of those times. Nothing is the better, or, to put it another way, the least bad option.

It looks like the charter school bill making its way through the legislature isn't going anywhere. After it passed the Senate, House Speaker Rusty Bowers stopped the bill from getting a hearing in committee. Bowers said he doesn't have the votes to pass it and he's probably right.

The bill's purported goal is to clean up the corruption and profiteering running rampant in some charter schools. People who have been paying attention have known about this for years but a series of articles in the Arizona Republic exposed the seamy underbelly of the charter world to more people, including some Republican politicians who have done their best to look the other way. Not all charters are guilty. Many are run with the primary intent of educating their students, not fatten people's wallets. But as The Republic demonstrated, the bad charter operators are truly bad operators.

The bill's sponsors claim its purpose is to increase charter transparency and lay down some regulations, making it harder for people to game the system. Actually, it does very little, and it does that badly.

Before we look at the bill itself, let's take a look at what's been going on around the bill to see what we can learn.

Here's one clue to what's in the bill: when it passed the Senate 17-13, all the Republicans voted for it. All the Democrats voted against it after trying to amend it to give it more teeth. Seeing as how Republicans created Arizona's charter schools a few decades back and have protected charters from greater regulation and accountability ever since while Democrats have been the ones calling for more transparency and regulation, it makes you think the bill is meant to act as a fig leaf to cover up the naked corruption taking place in some charters, not improve the charter school system.

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Monday, March 25, 2019

Value Tucson Teachers Through Student Video Projects

Posted By on Mon, Mar 25, 2019 at 3:41 PM

  • BigStock
Do your kids have a favorite teacher? Do you know a teacher who is really making a difference in the classroom? Tucson Values Teachers, an organization focused on supporting Arizona teachers, is seeking video nominations from students.

Each month the organization runs a Teacher Excellence Award program and are currently running a special contest for Teacher Appreciation Week, May 6 to 10. Students can submit a video explaining why their teacher should be nominated and recognized. The videos can be a group or individual project and adult help is allowed.

All K-12 teachers in southern Arizona are eligible to be nominated and five teachers will be chosen for the award. Winners will receive $250 cash from Tucson Values Teachers, a $100 gift card to Office Depot/OfficeMax, a plaque recognizing their achievement, flowers, a mini bell from Ben's Bells and pizza for their class.

So, if you know a teacher who deserves to win, work with your kids and nominate now! Videos must be under a minute long and in MP4 or MOV format. Nominations can be submitted now until April 25.

Find the nomination form here.

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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:

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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.

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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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Staff Pick

UA Dance: Spring Collection

Spring Collection is the season’s “wrap up party,” and as always we offer you something special. This… More

@ UA Stevie Eller Dance Theatre Fri., April 19, 7:30-9 p.m., Sat., April 20, 7:30-9 p.m., Sun., April 21, 1:30-3 p.m., Thu., April 25, 7:30-9 p.m., Fri., April 26, 7:30-9 p.m., Sat., April 27, 7:30-9 p.m. and Sun., April 28, 1:30-3 p.m. 1737 E. University Blvd.

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