Tuesday, October 31, 2017

'Arizonans United for Health Care' Wants You to Know, Healthcare Signups Begin Nov. 1, and You Can Get Help With Your Application

Posted By on Tue, Oct 31, 2017 at 2:01 PM

  • Courtesy of Bigstock
The goal of Arizonans United for Health Care is to educate the community about the Affordable Care Act in its current form, according to Alma Hernandez, senior organizer for the group. "We want to remind people the first day to enroll is November 1 and enrollment ends December 15," she said, "and you can get help signing up."

The group is building coalitions with other local nonprofits and activists working to inform people about the ACA.

One of the best places to find help signing up is Cover Arizona, according to Hernandez. Type in your zip code, and the website generates a list of places where you can schedule an appointment to get help applying for KidsCare, AHCCCS and the ACA Marketplace.

Arizonans United for Health Care is nonpartisan, Hernandez says, but it isn't shy about going after Rep. Martha McSally and Sen. Jeff Flake for their votes against the ACA, including in a short video featuring Julie Simons, a single mother who started her own business and provides health insurance for her employees. Simons is also a breast cancer survivor. Citing McSally's vote against the ACA, Simons worries that an end to affordable coverage for preexisting conditions can endanger her ability to get affordable health care for herself or provide it to her employees.

Arizonans United for Health Care can be contacted using an email form on the bottom of its web page or by messaging on its Facebook page.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Fed Tax Cut, AZ School Grades, Results-Based Funding, and a W.A.G.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 6:33 PM

The federal tax cut proposals Republicans are putting together will most likely throw a few tax cut bones to the middle class and toss a couple of chicken wings in the direction of the poor so it looks like everyone gets a tax break, but the richest Americans will be the folks getting thick, juicy, medium-rare ribeye steaks grilled to perfection. No one knows whether the bones and wings will make it into the final bill, but it's a sure bet the most powerful Americans can count on being hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars richer if their friends in Congress and the White House can figure out a way to put together the needed votes.

On a smaller scale, something similar is happening with Arizona's school grades and results-based funding. The richest, most powerful Arizonans were promised steak dinners in the form of results-based funding bonuses for the schools their children attend. That worked out just fine in lots of cases, but a few were surprised to find their plates empty, and they're crying foul. Now the state is trying to figure out how to make things right.

Meanwhile, the rest of the schools, those with families in the middle and lower economic ranges, are getting a few results-based bones and chicken wings, but I'm betting some of those will be taken away to make sure the people who really matter to the Republicans in power get the steaks they were promised.

Lots of reporters have been picking up on the story about the state's long-awaited school grades over the past week, because it's a really big deal. The grades posted by the Department of Education were supposed to be final unless a school appealed. Then Tim Carter, president of the state Board of Education, stepped in. He declared the grades "preliminary," to the surprise of pretty much everyone including the other board members who knew nothing of the change until he announced it. As of Monday, however, the Board is on board as well. The posted state grades don't mean a thing until we swing into January, and even the January deadline is far from final.

The state grades worked out almost the way they were supposed to. Almost. The top schools in terms of family income, the ones attended by the children of the wealthiest and most powerful Arizonans, grabbed most of the A's — the top 11 percent got close to 40 percent of all the A grades — and grades slid downward in rough correlation to the family income of students attending the schools. The results should have been acceptable to the people who run things in the state, except for two important problems.

Next school year, every A school will get a whole lot of extra money in the form of results-based funding while the B through F schools get nothing (The funding system works differently this school year). So a number of schools in the high rent areas with B's, or even C's, feel cheated because they didn't get one of those big, juicy results-based steaks they know they deserve. They figure, "Why should the top 11 percent only make up 40 percent of the schools getting the extra funding? Why not more like 50 percent, and include my child's school?"

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Prop. 204: Planting Preschools in Daycare Deserts

Posted By on Tue, Oct 24, 2017 at 8:44 AM

  • Courtesy of Bigstock
The term “food desert” was created in the 1990s to describe areas where residents don’t have access to healthy, affordable food. With no adequate markets within a reasonable distance, people living in food deserts are more likely to live on fast food and what they can buy in local mini-marts, most of which is unhealthy and overpriced, rather than what you find at most supermarkets. The general health and wellbeing of people living in food deserts would be improved significantly if the residents had access to healthy food they can afford.

It’s time to coin a new term: daycare desert. It describes places where parents have little access to any kind of affordable daycare, let alone high quality early childhood education, for their children. Daycare deserts are deeper and wider in the U.S. than elsewhere in the industrialized world, and Arizona is one of the most parched states in the country. To improve the educational health and wellbeing of children and adults living in daycare deserts, we need to bring affordable, high quality early childhood education within easy access.

Proposition 204 gives us the opportunity to turn Tucson's daycare deserts into oases of quality early childhood education for upwards to 8,000 three and four year olds at the cost to the community of a one-half percent increase in sales tax. So far as I know, Prop 204 is the country's boldest effort to correct the daycare crisis in recent years, and if it passes — I'm being serious here, I don't consider this an overstatement — it could be a national game changer, pointing the way for other communities to improve the lives of their young children.

Most people agree it's a good idea to make early childhood education available to more children, but detractors say Prop 204 leaves too much room for things to go wrong, both in what is included and left out of the proposal. Me personally, I think Prop 204 is not just a good idea, it's a great idea, and I agree with Weekly Editor Jim Nintzel when he wrote, "I think the accountability concerns are misguided at best." The concerns are legitimate, but vastly overstated.

Further down, you'll find links to a few pieces which do an excellent job of presenting the information you need to know about the Prop 204 and the reasons you should, or shouldn't, vote for it, which means I don't have to do it here. Instead, I'm going to give you a decision-making recommendation.

Pull the balance scale you use to weigh serious decisions down from the shelf where you store it. On one side of the scale, place the value of giving three and four year old children the kind of educational start in life which will give them the best chance of being successful in school and throughout their lives. On the other side, put the possibilities that things might go wrong if the people in charge of creating and implementing the program don't do a good job. See which way the scales tip. That's how you should vote.

I'll tell you what I see on my balance scale. On one side, I see a little golden nugget of potential and unexplored possibilities for each of the thousands of three and four year olds who will get an early childhood education. On the other side, I see a handful of stones with words like "Worst case scenario," "This could go wrong," "That could go wrong," written on them. My scales tip heavily in favor of the children whose lives will be enriched by Prop 204. But that's just me. You have your own scale. Use it.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Results-Based Funding: The Transition From Test Scores To School Grades

Posted By on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 at 2:10 PM

We already know which schools are splitting up the $38 million in results-based funding for the 2017-18 school year. The money is going disproportionately to schools with students from the most affluent homes. The top 11 percent of schools by family income make up almost 40 percent of schools getting the funding. Even more of those schools would get the funding if it weren't for a stipulation built into the formula to make sure the bottom 50 percent of schools in terms of student income make up almost half the schools getting the money. Next year, that stipulation is gone.

Most likely in the 2018-19 school year, over 80 percent of the schools getting results-based funding will be from the top half of schools in terms of family income. That means less than 20 percent of the schools will be in the bottom half.

And yet, some schools with high income students are complaining because they're not getting their expected piece of the results-based pie. And no wonder. If a high income school makes the list, it sees close to $6,000 extra per teacher, enough to give teachers a sizable bonus and still have plenty left over for educational equipment and supplies other schools can't afford. If it doesn't make the cut, the school gets nothing.

An explanation of how this works can be mind-numbingly detailed, at least when I'm the guy doing the explaining, so I've created a table I hope will make things clearer. After that, I'll numb the minds of those who dare stick around for all the numbers and explanations.


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Friday, October 13, 2017

Koch Brothers Infiltrate Pima County Schools With a High School Econ Course

Posted By on Fri, Oct 13, 2017 at 10:35 AM

  • DonkeyHotey
I have a story in this week's print edition. You can read it here. This is the short version.

The Koch Brothers put up a million dollars. Ken and Randy Kendrick (he owns the Arizona Diamondbacks) pitched in even more. They funded UA's Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, usually shortened to the "Freedom Center," which opened in 2011. From the beginning, the Freedom Center folks had their eyes on training high school teachers in their special brand of libertarian economics and creating courses to be used in high schools.

Starting last year, "Phil 101: Ethics, Economy, and Entrepreneurship” is being offered in Tucson Unified's high schools. This year it's being taught in four of the district high schools as well as schools in the Amphitheater, Vail and Sahuarita school districts and at least seven private and charter schools in Pima and Maricopa counties.  The course was created by the Freedom Center, members of its faculty wrote the textbook, and it offers workshops to instruct high school teachers on how to teach the class. They plan to spread the course to high schools across the state and the country, the more the merrier.

This isn't someone at the Freedom Center saying, "Hey, I have an idea, let's spread our ideology to the high school classroom!" It's part of a carefully conceived plan by the Koch Brothers which began in the 1980s and includes universities across the country, think tanks (the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation are two of the best known examples) and dissemination to the general public, including high school students.

If you want the details, read the article.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Some Charter Schools Pay Students To Enroll, Or Get Their Friends To Enroll

Posted By on Tue, Oct 10, 2017 at 9:21 AM

A story from ProPublica came across my desktop today, For-Profit Schools Reward Students for Referrals and Facebook Endorsements. It's about a for-profit charter school in Florida where students get a $25 gift card for every new student they find for the school.
Such incentives are rampant among for-profit operators of public alternative high schools like North Nicholas, which serves students at risk of dropping out. These schools market aggressively to attract new students, especially during weeks when the state is tallying enrollment for funding purposes. They often turn their students into promoters, dangling rewards for plugs on social media, student referrals or online reviews, a ProPublica-USA Today investigation found. Some also offer valuable perks simply for enrolling.
It reminded me of a story Ann-Pedersen told in 2013 on the cable access program she and I used to put together, Education: The Rest of the Story (It's a three minute video if you want to watch). As her son was walking out of his Tucson Unified middle school toward the end of the school year, he was handed a flier promising him $100 if he enrolled in the new charter, Rising School.

Tucson's Rising School currently has about 80 students. So far as I can tell, it no longer offers students $100 to enroll, but it does offer them $100 if they have perfect attendance for the first hundred days of school. I don't suppose it's a coincidence that enrollment during the first hundred days is what determines schools' state funding.

And whether the money goes to students for enrolling or for having perfect attendance, that $100 comes out of the state's funding for the school.

I don't know if this kind of thing is common in Arizona, but like so many questionable charter school practices, it looks like it's perfectly legit.

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Best Way To Get Results-Based Funding Is To Be Well-Off and White

Posted By on Wed, Oct 4, 2017 at 8:24 AM

The results are in. The Arizona Department of Education published a list of all the schools getting results-based funding for the 2017-18 school year. There aren't any real surprises for those of us who have been paying attention since the bill passed during the last legislative session. As expected, the list is heavy with schools filled with students from well-to-do families.

But, as skewed as this year's funding is toward more affluent Arizonans, this is likely be the most equitable spread of results-based money ever. Indications are, things will get far more inequitable starting next year. Hold that thought while I go through this year's numbers.

Just under 300 schools will receive results-based funding—about 17 percent of the state's district and charter schools. Between 35 and 40 percent of them have fewer than 30 percent of their students on free or reduced lunch even though only 18 percent of the state's schools fit into that category. On the other end of the economic spectrum, about 10 percent of schools on the list have more than 80 percent of their students on free or reduced lunch, even though over 30 percent of the state's schools fit into that category.

That means, if you're in one of the schools in the highest rent districts, you're far more likely to reap the benefits of results-based funding than if you're in a school in the poorer parts of town. You're also far more likely to be white and far less likely to be struggling with the English language or have learning disabilities.

That's what things look like at the economic extremes. If we look at all the schools on the list, the story stays pretty much the same. A majority of the state's schools—about 57 percent—have more than half their students on F/R lunch, yet they make up only about a third of the schools on the list. The other two-thirds are drawn from the 43 percent of schools with fewer low income students.

But wait 'til next year. As I said earlier, the numbers will only get more skewed toward the well-off and white.

Those are the basics for this year. Now, let's look at what results-based funding means in dollars and cents, then why the funds will favor schools in high rent districts even more in following years.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Why I Keep Writing About Those Damn AzMERIT Scores

Posted By on Tue, Oct 3, 2017 at 12:43 PM

  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
It's something of an obsession with me, writing about AzMERIT scores. A new set of scores, a new use of the scores, a new news story about the scores, and there I am with another post or two or three. So here's yet another post, a rambling discussion on why the tests, the way they're reported on and the way they're used drive me nuts.

Let me start by getting something out of the way. The tests in and of themselves aren't bad. They give a reasonably accurate reflection of students' abilities in reading, writing and math. During my last few years teaching in a district outside of Portland, Oregon, I had to give the Oregon version of the high stakes standardized tests to my sophomore English classes. I did a pretty good job of predicting what my students' scores would be based on what I had learned about their reading and writing abilities during the eight months before the tests, which means the test scores generally reflected the students' skill levels. There were a significant number of exceptions, where students got higher or lower scores than I thought they would, which tells me the tests aren't always accurate on an individual level. But when you're looking at large numbers of students, and assuming everything is on the level—no "helpful encouragement" from teachers during the tests, no erase-and-replace of students' answers by staff after the students hand in their tests — their average scores tell you something about their skill levels relative to other groups of students.

Now, with that out of the way, the problems. The first is, the high stakes nature of the tests distorts the schools' curriculum and, sometimes, the test results. Since teachers, schools and school districts are judged by their students' scores, they're compelled to do everything they can to get the best results possible. That means teaching to the test, which means spending inordinate amounts of time and energy giving students the narrow skills needed to fill in the right bubbles. The give and take of loosely directed discussions is a luxury only to be indulged in when time allows. Creative pursuits, long term projects, even time on the playground are secondary to the central focus of the classroom: preparing students for test day. Teachers become mechanical skill-and-drill sergeants, which is not what they thought they signed up for when they decided to join the teaching profession. Students are encouraged to become robotic, learning how to be successful at performing variations of one repetitive task — answering short questions by picking the right answer from a short list of possibilities. The classroom is a different place — I would say a worse place — thanks to high stakes tests. And, sad to say, all that sweat, toil and tedium generally only adds a few points to students' scores and even less to students' actual skill levels, and since pretty much everyone is doing it, it's a wash. Every class, school and district's ranking in the state stays pretty much the same as it would have been if no one paid any attention to the test until test day.

And sometimes, the pressure to raise test scores leads individual teachers, or whole schools and districts, to cheat. Some schools and districts have been caught at it. Teachers and administrators in Atlanta went to jail for changing answers on student tests year after year. Others do it but haven't been caught. A series of articles in USA Today a few years back talked about a nationwide analysis of erasures on student tests and found that in many schools, including in Arizona, the number of wrong answers erased and replaced by right answers was as likely to be random as it was likely that the school be struck by lightning on test day. Though state departments of education rarely look deeply into suspicious scores, Arizona's ADE found nine schools where the evidence is strong enough, it's highly probable students' test papers were altered. Most likely, those schools are the visible tip of a larger problem. And that's just the most easily detectable form of cheating. There are lots of undetectable ways to boost scores without increasing the students' skill levels.

Cheating can become addictive, and additive. If a teacher cheats one year, how does he/she go back to being honest the next year without having to explain the drop in scores? If third grade teachers cheat, fourth grade teachers look bad if their students score lower than they did back in the third grade—and so on, up the grades. Educators are basically an honest, moral, but not necessarily courageous lot. If you put their salaries and/or their jobs on the line, many of them are liable to do what it takes to push those scores up.

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