Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Charter School Reform Legislation: The Good, The Bad and The Unknown

Posted By on Tue, Feb 5, 2019 at 3:25 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

SB 1394
, a bill intended to bring more oversight and regulation to charter schools, hasn't gone anywhere yet. Like lots of other bills, it's waiting to be considered, amended or ignored to death.

The bill has some good stuff in it, but it also has a loophole big enough to drive an eighteen wheeler through packed tight with all the state's Charter Management Organizations. That means lots of charter schools, including the entire BASIS chain, won't be bound by the new regulations.

There are charter schools, and then there are Charter Management Organizations.

Everyone knows about charter schools. They're buildings filled with teachers and students, just like other schools. (Online charters are the exception, where students work at home sitting in front of their computers [or that's the plan anyway. Whether they're actually sitting and working is another matter]). Like school districts, charters are supported by taxpayer dollars, but with fewer regulations and restrictions.

But not everyone knows about Charter Management Organizations. CMOs work with one or more charters. In some cases, they're outside management companies hired by the schools to take care of things like administrative and accounting duties. In other cases, the CMOs run the whole shebang. They're like school districts in charge of their schools, overseeing everything from curriculum to purchasing to the hiring and firing of administrators and teachers.

Not all charters use CMOs, but lots do, including well known Arizona-based charter chains like BASIS and Great Hearts. Arizona also has charters that belong to national chains, like Imagine Schools with 12 Arizona campuses and online schools like Arizona Virtual Academy, which is part of the publicly traded corporation, K12 Inc.

Charters with CMOs get money from the state based on how many students are enrolled just like everyone else, but they send a portion of their money upstairs to the CMO, where it disappears from sight. In the case of the charter chains I mentioned above, the schools send nearly everything upstairs.

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Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Koch Education Initiative? Buyer Be Very Wary

Posted By on Thu, Jan 31, 2019 at 2:40 PM


Will Arizona be among the [un]lucky five states to be part of the new Koch Network education initiative? The states have yet to be named, but I suspect Arizona is on the radar, given the Koch Network and Governor Ducey's mutual admiration society. We know KN loves Ducey's vociferous support of vouchers, and Ducey loves KN's money in equal measure.

The Koch Network announced its decision to put money into education — until recently, it has deferred to other right wing, privatization/"education reform" groups — during its latest summit at Indian Wells, California (about 5 hours down the road from here), where all it takes to get in the door is a commitment to pledge at least $100,000 to the cause.

The announcement came a day after one of the Koch folks' rare kumbaya moments, a celebration of the bipartisan support for the First Step Act, signed into law by President Trump in December to reform the criminal justice system. Friend-of-Obama Van Jones was on board, and he praised the Koch Network's support of the legislation. So was First Son-in-law Jared Kushner (whose interest in the subject was probably spurred by his father's stay in prison [put there by Chris Christie, but that's a whole 'nuther story]).

Don't make the mistake of thinking this is a signal KN is planning to make nice with progressives in the future. Lower incarceration rates, along with fewer laws restricting drug use, have long been part of the libertarian platform. On a number of social issues, libertarians' "less regulation, more freedom" agenda coincides with the progressive viewpoint.

However, the Koch Network is trying to sell its new education initiative as another attempt to join hands with people on the other side of the aisle. Some of its spokespeople went out of their way to praise teachers, who they usually lump together with evil unions and failing schools. The elevator pitch for their new initiative sounds kinda not bad, until you get into the details.

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Star Published a Wildly Misleading Story about TUSD Enrollment

Posted By on Sun, Jan 27, 2019 at 4:50 PM


TUSD is losing 6,000 students a year? Not even close. But that's what a front page article in the Star on Sunday, Jan. 20 suggested, putting it in the running for the worst misuse of numbers in a story about TUSD I've read in the paper, ever. And let me tell you, there's been some stiff competition over the years.

The 6,000 figure is in an article about the district's declining enrollment. Where does the number come from? That's not clear in the beginning of the article, and its origins become murkier as the story continues. Whatever the source, it's six times the actual decline.

Appearing to inflate TUSD's enrollment losses six fold is a big deal, especially when the story is splashed across the front page of the Sunday Star where it's the first thing the reader sees.

The opening paragraphs of the article contain three numbers related to TUSD's declining enrollment:
"This school year alone, around 2,200 students have left the Tucson Unified School District."

"This accounts for less than half of the 5,100 students TUSD lost to in-state transfers last school year."

"The district lost around 6,100 students on average every year during the four years prior."
Those are the only enrollment numbers in the article. They appear to be saying that the district is losing an average of 6,000 students a year. That's how I first read the article over my Sunday morning coffee, and I'm sure most readers took away a similar impression. That number, a 6,000 student decline, is jaw dropping. TUSD's numbers aren't just decreasing, the story implies. The district is hemorrhaging students.

But if you know anything about TUSD's enrollment figures, you know the 6,000-a-year figure is impossible, ridiculous. If the district lost 6,000 students for each of the past four years as the story states, that would mean a 24,000 student loss. Four years ago, the district had just under 50,000 students. Take 24,000 from 50,000, and you would have 26,000 students left. In fact, this year the district has in the neighborhood of 47,500 students.

I have tracked TUSD's attendance numbers starting with the 2000-2001 school year. The largest year-to-year drop was 2,200 students in 2011. The district lost an average of 900 students a year since 2000, less than a sixth of the size of the loss the article appears to report.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Dear Letters: Oh, How We Love You

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2019 at 4:00 PM

Occasionally the age of technology is forgotten for the woebegone era of paper letters. Recently we received this four page tirade that we thought worthy of sharing: 

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Trumpy See, Trumpy Do: School Bullying In the Age Of Trump

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2019 at 3:26 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

Saturday, a group of high school students appeared to be taunting and harassing a Native American near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. It looks pretty bad, but in this case, it may not be as bad as it looks at first glance.

In a video taken after the Indigenous People’s March in D.C., a Native American man is seen chanting and drumming. Male high school students, some wearing MAGA hats, most of whom are Kentucky students attending the anti-abortion event March for Life, are gathered around him.  Some students are making tomahawk chops in the air, and others are clapping in rhythm to the drum beat and jumping up and down. One student is standing directly in front of the Native American man with a smile that looks both derisive and intimidating.

However, as more video surfaced, the nature of the incident itself and the intentions of the students became less clear. It could have been an act of vile racist bullying on the part of the students, but it also could have more to do with boisterous adolescents acting up while acting out Native American stereotypes. That would make their actions on a par with the adults at Atlanta Braves games chanting and chopping in the stands, making the students' actions less about bullying and more a display of their ignorance encouraged by a society which fails to teach them respect for cultures different from their own. (Here's a thoughtful, careful analysis of the events where the writer neither condemns nor excuses the students' actions.)

But there is no gray area in another incident which took place last week. During a high school basketball game, front row fans from a predominantly white Minnesota school displayed a large Trump 2020 banner while their team was playing a predominantly black school. Their racist intent was unmistakable. For these students, the Trump banner was the new Confederate flag.

And during two other high school games, one during the 2016 campaign and another during 2017, students from predominantly white schools shouted "Build the Wall!" at their predominantly Latino opponents. Their use of Trump's racist slogan was a deliberate attempt to bully and intimidate the other schools' Latino students.

But examples are only examples. They don't necessarily indicate a trend. The question remains, has race-based bullying increased among high school students who are Trump supporters? A few studies make it look like that is the case.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Ducey's State of the Schools Address

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 12:16 PM


Yeah, it was Ducey's State of the State address, I know that. But I'm calling it the State of the Schools address because I'll be looking exclusively at the portion where the governor deals with education, with one quick exception in the next paragraph.

Ducey said Arizona needs to deal with our current and future water shortage problems, but he didn't mention climate change. Because if you're a Republican, you dassn't say "climate change."

Ducey said our public schools need more transparency, accountability and oversight, but he didn't mention charter schools. Because if you're a Republican, you speak no ill of charter schools.

Those moments of cowardice and deflection aside, let's look at what Ducey's education proposals bode for the state.

The two biggest educational issues the legislature should be dealing with are increasing public school funding and adding charter school accountability and oversight. Let's see how Ducey did on those issues.

I hope Ducey has his chiropractor on retainer. His habit of patting himself on the back whenever he talks must wreak havoc with his body alignment. The education portion of Monday's speech was no exception. He claimed to have solved the school funding problem by pushing for the passage of Prop 123, which brings in $300 million-plus a year, and endorsing a bill extending the life of Prop 301, which brings in about $670 million a year. OK, but . . .

Prop 123 filled in a bit of the decrease in education funding over the past few years, but only a bit, and most of the money is being stolen from our children's trust account — the state land trust fund. Boosting the amount of the students' inheritance spent today at the expense of what they'll get tomorrow isn't exactly an act of generosity. (Yeah, it's true, I held my nose and voted for the damn thing, and I'd do it again, but that doesn't mean I like it.)

Extending Prop 301 was necessary, but all it did was keep a six-tenths of a cent sales tax in place which was about to expire. It didn't generate any new revenue for schools.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Political Purity Tests Make Me Crazy. Take TUSD, For Instance.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 11, 2019 at 2:41 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

Here's what happened at the TUSD board meeting Tuesday. Mark Stegeman was voted board president. Here's how the vote went: Leila Counts voted yes along with Stegeman and Rachel Sedgwick. Kristel Foster and Adelita Grijalva voted no.

It was a complex discussion coupled with a series of complicated votes, but never mind. When the smoke and dust cleared, Stegeman was board president, and Counts' vote was an essential part of that decision.

Do I think Stegeman should be board president? Was Counts wrong to vote for him? I'm going to table that discussion until the end of the post. That's not why I'm writing this.

I'm writing this because some people went nuts over Counts' vote. Nuts. "Counts is a traitor!" "Counts is the new Michael Hicks!" "Counts is a Stegeman stooge!"

Those people drive me nuts. Not because they disagree with Counts' vote. That's fine. They drive me nuts because, for them, Counts failed the "One strike and you're out" purity test, and that's the end of that. "You voted for Stegeman? You voted with Stegeman? You're dead to me."

I'm about to go off on a rant about political purity tests and demonization here, so if you're only interested in my opinion on the board vote, skip down to the heading "TUSD Board Vote." This is going to take a while.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley Makes The Nation Magazine's 2018 Progressive Honor Roll

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2019 at 12:56 PM


Representative Pamela Powers Hannley (D, LD-9) was named "The Most Valuable State Legislator" on The Nation's 2018 Progressive Honor Roll. She's not one of the most valuable. She's the only state legislator on the 2018 list.

[Full disclosure: I've known Pam for years. We both wrote on Blog for Arizona until I moved to The Range. She's also one of my state representatives.]

About a dozen people were selected for this year's honor roll, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar. It's quite an honor for Powers Hannley to be in the company of such a high profile collection ranging from newcomers to old timers. It's also an indication that Arizona is on the radar as a state with a significant number of progressive office holders.

According to the blurb on the Honor Roll, Powers Hannley has spent "years as a blogger and activist." She ran for office because "she wanted to help fight for women’s rights, criminal-justice reform, strong unions, public banking, and her vision for democratic renewal."

The Nation is a highly respected weekly progressive magazine. It was founded in 1865, making it the oldest continuously running weekly in the country.

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