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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Friday, January 4, 2019

Some of the Most Important Education Issues Facing Arizona (And One Item That Doesn't Make the List.)

Posted By on Fri, Jan 4, 2019 at 2:29 PM


Let's see, what are the most important education issues facing the legislature this year? Fulfilling its promise to continue raising teacher salaries is definitely on the list. So is increasing charter school transparency and oversight to weed out rampant corruption and profiteering. And decreasing teacher shortages. And decreasing class sizes. And increasing education budgets so old buses can be replaced, old schools can be maintained and old textbooks and technology can be updated. And let's not forget ridding the state of its destructive English Immersion model for ELL students.

Other problems could be addressed as well, like, say, updating the Department of Education's computer data systems and fully funding the oversight and management of the ESA voucher program (Yes, those are important).

Any more? I know I've left stuff out, like increasing access to preschool and who knows what else. In a state that has shortchanged its children for so long, the list is almost endless.

But I know one issue that doesn't even make the top one hundred: getting politics out of the classroom.

So what has the media talked about nonstop for weeks? A proposed bill to get politics out of the classroom.

Yes, such a bill has been proposed. Yes, it would be a travesty if it passed. But no, it doesn't deserve all the attention it's been getting. (And yes, I'm fully aware that I'm giving it more attention by writing about it.)

Giving that much press coverage to a non-story uses up all the oxygen in the room. Substantive educational issues struggle to get the media attention they deserve.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Picking Up Where I Left Off — Though Less Frequently

Posted By on Wed, Jan 2, 2019 at 2:09 PM

  • Courtesy of Bigstock

The problem was, after declaring in November I was hanging up my blogging hat ("Pretty much, anyway," I added in the headline, just in case) and I had a no-pressure month during which I enjoyed the freedom from deadlines and putting the right words in the right order, I found myself reading something and thinking, "OK, I have to write about that." Then I remembered, "Nope, you can't." I shrugged and moved on. Still, I kept adding new links to my long list of stories I might want to write about. Old habits die hard.

I interrupted my blogging hiatus in December to post about the TUSD decision to get rid of the Freedom Center-created high school course, Ethics, Economy, and Entrepreneurship, for good and all. I mean, I wrote the piece that brought the course to the public's attention, so I should be the guy who writes about its demise. However, the course is still being taught in three local school districts, so the battle isn't over.

Meanwhile, stories about charter problems in Arizona and around the country kept popping up on my desktop, along with items about curriculum, federal spending on education and bills proposed for the new state legislative session. Since I stopped blogging two months ago, I added more than fifty new entries to my list of links.

The tips of my fingers began itching. My keyboard beckoned. So I'm back.

But I've decided, instead of a steady output of two to four posts a week, I'll post on a "Need to write" basis — only when I say to myself, "I really  need to write about this." Right now that sounds like once a week, maybe twice a week if the spirit moves me.

That means it'll be harder to find my posts among the steady stream of postings on The Range. If you're a Regular Range Rover (Nice turn of phrase. Maybe I should trademark it), that's no problem. But if you mainly drop by to look for my posts, it can be an issue.

One solution is to bookmark my page on the Weekly which lists all my posts starting with the most recent. You can check occasionally to see if I've posted something new. Also, I usually link to my posts of Facebook or Twitter, so you might find them there. Or if you know how to create an RSS feed (I've never done it, so you'll get no help from me), you can get an email notification when I post something new.

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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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