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Monday, August 14, 2017

A Look At TUSD's AzMERIT Scores

Posted By on Mon, Aug 14, 2017 at 3:30 PM

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The state has released scores on the AzMERIT tests given this spring, meaning we can compare TUSD's 2017 scores with its scores two years ago when students took the first AzMERIT tests, and with the state scores. I'll lay out the results the numbers first, then I'll try to figure out what they mean, and don't mean.

But first, let me repeat my intense dislike of our obsession with high stakes, standardized tests. They only test what's testable in a fill-in-the-bubble format. They're susceptible to being gamed, meaning the better teachers are at teaching to the test, the better their students' results. That means the reliability of the results as a measure of student achievement is questionable. Also, the emphasis on the tests distorts the curriculum at the same time it stifles teachers' creativity and their ability to tailor their teaching strategies to their students' needs. The yearly tests make the education we give our students worse, not better. Nonetheless, the tests are out there, and people will talk. So with these caveats in mind, I'll talk too.

Here's a summary of the AzMERIT results, without analysis or interpretation. Statewide, fewer than half the students passed the test in every grade. The passage rates range from 25 percent to 48 percent. However, the average passing rate rose about 4 percentage points since the first test was given in 2015. TUSD's passing rate is considerably lower than the state's, averaging 11 points lower in Language Arts and 13 points lower in Math. The district's average passing rate didn't change in Language Arts from 2015 to 2017 and went up one percent in Math, meaning TUSD's scores showed less improvement than the state as a whole. White and Asian students scored considerably higher than Hispanic, Native American and African American students at the district and the state level.

Now, some analysis. First, the passing rates. As any teacher knows, you can create tests that are easier and harder, and you can move the grade curve up or down depending on where you set the cut scores. The old AIMS test was thought to be too easy and too many students passed it, so the state created a harder test and set the passing scores at a level that fewer students passed. So the fact that far fewer students passed AzMERIT than AIMS doesn't mean our students know less than they did a few years ago. It just means we have a tougher curve on a tougher test.

Fewer TUSD students passed than the state average, and at both the TUSD and state levels, White and Asian students scored higher than Hispanic, Native American and African American students. That information is about as surprising and revelatory as saying the yearly temperature in Tucson is higher than it is in Seattle. Of course Tucson is warmer, that's how the global climate is structured! Of course Whites and Asians outperform Hispanics, Native Americans and African Americans on standardized tests, that's how the households' economic and educational status is structured! And of course the state outperforms TUSD on standardized test scores, the district has a lower percentage of high scoring White and Asian students and a higher percentage of Hispanic, Native American and African American students than the state as a whole.

None of this is a judgement on any group. Far from it. It's a judgement of our society's shameful economic, racial and ethnic inequality. If we lower the levels of inequality, the gaps in student scores will close as a result. It's overstating things, but not by much, to say we could learn as much about student achievement, and save ourselves a whole lot of money, by getting rid of the tests and just looking up students' zip codes.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Results-Based Funding. The Inequity Will Increase After This School Year

Posted By on Fri, Aug 11, 2017 at 1:15 PM

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My last post was about the likely distribution of the new results-based funding which will go to 17 percent of Arizona's schools. The details are in the earlier post. Here's the short version: Only 35 percent of the state's district schools cater mainly to higher income students, but they represent 65 percent of the schools getting results-based funding for the 2017-18 school year. The economic inequity is even greater for charter schools.

Results-based funding is a very big deal. The lucky schools getting the money will boost their teachers' pay by between $2,000 and $4,000 a year and still have lots left over to buy educational extras other schools can't afford.

Thanks to results-based funding, increased educational inequity will be added to our growing income inequality. But as bad as things are the first year, they'll be far worse after that, with an even bigger piece of the pie going to schools in high rent areas. The details of how this works get a bit complicated, but they're important. Without knowing what the future will bring beyond year one, people will underestimate how truly awful the new results-based funding law is.

When results-based money is given out this school year, 2017-18, it will be based on schools' average AzMERIT scores. Since the standardized test scores correlate so closely with students' family incomes, that could mean that nearly all the money would go to schools in higher rent areas, but an added stipulation guarantees that about a third of the schools are in lower rent areas. According to the current projection from the Arizona legislature's Joint Legislative Budget Committee, 114 district schools with higher income students and 61 schools with lower income students will get the funding.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Economic and Educational Inequity of Results-Based Funding

Posted By on Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 9:00 AM

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We have a fascinating new document out of the Arizona legislature's Joint Legislative Budget Committee. It's a projection of which schools will get results-based funding this year. No surprise here. As predicted, schools with higher income students make out like bandits, but now it's been confirmed. The numbers are only projections, since they're based on 2016 data and the money will be disbursed based on the 2017 AzMERIT test scores, but since most schools' scores don't change much relative to other schools, the projection is likely to be pretty accurate.

About 17 percent of schools will get the results-based funding. Here's a quick breakdown.
   • 114 district schools with higher income students — fewer than 60% on free/reduced lunch — will get results-based funding.
    • 61 district schools with lower income students — more than 60% on free/reduced lunch — will get results-based funding.
    • 73 charter schools with higher income students — fewer than 60% on free/reduced lunch — will get results-based funding.
    • 16 charter schools with lower income students — more than 60% on free/reduced lunch — will get results-based funding.

To put those numbers in perspective, only 35 percent of Arizona's public schools are in the higher income category, yet they make up 65 percent of the schools getting the funding.

The numbers become even more dramatic when you look at the number of students in public schools getting the money: 72 percent of the students are in higher income schools, 28 percent are in lower income schools.

The disparity is even greater with charter schools. 82 percent of the schools are higher income while 18 percent are lower income. In terms of the number of students in those schools, 88 percent are in higher income schools, 12 percent are in lower income schools.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Is the Strong Start Tucson Initiative a Good Idea?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 4, 2017 at 10:00 AM

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Tucsonans will be voting on an initiative, Strong Start Tucson, which, if it passes, will provide money to make preschool more available and affordable for the city's children. It will be funded by a half cent sales tax. That sounds like a wonderful idea to me, but some people have voiced strong objections to the details of the initiative, including people I generally agree with. So which side should I be on? Is the upside of the initiative greater than the downside, or is it the other way around?

The Tucson Sentinel has two columns about Strong Start Tucson, one for and one against the initiative. Both of them are informative and well written. If you're interested, they're worth your time.

Let me cut to the chase. My answer is yes, Tucson should vote for Strong Start Tucson. Now, let's discuss.

The argument for Strong Start Tucson is direct and straightforward. Most Tucson children don't have the opportunity to attend a quality preschool. The programs are very expensive, out of the reach of most families. Yet the vast majority of research agrees that the benefits of early childhood education starts when the child enters school and continues into adulthood. Comparing similar children, especially low income children, who attended a preschool with a strong educational foundation (basic daycare doesn't count, it's a different thing altogether) and children who didn't, studies conclude that the children with a strong preschool experience graduate high school with greater frequency, are less likely to need government assistance, earn more money as adults, are more likely to have stable families and are less likely to get in trouble with the law.

That's a heady list of positive effects with significant personal and economic consequences. People who went to preschool are more likely to have stable, fulfilling lives and less likely to be social and economic burdens on society. With most educational programs, the long term benefits outweigh the short term costs. It may be the preschool experience has the biggest bang for the buck.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Arizona's Un-Credential. Is It the Beginning Of the End Of Teaching As a Profession?

Posted By on Tue, Aug 1, 2017 at 2:44 PM

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I've written a number of posts about SB 1042, which created a new Subject Matter Expert Standard Teaching Certificate. But recently I realized I was so wrapped up in the details of the bill, I missed the big picture, which is that, thanks to the new law, education courses, teacher training and student teaching are now optional for public school teachers. You could even say they're even a waste of time and money. Teaching in Arizona has been officially de-professionalized. People can now get a standard teaching certificate with nothing more than a bachelors degree in a subject taught in middle or high school. Or if they've worked in a relevant field for five years, all they need is a high school diploma or a GED, or less. If a school district is willing to hire them, they immediately become full-fledged teachers who can work until retirement without ever taking an education class or having their subject matter proficiency formally assessed.

The standard definition of "profession" is a paid occupation that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification. Doctors fit that definition. So do lawyers. Teachers also make the cut when they're required to take relevant coursework and go through training in the field of education along with demonstrating a proficiency in the subject matter they will be teaching. But when all Arizona teachers need is a bachelors degree, or a high school diploma or GED plus some work experience, they no longer qualify as professionals.

But we had to do something to combat teacher shortages, right? That's what Ducey and Republican state legislators tell us: necessity was the mother of the new certification rules. The problem is, that's simply not true. The mother of SB 1042 is the conservative desire to devalue, degrade and dismantle public education.

Before the new law, Arizona's public schools already were able to hire teachers with minimal education and training if they needed to. People could teach with nothing more than a bachelors degree by getting an Emergency Teaching Certificate, which is good for a year and can be renewed by taking a few education courses. People could also teach with nothing more than a high school diploma or a GED by getting an Emergency Substitute Certificate, though with that certificate they can only teach 120 days, not a full school year. It can be renewed with a little coursework in any subject.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Meritocracy, System Justification and Mexican American Studies

Posted By on Fri, Jul 28, 2017 at 11:00 AM

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With Mexican American Studies back in the news, the discussion over whether the program helped or hurt its students has been reopened. Were minority students better off for being taught ways Hispanics have gotten a raw deal in this country, or does that just make them angry and discouraged, leaving them worse off than if their history of second class citizenship wasn't emphasized in MAS classrooms?

According to a recent study, programs like MAS help improve minority students' self esteem and their chances of success in school. The study looked at a group of middle school students in a majority-minority middle school in Arizona—55 percent Hispanic, 18 percent black, 11 percent Native American. Researchers asked students if they believed America is a place where people who work hard have an equal chance of succeeding—in other words, if they believed the U.S. is a meritocratic society. When they were sixth graders, students who believed they lived in a meritocracy had relatively high self esteem and were less likely to indulge in risky behavior than other students. But by the end of the seventh grade, those students had lower self esteem and increased risky behaviors compared to students who didn't buy into the idea that they lived in a meritocracy.

The cautious conclusion the researchers draw from their results is that "system justification," the belief that social, economic and political systems around them are inherently good, cause minority students to internalize the discrimination directed at them and view their low societal status as their own fault. As one teacher put it,
“[Minority] students who are told that things are fair implode pretty quickly in middle school as self-doubt hits them,” he said, “and they begin to blame themselves for problems they can’t control.”

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Few Thoughts On the Mexican American Studies Trial

Posted By on Wed, Jul 26, 2017 at 2:35 PM

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The Mexican American Studies trial is over. Judge Tashima's decision could come in a few days or a few weeks, though from what I've heard, we might have to wait until the end of August. The defense of the MAS program can win in four ways. The judge can rule that the anti-MAS legislation, HB 2281, violated the equal protection clause with respect to the students in the program, or HB 2281 violated the first amendment rights of those involved in the program. Either ruling would mean ARS §15-112, the law created by HB 2281, will be tossed out. He can also rule that Huppenthal's enforcement of the legislation to dismantle MAS violated one or both of the issues, at which time Huppenthal's decision against the MAS program would be voided. If Tashima rules in favor of the defense on any of the four points, it will be an important victory for supporters of the Mexican American Studies program  Multiple rulings for the defense will be a triumph.

I would love to see Judge Tashima rule for the program and against the anti-MAS law and Huppenthal's enforcement. The whole affair smelled of politics and racism from the beginning.

Here's a question. Are Tom Horne and John Huppenthal a couple of racists who went after the Mexican American Studies program because they hate brown people? If the judge thinks so, the defense is going to win big. But that's not necessary. Even if they were the two least racist white folks on the planet, if they promoted a racist agenda to further their political ambitions, Horne's bill—he essentially wrote HB 2281—and Huppenthal's implementation of the bill could still be racially discriminatory.

A case in point. Remember George Wallace? He was the Alabama governor who stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama auditorium in 1963 to block two African Americans from registering, leading President Kennedy to call out the national guard to allow them in, effectively desegregating the university. But when Wallace ran for governor in 1958, he looked like a different guy when it came to racial issues. By the standards of the south, he was a civil rights moderate, so much so that his candidacy was endorsed by the NAACP. He ended up losing the primary to John Patterson who had the support of the Ku Klux Klan. Stung by his defeat, Wallace said, "You know why I lost that governor's race? ... I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I'll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again." And he never was. In 1963, he famously stated his platform as "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." For Wallace, virulent racism was more career move than personal conviction.

During the MAS trial, Tom Horne claimed he isn't a racist, but he couldn't claim he wasn't ambitious. When he was Superintendent of Public Instruction, he envisioned himself sitting in the governor's chair after a brief stopover in the attorney general's office. All he needed was an issue to get him noticed, and it was handed to him in 2006 when labor activist and civil rights icon Delores Huerta uttered the phrase "Republicans hate Latinos" during a speech to students at Tucson High. The story blew up and became a cause célèbre among Arizona Republicans. For awhile it even went national, making it all the way to Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox. Horne saw his chance. He transferred the conservative fear of this one "uppity brown activist" to the entire Mexican American Studies program, painting its teachers and administrators as revolutionaries who wanted their students to rise up and reclaim the southwest for Mexico. The steps of the TUSD administration building became Horne's home away from home. He was a regular visitor, holding press conferences to condemn the program. Immigration and fear of the growing Hispanic population were already rallying cries for conservatives. Horne claimed a slice of the racist, xenophobic pie as his own.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

BASIS Connives to Maintain Its Elite Charter School Status in Baton Rouge

Posted By on Tue, Jul 25, 2017 at 5:15 PM

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Arizona has no restrictions on the makeup of a charter school's student body, so if a school happens to attract lots of upper income families, that's fine. Not so in Louisiana. If a school district is the chartering agent, the law says the student body has to have a similar percentage of "at risk" students as the district. That presents a problem for BASIS, which wants to open a school in Baton Rouge, where more than 70 percent of students come from families considered "at risk." BASIS thrives on catering to advantaged students. What to do?

BASIS came up with an answer. Build the school on the property of Woman's Hospital. Then half the school's student body can be children of the hospital employees—they get the first shot before other applicants are considered—and they aren't counted in the school's socioeconomic mix. So BASIS can forget the usual 70 percent mark for "at risk" students.
BASIS’ application estimates that only 20 percent of those students will come from poor backgrounds, sometimes called “at risk,” which would make it one of the most affluent public schools in the state.
I'm not sure how BASIS came up with the 20 percent figure. If half the student body follows the Louisiana guidelines, the number should be closer to 35 percent. But whatever the final numbers turn out to be, the school district's board is fine with the arrangement. It voted 6-0 to give BASIS a provisional contract.

The next time BASIS says its schools don't cater to an elite student body, think about Baton Rouge where BASIS is gaming the system to make sure most it enrolls as few "at risk" kids as possible. The truth is, BASIS's much-touted "best in the nation" status has always had more to do with its pupils than its pedagogy.

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The Producers by Mel Brooks

Arizona Onstage Productions presents the popular and widely successful The Producers. The Biggest Hit Broadway Musical Comedy… More

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