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Monday, May 1, 2017

Back When Arizonans Cared About Public Education, and Were Willing to Fight For Their Initiative Rights

Posted By on Mon, May 1, 2017 at 2:07 PM

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It's in an old Arizona guide book published in 1940, 500 pages long with lots of photos. The first chapter, Contemporary Scene, makes this statement about the state's commitment to public education.
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Ah, for those thrilling days of yesteryear, a time Arizonans were "almost extravagant" when it came to spending on their children's educations!

The next paragraph celebrates the state's "liberal spirit" as embodied by its embrace of the initiative, the referendum and the recall.
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Back then, folks believed their initiative process was such a treasure that if anyone—the legislature, say, or the governor—even suggested surrendering that right, they "would be smothered under a storm of protest."

Almost 80 years later, it's time we honor our forebearers by renewing our commitment to funding public education and ensuring the viability of our initiative process.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ed Shorts

Posted By on Thu, Apr 27, 2017 at 9:00 AM

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A few thoughts from recent Arizona education news.

Writing about U.S. News' Best High Schools rankings: When in doubt, read the instructions. The story that BASIS dominated the U.S. News & World Report high school rankings got lots of press in Arizona, but few reporters bothered to look carefully at how the ratings were calculated. The four steps are neatly laid out on the website. The first three are hurdles schools have to jump over—state test scores, achievement by disadvantaged and minority students, graduation rates—to make it to the final round. Over 20,000 schools made the cut. Then the actual judging is all about the percentage of seniors who've taken Advanced Placement courses and how well they did on the tests. The first three steps don't figure into the final results, contrary to the impression left by most articles on the topic. BASIS long ago decided to require a slew of AP courses in high school, and part of the reason was so the schools would score high in national rankings. You don't get that many schools at the top of the heap without figuring out how to game the system. Any reporting on the rankings that doesn't understand and explain the ratings system is doing BASIS a big favor while it misleads readers.

BASIS believes it costs more to educate low income students. BASIS is planning to open a few new Arizona schools in low income areas to see if its educational model will work with a less academically select group of students, but it says it needs more money to do it.
[BASIS.ed CEO Peter] Bezanson said the Basis model can be replicated to teach more diverse students, and his team would like to be the one to do it. But they can only do it with adequate funding. 
Elsewhere, Bezanson said he's planning to look for outside funding to make the new schools work. I find that fascinating. I'd like to see him testify up at the Capitol to ask for extra funding for all schools in low income areas. If BASIS thinks it can't teach those kids with the same amount of money it gets for its wealthier, more academically prepared kids, maybe that would help Republican legislators understand it takes more money, not less, to give low income kids the extra enrichment they need. Other industrialized countries understand that. Apparently BASIS does too.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Casa Video Top 10

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 1:58 PM

The Tucson sun is heating up again, which means indoor air conditioning will be everyone's best friend soon enough. For those days that it is too hot to do anything, including to leave your bed, kick back and relax in the comforts of your makeshift igloo with one (or all) of Casa Video's top 10 best-sellers of the week.

Star Wars: Rogue One

Hidden Figures


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Split

Why Him?


Lion


Arrival

Sleepless

A Monster Calls

Moonlight

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Once Again, It's Time to Deconstruct the U.S. News "Best High Schools" Rankings

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 6:00 PM

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  • PhotoSpin
Once again, BASIS swept the U.S. News & World Report's list of best public high schools, taking five of the top seven places. University High placed number 15. Does that mean BASIS has five of the seven best schools in the country and University High is the 15th best? Only if you think "best school" means a place filled with high achieving students who take lots and lots of Advanced Placement classes and tests. The more AP courses seniors have taken and the more tests they've passed, the higher a school's ranking. AP courses are the basis of the BASIS curriculum. University High emphasizes the courses, but not quite as much.

Unfortunately, if you read the Star's misleading front page article, you get a different, and incorrect, picture of how a high school makes it to the top.

To get a high U.S. News ranking, you have to jump over a few hurdles, like performance on state tests and graduation rates, to be in contention. Once you've cleared those hurdles, a school's ranking is based totally—not partially, totally—on how many Advanced Placement classes seniors have taken and how well they do on the tests. That's it. This year, the contest didn't even include the International Baccalaureate program as it has in the past. It was all AP, all the time.

Someone who read the Star article would think the ranking uses a more complex, inclusive formula where AP course work is "considered." Nope. Not so. Here's what the Star wrote about the ranking process with my comments and corrections in brackets.
The list, published annually, looks at data from more than 22,000 schools focusing on student outcomes with an emphasis on graduation rates [Nope. If graduation rates are 75 percent or higher, you make it into the all-important AP round.] and state proficiency tests [Nope. If you're in the top 10 percent in state test scores, or lower if you have more economically disadvantaged students, you make it into the all-important AP round]. Diversity [Doesn't matter if you're in the top 10 percent in state test scores], enrollment [Of very little importance], participation in free and reduced-price lunch programs [Nope. BASIS schools don't have free/reduced lunch, so under that category, U.S. News simply says "Not Applicable"] and Advance Placement are also considered [Misleading. AP isn't simply considered, it's the only thing that matters once a school makes it into the all-important final round].

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Good, Available Child Care Benefits Society

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 11:11 AM

FLICKR
  • Flickr
Quality child care is helpful to children and their parents, and though it's expensive in the short term, it's cost effective in the long term. And we spend half as much of our Gross National Product on it as the average industrialized country.

All this information is in a New York Times article. The surprise is, it's in the business section, not a section about child rearing or education. But it's not out of place among articles about finances and the economy, because, even disregarding its value as a societal good, quality child care makes good economic sense.
[R]ecent studies show that of any policy aimed to help struggling families, aid for high-quality care has the biggest economic payoff for parents and their children — and even their grandchildren. It has the biggest positive effect on women’s employment and pay. It’s especially helpful for low-income families, because it can propel generations of children toward increased earnings, better jobs, improved health, more education and decreased criminal activity as adults.
A recent study out of the University of Chicago looks at two long-term studies out of North Carolina where young children from low-income families received free, full-time child care. The children and their families were compared to a control group. The mothers of the children in child care earned more than those in a control group, which is no surprise, but they were still earning more twenty years later. The children stayed in school longer, and they earned more as well. The study found that at age 30, the men who had been in quality child care earned almost $20,000 more a year than the control group and the women earned $2,500 more. The researchers admit that the small sample size of the study means that $20,000 figure for the men likely isn't representative, but even if it were considerably less, it would still be significant.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Trouble in Republican City Over Voucher Expansion?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 4:00 PM

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I can’t remember agreeing with Greg Miller—a Republican who runs a charter school and is ex-president of the Arizona Board of Education—before. But an op ed he wrote for the Capitol Times, GOP support of voucher expansion bill an insult to most students, is an exception to the rule. It begins,
As an advocate for education reform for the past 35 years, a co-founder of a very successful charter school, a lifelong Republican, and the most recent past president of the Arizona State Board of Education, I have never been more embarrassed, outraged, disappointed, and angry to call myself a Republican. How on earth do the Republicans in the state Legislature who voted for the Empowerment Scholarship Account (voucher) bill, or our governor, who signed it, look in the mirror and in good faith, not understand what they have just done.
Miller continues,
Public education has been the equalizer for 150 years of economic growth and assimilation of immigrants into the culture that we enjoy today. This is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of students who do not have the resources to pay the additional thousands of dollars for the tuition these private schools will be charging above the state subsidy, and without the opportunity of a quality education provided in their local schools where due process and common goals of expectation drive the continued development of economic expansion for everyone, not just a privileged few.
He ends by saying voters need to kick out the ESA expansion supporters in 2018.
All Republicans that share this view [against voucher expansion] use your vote in next summer’s Republican primary to replace anyone who supported this transfer of economic wealth from our public school system to the private schools of the wealthy.
I’ll take exception with Miller here and say we need to kick out the anti-education Republicans and replace them with some pro-education, pro-child Democrats, but hey, we can agree to disagree on that one.

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Statewide Voucher Initiatives Has Been Voted Down Everywhere, Every Time

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 8:30 AM

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There's no way Republicans can take away the initiative process using the initiative process. Voters won't go for that. And they can't push through school vouchers that way either; people always vote against vouchers. So this year, Republicans have used their legislative majority to thumb their noses at voters, taking away something they like and pushing through more of something they don't.

We've been there before. In 2013 Republicans tried to make it more difficult for voter-proposed initiatives to make it on the ballot. But after passing an anti-initiative law, they repealed it a year later because a move was afoot to let the people decide if they liked what the legislators had done. Republicans hurried to get rid of the law to save themselves from an embarrassing defeat, and to let them reenact anti-initiative legislation later piece by piece, which is what they've done this year.

Private school vouchers have never been on the ballot in Arizona. The Republican-controlled legislature voted in School Tuition Organizations in 1997. In 2011 it did the same for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Then year by year it passed new bills to expand the two voucher systems.

Why didn't Republicans let voters have their say on STOs or ESAs? Because they know, voucher ballot measures have never passed anywhere—at least not for the past 30 years, which is as far back as I can find information.

Here's a list of statewide votes on vouchers, courtesy of Ballotpedia.
1990: Oregon Tuition Tax Credits. Defeated 68%-32%.
1993: California School Vouchers. Defeated 70%-30%.
1996: Washington State School Vouchers. Defeated 64%-36%.
1998: Colorado Tuition Tax Credits. Defeated 60%-40%.
2000: California School Vouchers. Defeated 71%-29%.
2007: Utah School Vouchers. Defeated 63%-38%.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dare to Say, 'Tax the Rich'

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 3:30 PM

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA
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If there's a Democratic primary for governor, I'm supporting the candidate who says "Tax the rich."

David Garcia already signed on to run against Ducey in 2018. Steve Farley has said he's interested. Farley and Garcia are both very smart, energetic guys who I would be happy to see as our next governor. Add the extra pleasure of seeing Ducey crash and burn at the polls, and I'd be damn near ecstatic if either won. Both of them are strong backers of public education. Both will push for inclusive social services from state agencies. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but not enough for me to give either the political edge. That makes it tough to choose between them, assuming Farley jumps in the race.

So if there's a primary, I'm going to be listening for their stands on raising taxes. There's no way to stretch current dollars to pay for what we need. Education. Social services. Did I mention highway repair? Those are all big ticket items, and Arizona has a small ticket budget.

Farley has made a good case for getting rid of some of the tax exemptions gifted to special interests over the years. He thinks there's at least $2 billion in trimmable tax breaks, maybe more, without touching the sales tax exemptions for things like food and prescriptions. And that would be terrific. But whenever I hear that kind of talk from Farley and other Democrats, much as I think it's a great idea, I always feel like it's a way of avoiding the elephant in the room. And I don't mean the Republican elephant. I mean that big ol' "Tax increase" elephant.

Garcia has edged up next to the idea of a tax increase. He says we absolutely need more money for education and he wants to raise revenue, maybe even raise taxes if necessary. But if he has a plan, I don't know what it is.

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Frida al Fresco

On the fourth Friday of every month, the Gardens will be the center of all things Frida… More

@ Tucson Botanical Gardens Fourth Friday of every month, 5-8 p.m. Continues through May 26 2150 N. Alvernon Way.

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