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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Ducey's 'Education Budget,' Part 2: 17 Percent of Schools Will Get A Big Bonus (Hint: It Helps to Have Lots of Rich Kids)

Posted By on Wed, May 10, 2017 at 3:42 PM

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Governor Ducey signed a new program into law, Results-based funding. It will give 17 percent of the state's schools a sizable chunk of change, enough to give their teachers a 5 to 10 percent raise and still have half the funding left over to put to other uses.

Before I begin, let me admit most of the numbers I'm using here are approximations, and I can't guarantee I'm 100 percent correct on the consequences of the new results-based funding, but I think I'm reasonably close. The problem is, I haven't read anything near a thorough analysis of the new funding scheme, so I'm venturing into new territory. Consider my analysis and my numbers a starting point for further discussion. Oh, and a word of warning. This post is going to get wonky in a hurry, so if you're not interested in lots of digging into the numbers and intricacies of results-based funding, run while you still can.

Results-based funding is a new spin on a proposal Governor Brewer tried to put into law a few years back, unsuccessfully. The basic idea is, the most "successful" schools—meaning those where their students are achieving at a high level—should be rewarded for their success by getting more money. That's contrary to what most industrialized countries do, which is to give money, mentoring and resources to underperforming schools to help them improve. But let's put that aside and see how the Arizona plan works.

Next school year, about 17 percent of all district and charter schools will get results-based funding, which will amount to either $225 or $400 per student. The other 83 percent won't get a penny. To put the funding into perspective, Prop. 123 gave all Arizona schools about $325 per student. True, that was less than what schools need (and less than the courts ordered), but it was still a significant amount of money. The results-based funding numbers are in the same general ballpark. The program will cost $37.6 million, which is a bit more than the $34 million the legislature saw fit to allot for statewide teacher raises, yet it will go to fewer than one-fifth of the schools.

Of the 17 percent of schools that make the cut, those with fewer than 60 percent of their students on free or reduced lunch will get $225 per student. Schools with more than 60 percent on free or reduced lunch will get $400 per student. The law states that half or more of the new funding will be used for teachers. Ducey says that's specifically for teacher raises, though the law opens the spending up for other teacher-related uses. But if half of the money—$112.50 or $200 per student, depending on the school—were spent on teacher raises, that would mean a raise of approximately $2,250 or $4,000, somewhere between 5 and 10 percent. Those schools would be instantly more attractive to teachers and would see their teacher shortages disappear. Teacher applications would start flooding in, allowing them to fill their classrooms with top applicants.

The law assures that schools with more low income students, those getting $400 per student, will be included in the program. The clever folks who wrote the bill make it look like they're including an equal number of schools in both the higher and lower income groups, but the way the money is allotted, nearly 25 percent of schools with students from higher income families, those with fewer than 60 percent of FRL students, will be included, compared to 10 percent of schools with more than 60 percent of FRL students. Here's how they created the disparity.

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Monday, May 8, 2017

Ducey's 'Education Budget,' Part 1: A 25 Cents an Hour Raise for Teachers

Posted By on Mon, May 8, 2017 at 4:13 PM

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It's no surprise Ducey wants it to be known as his "education budget." He can read the writing, and the polling, on the wall. Education is Arizona voters' number one issue, and for all his posturing in that direction, Ducey hasn't exactly earned himself a vote of confidence.

A recent KTAR News/OH Predictive Insights poll tells the story. Education is "the most pressing issue facing Arizona," according to 43 percent of the respondents. By way of comparison, jobs, the economy and health care totaled a combined 29 percent. When asked what grade Ducey has earned on education, respondents gave him a C—just average. More people gave him an F than all his A's and B's added together. As with all polls, these results should be taken with a few grains of salt, but even if the numbers are off a bit, it's clear, Ducey has earned a resounding "Meh" from the voters regarding what he's done for education. And that's not a good thing when he knows his 2018 Democratic opponent is going to be slamming him on education and pushing for more funding.

So Ducey is selling his education accomplishments, hard. Right now, that means pushing what he calls his "education budget." But if you look at the numbers carefully, you'll see it's a mixture of smoke, mirrors and bullshit.

Take a look the graphic-heavy, information-lite page titled, BOUNDLESS OPPORTUNITY: Education Budget 2017 on the governor's website. The only honest words in that title are "Budget 2017."

Here's what the page says under Teacher Pay Raises: "$68 million for a 2% teacher pay raise." If I were feeling generous, I'd call those figures misleading. Since I'm not feeling generous, I'll call them what they are: bullshit. This year, the budget adds 1 percent to teacher salaries, which will cost $34 million. Ducey assures us the raise will go up to 2% next year, but that's just talk at this point. It'll have to be negotiated again in the next budget.

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Got a Bachelor's Degree? There May Be a Public School Teaching Job Waiting For You.

Posted By on Thu, May 4, 2017 at 2:00 PM

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Sitting at your college graduation trying to decide what to do next? Why not teach in a public school? You don't need any education classes. You don't need to demonstrate subject matter proficiency. Just take off that cap and gown and stow it in the back of your car, drive to the nearest school district and put in an application for a job to teach in your major field. They're desperate for teachers, you know, so you've got a great shot at walking out with an offer. Soon, you'll have yourself a Subject Matter Expert Standard Teaching Certificate and a classroom of your own.

I mean, really, how tough can it be to teach? You were a K-12 student. You spent 13 years watching teachers take roll, say a few words to the class, give an assignment and put the kids to work. You know how it's done, right? Piece of cake. You can do it too!

Dear Reader: Just to be sure you're clear on the concept, that second paragraph is pure satire. I spent 30-plus years in the classroom, and it stayed challenging all the way through my last day. Teaching ain't easy. But the first paragraph is for real. When the recent bill making it easier to get a teaching certificate in Arizona was signed into law by Governor Ducey, it meant that anyone with a baccalaureate degree in a subject taught in a public school can get a Subject Matter Expert Standard Teaching Certificate and start teaching right away. According to the law, there are two more ways you can get one of those certificates, potentially without even being a high school graduate. More on that later.

I've read what's been written about the new teacher certification law in other publications, and I'm almost certain the reporters whose work I've read misunderstood the legislation. The law has three requirements for obtaining a Subject Matter Expert Standard Teaching Certificate, and the articles appear to believe someone needs to fulfill two or more of the requirements to qualify, setting the bar higher than it actually is. I've gone through the Conference Engrossed Version of SB 1042 a number of times and read over the Senate Fact Sheet, and it's clear to me that an applicant only needs to fulfill one of the three to qualify.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Do Arizona Republicans Want to (a) Dismantle; (b) Damage; (c) Degrade; and/or (d) Devalue Public Education?

Posted By on Tue, May 2, 2017 at 8:54 PM

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No question about it. Republicans with most of the power in Arizona are enemies of public education. They've demonstrated it over and over, for years. But what would they do to public education if they could do anything they wanted? It sounds like a simple question, but it's a tough one to answer. I'm going to take a stab at it.

We have to begin by defining our terms. "Public education" and "publicly funded education" are two different things. Public education is both funded and run by the public, with publicly elected school boards which have the power to make the final education and personnel decisions. Only school districts fit that description. Charter schools are a public/private hybrid, publicly funded but privately operated, answering to the owners and their appointed boards. At one time, private schools were both privately funded and privately run, but with the growth of vouchers, they're becoming kind of a charter/private hybrid, getting a whole lot of their funding from the public but having even less public oversight and control than charter schools.

Arizona's supporters of public education often say Republicans want to "dismantle" public education. I've always been uncomfortable with that term. It sounds too much like the plan is to take public education apart, piece by piece, until it's no longer there. To my ears, "dismantle" sounds a lot like "destroy," and I don't think that's accurate. About 75 percent of Arizona's school children attend public schools. Of the remainder, almost 20 percent are in charters and between 5 to 8 percent are either in private schools or home schooled. There's no plausible way to create enough charters and private schools to get take care of the 75 percent currently in public schools. I suppose districts could be made into collections of charter schools, an experiment currently being tested in a few cities in other parts of the country, but I don't see it happening here, at least not on a statewide scale. Public education is here to stay, and I think most Republicans are OK with that. They don't want to dismantle, as in destroy, school districts. What the want to do is damage, degrade and devalue them.

Regardless of the words we use to describe it, the question is, if Republicans had their way, what would the damaged, degraded, devalued public education look like? I doubt many Arizona Republicans have thought this question through and have a coherent answer, but if they did, I think it would go something like this.

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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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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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