Monday, July 16, 2018

We Got Another Letter to the Editor in the Mail!

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2018 at 2:30 PM

We don't get many old-school letters to the editor these days, but God bless reader Michael Cajero for continuing to send us his thoughts, whether he likes what we're doing or he doesn't. Here's his latest.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Right-Wing Money Is Greasing the Anti-Teachers Union Skids

Posted By on Fri, Jul 13, 2018 at 3:06 PM


Teachers, here's a pop quiz. How will you receive information trying to convince you to drop ties with the teachers union? (a) Email. (b) Snail mail. (c) Phone call. (d) Knock on your door. The correct answer is (e) Any or all of the above.

The Public School Wrecking Crew scored a huge win when the Supreme Court decided public-employee unions cannot make nonmembers contribute to collective bargaining in its recent Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees decision. The ink was barely dry on the written arguments when right wing money began pouring into campaigns to persuade teachers to walk away from their unions.
Right-leaning think tanks and advocacy organizations have placed anti-union ads on Google and social media and sent targeted emails to teachers across the country. Some plan to go door to door to reach educators during the summer.
One group is trying to uses states' open records laws to get the email addresses of union members to make targeting even easier.

Two groups spearheading the campaign are The Mackinac Center and The Freedom Foundation. Both have strong libertarian, "free market" leanings. That puts them in the same ideological camp, and funding stream, as UA's "Freedom Center," which created the high school course, Philosophy 101: Ethics, Economy, and Entrepreneurship, currently on hold in TUSD, though it's still being taught in other local school districts as well as charter and private schools. (To give you the complete buzz word, dog whistle experience, the center's full name is the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom. It is housed in the recently created Department of Political Economy & Moral Science.)

Let's look at the two groups funding the anti-union push.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

No Philosophy 101 Course At TUSD. For Now

Posted By on Thu, Jul 12, 2018 at 11:52 AM


The TUSD Governing Board decided to table a vote on reinstating the course, Phil 101: Ethics, Economy, and Entrepreneurship. The course was created by UA's Koch Brothers-infused Freedom Center and has met with controversy and skepticism since people found out about it.

It looks like the main reason for delaying the vote is the textbook. New textbooks are supposed go through a review process and be on display in the district office for 60 days before the board votes on adoption, which hasn't happened. Up to this point, the district has played fast and loose with the course. The board wasn't even involved in approving it. It would have been difficult to justify fast tracking the textbook after all the prior shenanigans.

So, no Phil 101 course at TUSD. For now. The issue will almost certainly come to a board vote sometime during this school year after the textbook has gone through the 60 day review process, which means the board could decide to reinstate the course.

That's the end of the news. Now, for your amusement...

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"Hey Buddy, Can You Spare $200 Million?" If Your Buddy Is the Walton (Walmart) Family, Then, Yes

Posted By on Tue, Jul 10, 2018 at 4:48 PM

  • Courtesy of flickr
The charter school movement owes its current level of success to its friends in high tax brackets. Lots of friends. We wouldn't have as many charters as we have now, by a long shot, if deep-pocketed donors hadn't contributed billions to get them started and prop them up. And they'd get far less press without all the privatization/"education reform" groups funded by the same rich folks who help them make it into the news.

Take the private donors out of the charter school biz, and we'd have a backwater education movement with significant outposts around the country, a band of ardent supporters and occasional articles in the media, including thought pieces like "Will charter schools ever catch on?"

A number of the deep-pocketed charter supporters are men who made their money in high tech and hedge funds. Their allegiance has less to do with an objective analysis of charters than their dislike of government regulations and their oversized, self-made-man egos. Other donors are billionaires who made their money the old fashioned way, they inherited it. Together, they've plowed billions into charter schools. That's on top of taxpayer funding, of course. Charters get per student dollars from state budgets, just like district schools.

I used "billions" to describe the money going to charters. Did I add a zero to the total to exaggerate the contributions to charter schools? The answer is, no. Billions it is, no exaggeration necessary. To get a sense of the kind of money that flows to charters from private sources, let's push aside all the donors except one, not because the others' contributions are insignificant, but because this one money machine cranks out cash for charters at an amazing rate. I'm talking about the Walton Foundation.

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Freedom Center's Philosophy 101 Course Is On the TUSD Board Agenda

Posted By on Fri, Jul 6, 2018 at 12:34 PM


Tuesday, July 10, the TUSD school board will vote on bringing back a course created by the University of Arizona's Freedom Center — Philosophy 101: Ethics, Economy and Entrepreneurship.
I expect we'll see some post-July 4 fireworks during the meeting's Call to the Audience. How will the board vote? I don't have a clue, though I expect it'll go 3-2 either way.

Last October I wrote a column in the Weekly print edition about the Phil 101 course. Some of what I wrote was news to members of the school board who didn't know the course existed (it never went to the board for approval), much less that it was created and sponsored by the Koch Brothers-backed Freedom Center at University of Arizona. It was also news to most of Tucson.

In December, the board voted 4-1 to cancel the course at the end of the 2017-18 school year. Tuesday they're taking a second look. If the item passes, the course will no longer fulfill the state economics requirement as it did before. It will be an elective. However, it will still be a dual credit course, meaning students can take it for both UA and high school credit.

Some UA profs who know more about economics than I do say Phil 101 is a shoddy course using a shoddy textbook (Course and textbook were created by the same people at the Freedom Center).

What I know is, the course was designed to promote a libertarian agenda, and it's no more than two degrees of separation from the billionaire Koch Brothers' decades-long campaign to push their agenda in Congress, state legislatures, colleges and high schools around the country. UA's Freedom Center and the Phil 101 course are among the campaign's recent success stories.

The course was created and promoted using a $2.9 million grant from a private foundation. The price tag alone is a warning sign that some folks with deep pockets really, really want this to happen. I can't think of another instance where someone put that kind of money behind the creation of a single high school course.

Another warning sign. The foundation's website said it hopes by 2025, the course "will reach some 25,000 high school students — roughly 25 percent of Arizona's high school student population."

They're looking to see some serious libertarian-infused bang for their bucks. It's likely the vote isn't a done deal. If you want to make your opinions known to board members before the Tuesday meeting, here are the emails they list on the TUSD website:
Michael Hicks:
Kristel Foster:
Adelita Grijalva:
Rachael Sedgwick:
Mark Stegeman:
Stay tuned.

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Thursday, July 5, 2018

Oh My! Whatever Will We Do Without High Stakes Tests?

Posted By on Thu, Jul 5, 2018 at 1:21 PM


My last post was all about how wrong-headed and destructive high stakes tests are to schools, teachers and students. We need to get rid of the yearly tests. Not jigger with them. Not improve them. Not replace them with complex, multi-faceted rubrics to rank schools' effectiveness. Get rid of them. Repeal and don't replace.

There's only so much we can know about education, and it's far less than the tests pretend to tell us. Learn to live with uncertainty. It beats being certain and wrong.

We lived with uncertainty before No Child Left Behind came along fifteen years ago and created our yearly high stakes testing ritual. We've always argued about schools. The difference is, before NCLB, we didn't have yearly test scores from students around the country to "prove" our point. The scores didn't prove anything. All we learned from running those millions of data points through sophisticated computer analyses is that we can arrive at mathematically precise conclusions that are wrong four places to the right of the decimal point.

We can live with uncertainty again. We can continue to disagree about our schools on educational, political and financial grounds, using whatever arguments and data we can pull together to make our cases. But let's not back up our claims with bad data which has been passed off by politicians as educational gospel. It cheapens and distorts the conversation, and it hurts the students.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

If the High Stakes Tests Don't Make Sense, Neither Will the Results

Posted By on Tue, Jul 3, 2018 at 11:29 AM


Back when I was a younger man and a big Kurt Vonnegut fan, his novel Sirens of Titan was required reading. (Everything of his was required reading.) The book's main character wrote down a list of things he wanted to be sure to remember. I only recall one item: "If the questions don't make sense, neither will the answers." The statement hit me like a lightning bolt. It explained why, when I tried to answer some questions, I found myself tied up in knots. If a question was based on false assumptions and I answered it directly, I had to wrap my answer around the bad assumptions. Vonnegut's insight helped me realize that a direct response to a ridiculous question has to begin with, "Your question doesn't make sense."

I wrote Vonnegut's words down immediately. Decades later, they're among the 30 Stickies residing on my Mac desktop.

Now I'm adapting Vonnegut's statement to high stakes test results, which, since No Child Left Behind became the law of the land 16 years ago, have been the way we've answered the question, "Which schools are succeeding and which are failing?" The "answer" assumes the test results are a reliable way of determining school effectiveness. That's nonsense. Which leads me to the conclusion, if the high stakes tests don't make sense, neither will the results.

TUSD has decided to get rid of the AzMERIT tests at the high school level and replace them with a single ACT test given to 11th graders. I'm all for the change, for a few reasons. (1) It disrupts the A-F state grading system for schools. How do you compare the scores of high school students taking ACT, SAT and AzMERIT tests? It's apples and oranges, or maybe Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples. (2) It takes the "standard" out of "standardized testing," which weakens the whole high stakes testing movement. (3) As an unintended bonus, it takes a baby step toward democratizing the college admissions process.

Let's review what's wrong with AzMERIT and other high stakes standardized tests.

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

AP Gets a Little Less A-Preciation

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 5:00 PM


AP — Advanced Placement — is the first name that comes to most people's minds when they think about college credit courses in high school. But the courses may not be a good as their sales pitch. The fact is, lots of colleges don't give wholesale credit to students who pass their AP exams. And the way teachers are forced to present the material can be constraining. Those are reasons some top flight private schools are dropping their AP classes. Meanwhile, a major battle is raging over AP's decision to begin its world history course in 1450 AD — meaning the "world" would pretty much be boiled down to Europe and the U.S. along with a host of minor players.

The folks who create U.S. News & World Report's high school rankings may think the best, in fact the only way to judge school quality is by counting the number of AP, or IB (International Baccalaureate), courses students take and how well they do on the final tests. But others have their doubts.

Advanced Placement courses are created by the nonprofit College Board, which is also responsible for SAT exams. College Board designs the courses, but more importantly, it sends out the end-of-the-year tests which determine whether students earn college credit. That puts pressure on high school AP teachers to stick closely to the set curriculum and make sure to cover all the topics and minutiae which are likely to crop up on the test. AP teachers are in an academic straitjacket, and students are forced to put too much emphasis on memorizing facts and figures, often at the expense of a more conceptual grasp of the material.

A sidelight: The high school where I taught made the decision not to use AP or IB courses. We contracted with local colleges and universities to grant college credit through their institutions. The teachers had control over the curriculum and made the decisions about who deserved college credit for the courses. I never heard a college complain about lack of preparation of our graduates, nor did I hear graduates say the coursework wasn't college level. The lack of AP courses on student transcripts didn't stop them from getting into some of the country's top colleges and universities.

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