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Friday, November 3, 2017

I Infantilize High School Students and Have Little Faith in the Intelligence of High School Teachers? Who Knew? (Certainly Not Me)

Posted By on Fri, Nov 3, 2017 at 4:08 PM

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The current issue of the Weekly has a response to my Guest Opinion about UA's libertarian-leaning Center for the Philosophy of Freedom and the high school course it created. It's written by Michael McKenna, the  current director of the "Freedom Center." I braced myself for a serious tongue lashing. Instead I found some serious quibbles with what I wrote along with information which either confirmed or added to the facts and ideas I presented.

I plan to post about McKenna's response in depth next week, but now I want to focus on my favorite part of his opinion piece, where he writes about how little respect I have for high school students and teachers.
Safier and those who find [David] Schmidtz's course so outrageous should consider just how much they infantilize high school students and how little faith they apparently have in the intelligence of high school teachers. Advanced high school students with an interest in enrolling in challenging college courses can be a pretty tough audience. And most high school teachers offering such courses do have minds of their own—even if they do get the chance to be trained by Schmidtz in how to teach the course.
I don't know if McKenna has taken the time to look into my work history even though I refer to it regularly in my posts. He may or may not know I am a retired public high school teacher who has taught thousands of high school students and worked closely with hundreds of high school teachers. I'm pretty sure most of my colleagues and former students would be surprised to hear that I held them in little regard, especially my students who know I encouraged them to think independently and deeply respected their intelligence and potential.

Reading McKenna's paragraph above, I have to wonder if he has much respect for the power of education to shape minds and the power of teachers to change students' perceptions of the world. Why did he choose to be a professor, I wonder. Why "profess" if you don't believe what you say will have much impact on the people you profess to?

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Koch Brothers Are Spending Money To Make Arizona's Education More To Their Liking

Posted By on Thu, Nov 2, 2017 at 12:22 PM

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Grit and determination. They can go a long way if you hope to change the world. Especially when you're the Koch Brothers and you have $97 billion to back up your grit and determination.

Ninety-seven billion. That's the combined worth of Charles and David Koch. Separately, they share sixth place on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, but as a two-headed monster peddling their influence to make the country more conservative, libertarian and pollution-friendly (they're in the oil business, after all), they the top the list.

[Frightening side note: If you combine the fortunes of the three richest Waltons, the family that gave us Wal-Mart and spends hundreds of millions pushing educational privatization, their total worth comes to $115 billion, $18 billion more than the Kochs.]

Seeing as how I recently wrote a guest column in The Weekly's print edition about University of Arizona's Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, aka the "Freedom Center," and I plan to continue writing on the topic, and seeing as how the Kochs furnished nearly $2 million to help start the Center, I want to take a look at a Politico article which came out a couple days ago, How the Kochs are trying to shake up public schools, one state at a time. It begins:
With school choice efforts stalled in Washington, the billionaire Koch brothers’ network is engaged in state-by-state battles with teachers’ unions, politicians and parent groups to push for public funding of private and charter schools.
The privatization/"education reform" crowd has a lock on the White House and the Department of Education, and it's got either a majority of Congress or close to it, but if that isn't enough (and it doesn't look like it is, the education agenda is stalled), there's always Charles and David Koch to put their billions to work. And let's not forget Ed Sec Betsy DeVos's well-funded American Federation for Children, which she had to step back from when she got her position in Trump's cabinet. It pours money into state and local races to help elect candidates who support educational "choice." Hundreds of thousands of AFC dollars have found their way into the coffers of "choice"-friendly candidates for Arizona's legislature.

The Politico article is mainly about the Kochs' Libre Initiative which, according to the article, is "under the umbrella of the Charles and David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity." It's in eleven states including Arizona, targeting the Hispanic population with its pro-charters-and-vouchers, anti-public-schools agenda.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

'Arizonans United for Health Care' Wants You to Know, Healthcare Signups Begin Nov. 1, and You Can Get Help With Your Application

Posted By on Tue, Oct 31, 2017 at 2:01 PM

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The goal of Arizonans United for Health Care is to educate the community about the Affordable Care Act in its current form, according to Alma Hernandez, senior organizer for the group. "We want to remind people the first day to enroll is November 1 and enrollment ends December 15," she said, "and you can get help signing up."

The group is building coalitions with other local nonprofits and activists working to inform people about the ACA.

One of the best places to find help signing up is Cover Arizona, according to Hernandez. Type in your zip code, and the website generates a list of places where you can schedule an appointment to get help applying for KidsCare, AHCCCS and the ACA Marketplace.

Arizonans United for Health Care is nonpartisan, Hernandez says, but it isn't shy about going after Rep. Martha McSally and Sen. Jeff Flake for their votes against the ACA, including in a short video featuring Julie Simons, a single mother who started her own business and provides health insurance for her employees. Simons is also a breast cancer survivor. Citing McSally's vote against the ACA, Simons worries that an end to affordable coverage for preexisting conditions can endanger her ability to get affordable health care for herself or provide it to her employees.

Arizonans United for Health Care can be contacted using an email form on the bottom of its web page or by messaging on its Facebook page.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Fed Tax Cut, AZ School Grades, Results-Based Funding, and a W.A.G.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 6:33 PM

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The federal tax cut proposals Republicans are putting together will most likely throw a few tax cut bones to the middle class and toss a couple of chicken wings in the direction of the poor so it looks like everyone gets a tax break, but the richest Americans will be the folks getting thick, juicy, medium-rare ribeye steaks grilled to perfection. No one knows whether the bones and wings will make it into the final bill, but it's a sure bet the most powerful Americans can count on being hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars richer if their friends in Congress and the White House can figure out a way to put together the needed votes.

On a smaller scale, something similar is happening with Arizona's school grades and results-based funding. The richest, most powerful Arizonans were promised steak dinners in the form of results-based funding bonuses for the schools their children attend. That worked out just fine in lots of cases, but a few were surprised to find their plates empty, and they're crying foul. Now the state is trying to figure out how to make things right.

Meanwhile, the rest of the schools, those with families in the middle and lower economic ranges, are getting a few results-based bones and chicken wings, but I'm betting some of those will be taken away to make sure the people who really matter to the Republicans in power get the steaks they were promised.

Lots of reporters have been picking up on the story about the state's long-awaited school grades over the past week, because it's a really big deal. The grades posted by the Department of Education were supposed to be final unless a school appealed. Then Tim Carter, president of the state Board of Education, stepped in. He declared the grades "preliminary," to the surprise of pretty much everyone including the other board members who knew nothing of the change until he announced it. As of Monday, however, the Board is on board as well. The posted state grades don't mean a thing until we swing into January, and even the January deadline is far from final.

The state grades worked out almost the way they were supposed to. Almost. The top schools in terms of family income, the ones attended by the children of the wealthiest and most powerful Arizonans, grabbed most of the A's — the top 11 percent got close to 40 percent of all the A grades — and grades slid downward in rough correlation to the family income of students attending the schools. The results should have been acceptable to the people who run things in the state, except for two important problems.

Next school year, every A school will get a whole lot of extra money in the form of results-based funding while the B through F schools get nothing (The funding system works differently this school year). So a number of schools in the high rent areas with B's, or even C's, feel cheated because they didn't get one of those big, juicy results-based steaks they know they deserve. They figure, "Why should the top 11 percent only make up 40 percent of the schools getting the extra funding? Why not more like 50 percent, and include my child's school?"

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Flake: "Mr. President, I Rise Today To Say, 'Enough'"

Posted By on Tue, Oct 24, 2017 at 2:00 PM

Sen. Jeff Flake: “When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say? Mr. President, I rise today to say, enough." - COURTESY OF FLAKE.SENATE.GOV
  • Courtesy of flake.senate.gov
  • Sen. Jeff Flake: “When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say? Mr. President, I rise today to say, enough."
Flake's bombshell announcement today that he would not seek reelection next year is rocking the state's political landscape.

Flake took time on the Senate floor today to explain his decision, saying that the coarseness of President Donald Trump drove his decision. Talking Points Memo summarizes:

“I have children and grandchildren to answer to. And so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent,” Flake said in a speech that centered around the degradation of political civility in the age of Trump.

He criticized the “coarseness of our leadership” and the “regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals.”

“When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say? Mr. President, I rise today to say, enough,” Flake said. “We have fooled ourselves long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it. We know better than that. By now we all know better than that.”

“We must stop pretending that the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has been excused as ‘telling it like it is’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified,” Flake continued. “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”
I suspect Flake would not have made this move if he hadn't seen polling numbers that showed his support collapsing among Republicans in Arizona. That problem been building for awhile, but his feuds with Trump have definitely accelerated his decline—and his decision to write a book hammering away at Trump surely didn't help things.

I don't agree with many of Flake's policies (other than his push to solve the nation's immigration problems with the Gang of Eight back in 2013), but I do believe he is a fundamentally decent guy who wants to reverse the rot within his party. But he's spitting into the wind. The GOP is moving in a sharply different direction where primary voters celebrate what Trump represents.

So what happens next? I'm guessing there's a rush among Republicans to jump for the open seat and Flake challenger Kelli Ward will now face a more crowded and difficult path to the GOP nomination. And not to be morbid, as we wish him the best with his battle against brain cancer, but there is also a possibility that John McCain won't be able to finish his term, which could put both of Arizona's U.S. Senate seats in play next year.

Prop. 204: Planting Preschools in Daycare Deserts

Posted By on Tue, Oct 24, 2017 at 8:44 AM

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The term “food desert” was created in the 1990s to describe areas where residents don’t have access to healthy, affordable food. With no adequate markets within a reasonable distance, people living in food deserts are more likely to live on fast food and what they can buy in local mini-marts, most of which is unhealthy and overpriced, rather than what you find at most supermarkets. The general health and wellbeing of people living in food deserts would be improved significantly if the residents had access to healthy food they can afford.

It’s time to coin a new term: daycare desert. It describes places where parents have little access to any kind of affordable daycare, let alone high quality early childhood education, for their children. Daycare deserts are deeper and wider in the U.S. than elsewhere in the industrialized world, and Arizona is one of the most parched states in the country. To improve the educational health and wellbeing of children and adults living in daycare deserts, we need to bring affordable, high quality early childhood education within easy access.

Proposition 204 gives us the opportunity to turn Tucson's daycare deserts into oases of quality early childhood education for upwards to 8,000 three and four year olds at the cost to the community of a one-half percent increase in sales tax. So far as I know, Prop 204 is the country's boldest effort to correct the daycare crisis in recent years, and if it passes — I'm being serious here, I don't consider this an overstatement — it could be a national game changer, pointing the way for other communities to improve the lives of their young children.

Most people agree it's a good idea to make early childhood education available to more children, but detractors say Prop 204 leaves too much room for things to go wrong, both in what is included and left out of the proposal. Me personally, I think Prop 204 is not just a good idea, it's a great idea, and I agree with Weekly Editor Jim Nintzel when he wrote, "I think the accountability concerns are misguided at best." The concerns are legitimate, but vastly overstated.

Further down, you'll find links to a few pieces which do an excellent job of presenting the information you need to know about the Prop 204 and the reasons you should, or shouldn't, vote for it, which means I don't have to do it here. Instead, I'm going to give you a decision-making recommendation.

Pull the balance scale you use to weigh serious decisions down from the shelf where you store it. On one side of the scale, place the value of giving three and four year old children the kind of educational start in life which will give them the best chance of being successful in school and throughout their lives. On the other side, put the possibilities that things might go wrong if the people in charge of creating and implementing the program don't do a good job. See which way the scales tip. That's how you should vote.

I'll tell you what I see on my balance scale. On one side, I see a little golden nugget of potential and unexplored possibilities for each of the thousands of three and four year olds who will get an early childhood education. On the other side, I see a handful of stones with words like "Worst case scenario," "This could go wrong," "That could go wrong," written on them. My scales tip heavily in favor of the children whose lives will be enriched by Prop 204. But that's just me. You have your own scale. Use it.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Results-Based Funding: The Transition From Test Scores To School Grades

Posted By on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 at 2:10 PM

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We already know which schools are splitting up the $38 million in results-based funding for the 2017-18 school year. The money is going disproportionately to schools with students from the most affluent homes. The top 11 percent of schools by family income make up almost 40 percent of schools getting the funding. Even more of those schools would get the funding if it weren't for a stipulation built into the formula to make sure the bottom 50 percent of schools in terms of student income make up almost half the schools getting the money. Next year, that stipulation is gone.

Most likely in the 2018-19 school year, over 80 percent of the schools getting results-based funding will be from the top half of schools in terms of family income. That means less than 20 percent of the schools will be in the bottom half.

And yet, some schools with high income students are complaining because they're not getting their expected piece of the results-based pie. And no wonder. If a high income school makes the list, it sees close to $6,000 extra per teacher, enough to give teachers a sizable bonus and still have plenty left over for educational equipment and supplies other schools can't afford. If it doesn't make the cut, the school gets nothing.

An explanation of how this works can be mind-numbingly detailed, at least when I'm the guy doing the explaining, so I've created a table I hope will make things clearer. After that, I'll numb the minds of those who dare stick around for all the numbers and explanations.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Board of Supes Set To Discuss Christy Proposal for Countywide Sales Tax for Roads

Posted By on Mon, Oct 16, 2017 at 11:30 AM

Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy says the region's transportation problems will get worse “every day that we don’t attend to our road-repair crisis.”
  • Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy says the region's transportation problems will get worse “every day that we don’t attend to our road-repair crisis.”
Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy wants a countywide half-cent-sales-tax increase to deal with the county’s dilapidated roads.

Christy’s “Just Fix the Roads Plan” also calls for repealing the property tax increase the county passed in June and send the revenues from his proposed 10-year sales tax to the Regional Transportation Authority so that agency can manage the road repairs.

Christy, who announced his plan last week in Green Valley, said the situation will just get worse “every day that we don’t attend to our road-repair crisis.” The sales tax would bring in roughly $75 million annually, raising $800 million by the 10-year sunset of the tax. The county needs about $900 million for road repair, according to the county transportation department.

The property tax that the Board of Supervisors created earlier this year would only bring in just over $19.5 million annually, according to county documents. Christy and Supervisor Ally Miller opposed the 25-cent property tax when it passed with a 3-2 vote.

The 2017 property tax for road repair has already been levied, and some payments have been collected, according to the County Administrator’s Office. The five-year tax called for annual renewal, so the Board could choose not to renew it next year.

The sales-tax would need unanimous approval to pass. Christy said that with his background as a car salesman, he can hear the other supervisors’ concerns and negotiate an agreement. He hopes to reach a unanimous vote by late November or early December.

Any other possibilities would require either voter approval, which would take time and could get rejected, or action from the state. Chances of help from the Gov. Doug Ducey are next to zero, Christy said.


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