Politics

Friday, May 26, 2017

Anyone Can Teach. It's Easy! (At Least That's What Republican Legislators and the Governor Tell Me.)

Posted By on Fri, May 26, 2017 at 7:00 PM

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Here's an idea. Let's have all those legislators who voted for the new teacher certification rules teach in some of the Arizona's public schools until Winter Break, in classrooms where the district hasn't been able to find a teacher. They can resume their jobs at the Capitol in January, writing budgets stiffing schools and bills insulting teachers.

Teaching is easy, right? That's why they passed a bill saying anyone with a bachelor's degree in an appropriate field can teach — and you don't even need a bachelor's if you've taught in a postgraduate school or worked in an appropriate field. The clever people who voted for the new rules should be able to step in and lend a hand, no sweat. Why, they'll even get a few months salary, including the 25 cents-an-hour raise they voted for, in the bargain. On top of all that, they'll get an official Subject Matter Expert Standard Teaching Certificate to hang on their refrigerators. Everyone's a winner! (For those legislators who aren't college grads or did their college work in a field not taught in public schools, I say give them a break and let them teach anyway. They've demonstrated how much more they know about education than educators by passing bills most professionals in the field disagree with.)

For the rest of us, here's a little fun we can have. Everyone who wants can put ten bucks into a statewide version of an office pool. Half the money will go to winners in various categories like: Which legislator is the first to say, "That's it! I'm not going back to that classroom tomorrow, or ever!" What's the date that first legislator/teacher bails out? How many legislators will make it until winter break? And which ones will admit publicly, "I had no idea teaching was this hard. We need to give teachers the respect and money they deserve!" All legislators in that last group will receive a special trophy: a glowing light bulb mounted on a pedestal with the words "I finally get it!" engraved at the bottom. The other half of the pooled money will go to buy extra supplies for students in classrooms without regular teachers.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Results-Based Funding Violates the Spirit (If Not the Letter) of Arizona's 1980 Funding Equalization Law

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2017 at 8:31 AM

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Hold onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen, I'm about to say something positive about the way Arizona funds education. We're number 15 in the nation in spending equalization across school districts. That means the difference between the highest and lowest spending districts is less than it is in 36 states. That's good news.

Now, here's the bad news you knew was coming. Our new results-based funding law is designed to reverse the state's equalization gains, increasing the funding differences between districts, mainly by giving big chunks of extra money to schools in high rent districts.

Here's the history. Before 1980, Arizona, like most states, gave each school district a minimum level of funding, and the rest came from local property taxes. If one district brought in lots of property tax money for education, its schools were well funded. If another district brought in less in property taxes, its schools were poorly funded. Naturally, that meant wealthy districts tended to have significantly better funded schools than poorer districts, though not always because they taxed themselves at a higher rate. A district with lots of expensive homes could bring in more money for schools with a lower dollars-per-thousand property tax rate than a district with lower value homes and a higher tax rate. Million dollar homes generate more in property tax funds than $100,000 homes, even if the high priced district has a lower tax rate. The best discussion of this subject is Jonathan Kozol's classic 1991 book, Savage Inequalities.

When a successful lawsuit in California in 1980 challenged the state's inequitable funding system and won, Arizona saw the writing on the wall and passed legislation to create an "equalizing" formula for its schools. The state became responsible for the funding, which meant property tax money dedicated to schools was doled out based on a complex per-student formula which took a number of factors into account to decide how much money would go to the education of each student. That's the system we have today. It's far from perfect, but it puts us at number 15 in the nation in funding equity.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Because of Results-Based Funding, 15 to 17 Percent of Schools Will Get "A" Grades, Down From 30 Percent. Here's Why That's Important

Posted By on Tue, May 23, 2017 at 10:01 AM

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You know that new results-based funding system, the one that gives Arizona's most "successful" schools a big infusion of cash? If anyone tells you how equitable the funding system is based on the distribution of money the first year, ignore them. The funding for 2017-18 is more balanced than it will ever be again. Starting with the 2018-19 school year, all the money, or close to it, will go to schools serving children from families with above-average incomes. Those lucky schools will give their teachers a $2,250 raise, or more, leaving plenty more for school purchases. Their financially blessed students will be doubly blessed with the state's highest paid teachers along with new computers, books and other educational supplies the rest of Arizona's schools can't afford.

Results-based funding is designed to distribute $37.6 million to 15 to 17 percent of Arizona's district and charter schools. Schools with fewer than 60 percent of their students on free or reduced lunch will get $225 per student, and schools with more than 60 percent of their students on FRL will get $400 per student. That sounds fair, giving more money to schools with more low income students. And it is reasonably fair, for year one, anyway. A little more than half of the money will go to schools with lower income students in the upcoming 2017-18 year, because that's the way the law is written—for the first year. That distribution system stops the second year of the program. From then on, the money will be only go to schools with a state grade of A.

For the past few years as we've transitioned from the AIMS to the AzMERIT state test, Arizona hasn't given out school grades. That's why A-F grades can't be used to determine who gets results-based funding the first year. When the grading system starts up again in the second year of the program, two things will be different from the way things were before. First, new items will be added to the grading rubric which will make state test scores a little less important. That will mean schools with lower income students who generally get lower state test scores will have a better chance of getting a higher state grade. Second, the number of A grades the state gives out will be cut almost in half. In 2014, more than 30 percent of Arizona's schools got an A. In 2018-19 and following, the grading curve will change so only 15 to 17 percent of schools get an A. That has to happen. If every A school gets a slice of the $37.6 million results-based funding pie and there's only enough pie for 15 to 17 percent of schools, that means you have to adjust the number of A schools to match the money.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Can Voters Defeat the Vouchers-For-All Law?

Posted By on Fri, May 19, 2017 at 5:03 PM

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This could be the opening paragraph of an article in an Arizona paper the day after the 2018 election.
Voters decisively rejected the will of the . . . Legislature and governor Tuesday, defeating what would have been the nation's most comprehensive education voucher program in a referendum blowout.
That's an actual opening paragraph of an article, but not here in Arizona. It's from Utah's Salt Lake Tribune (I put three dots where the state name should be) on November 7, 2007. A recently formed group, Save Our Schools, has begun collecting signatures to put a similar referendum on Arizona's November, 2018, ballot to overturn the bill expanding empowerment scholarship accounts to all Arizona children. If the referendum succeeds, Arizona journalists have their opening paragraph written for them.

Since 1990, people across the country have voted against vouchers every time they've had a chance. The No votes have ranged from 60 to 71 percent. The last vote was in Utah in 2007, and the circumstances were similar to ours. The Utah legislature passed its voucher law by one vote. This year, our legislature passed SB1431 by three votes in the House and Senate. With one more Democratic representative and senator, it would have been a one vote margin. (Two more Democrats in either the House or the Senate, and the bill would have gone down.) Utah's voucher opponents collected 124,000 signatures. This year Arizona needs 152,000 valid signatures. In Utah, the teachers union led the signature gathering effort. At this point, Arizona's teachers unions haven't been a visible presence, though it's still early.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A 'Fat Cat Tax'?

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2017 at 4:47 PM

COURTESY OF BIGSTOCK PHOTOS
  • Courtesy of Bigstock Photos
A Fat Cat Tax. I like the sound of it. The imagery is so much better than saying, as I often do, that we should tax the rich, or, more gently, that the wealthy should pay its fair share. It's the same thing no matter how you say it, except for the visuals.

Fat cat tax. That's one of the ideas in the Britain Labour Party's election manifesto where it proposes a tax hike on the top 5 percent. The party's new platform is more radical than anything our Democratic Party has suggested or is likely to suggest, but Labour is trying to get back to its left-wing roots which it abandoned during the Tony Blair era. Based on its weak numbers lately, the move to the right hadn't done it any good. Getting a little radical and earning some extra media can't hurt. See for example: Bernie Sanders.

Here's the plan. The vast majority of Brits, 95 percent of them, would pay no more taxes than they do now. Taxes would rise for anyone making more than the equivalent of $103,000 American. The rate would go up still more for those making over $159,000. Now, here's where the "fat cat tax" part comes in. Companies would pay an extra 2.5 percent in taxes on every salary more than $425,000, and an extra 5 percent for anyone who makes over $645,000.

Why does the Labour Party want all that extra money? Because it wants to spend more, of course, on things like getting rid of university tuition, building homes and improving health and social care. Call them the "tax and spend" Labour Party if you want. I'm good with that, except I would rephrase it. "Tax and spend" is a phrase the right wing came up with to make it sound like the left wants to tax people for spite and spend money for the hell of it. A more accurate way to say it is, "Tax so you can spend on things the society needs."

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The New Teacher Certification Rules: Is Everyone Else Wrong, or Am I?

Posted By on Tue, May 16, 2017 at 3:37 PM

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I've read SB1042 over and over again, likewise the accompanying Fact Sheet, and I keep coming to the same conclusion. Every media report I've read about the teacher certification law is wrong except mine. That sounds like the ravings of an egomaniac, I know, but until someone shows me I'm wrong, I'm sticking to my reading of the new law.

Here's what the new certification rules say as I read them. If you have a baccalaureate degree and nothing more, you can teach at a public middle or high school in a subject relevant to your content area. Even if you don't have a baccalaureate degree, you can teach if you've previously taught three years in an accredited postsecondary institution or if you've worked in a relevant field for five years. If you meet any of the three criteria—any of them—you qualify for a Subject Matter Expert Standard Teaching Certificate and can jump right into the classroom. You'll never be required to take an education course, and you'll never have to take a professional knowledge proficiency exam, ever. The only other thing you'll need is a fingerprint clearance card.

That's it. That's all you need to start teaching. A bachelor's degree in a field taught in 6th through 12th grade. Or three years teaching in an accredited post-high school setting. Or five years working in a relevant field. Any of the three will do. The earlier version of the law, which applied only to teachers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, said you had to have both a bachelor's and three years of post-high school teaching experience to qualify for a specialized teaching certificate. The new version applies to all 6th through 12th grade subjects, and it says either of those will do, then it adds five years of work experience as a third option.

All other media reports I've read say you need a bachelor's degree plus teaching or work experience to qualify. Uh uh. It's not both/and. It's either/or. To me, the law is clear as day, and it sets the bar for teaching far lower than other media reports have stated. If I've got it wrong, I'm fine with that. But until someone can show me the error of my ways, I'm going to continue to believe I've read the bill more carefully, and more accurately, than other people who've written about it.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

If You Think the TUSD Board Election Was a Knock-down, Drag-out Fight, Take a Look at L.A.

Posted By on Mon, May 15, 2017 at 9:30 AM

COURTESY OF CREATIVECOMMONS/WIKIPEDIA
  • Courtesy of CreativeCommons/Wikipedia

TUSD went through a rough-and-tumble board election last year, but compared to what's going on in the Los Angeles school board race, it was a half-hearted shoving match on the school playground. Two seats are up for grabs in Tuesday's L.A. school board election, and so far $12 million has been dropped into the races. Between Wednesday and Thursday, two of the candidates pulled in another $800,000.

Looking at the major battles over education being waged in Arizona as well as L.A., New York, Chicago and other hot spots, not to mention the national-level furor over Trump's Ed Sec Betsy DeVos and her privatization priorities, it's clear to me we're at a pivotal moment. The nation is fighting over the very soul of education. What happens over the next decade could very well decide how we educate our children well into the future.

What's unusual about the education battles is, unlike most national issues, they don't divide along neat political lines. Arizona's statewide educational fight is pretty straightforwardly conservative/progressive, Republican/Democratic. But the TUSD board battles created some mighty strange political bedfellows, and the L.A. education wars are even more complicated.

Unlike TUSD where all the board candidates are lumped together and the top vote getters are elected, L.A. board seats are divided by district. Each of the two hotly contested district seats has a pro-charter candidate and an . . . it's not correct to say an anti-charter school candidate exactly, more like a candidate who wants to slow down charter growth. Some of the pro charter money has come from the usual conservative sources: two members of the Walton (Walmart) family and the conservative co-founder of the GAP. But giving big money to the same side are former N.Y. mayor Michael Bloomberg and Steve Jobs' widow, neither of whom are firmly in the conservative camp. And at the center of the L.A. pro-charter movement is Eli Broad, a very rich Democrat who is a major player in the "education reform"/privatization movement and has a goal of opening up enough L.A. charter schools that they'll enroll half of the local students. The candidates on the other side are getting lots of their money from teachers unions and their allies in the labor movement.

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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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