Politics

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

14th Grade Is the New 12th Grade

Posted By on Tue, Jun 13, 2017 at 10:43 AM

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So far as I know, Democrat David Garcia is the only gubernatorial candidate who has a plan to allow all Arizonans to attend state colleges tuition free, or the outline of a plan anyway. He wants to start by making community and tribal colleges tuition free, expand to top high school graduates attending Arizona universities and eventually include all in-state students. If other people running for state office have listed free college tuition as part of their platforms, I haven't seen it, but lots of candidates are springing up saying lots of things, and education promises to be a red-hot item this election season. We'll have to see where things go.

Details? Yes, details are important and Garcia promises to supply them in the next few months, but there's something more important. It's the basic question, "Should college be tuition free?" If the answer is yes, the next question is, how do we get there? It's within the realm of the possible if we think it's important enough, and we don't have to get all the way there right away. If we begin the journey toward free tuition, we'll keep moving closer to the goal.

The answer, by the way, is yes, making college tuition free is a good idea, a very good idea, especially when it comes to community college. Today, 14th grade is the new 12th grade. Looking backward, in the first half of the twentieth century, 12th grade was the new 6th grade. In the mid-nineteenth century, minimal literacy was replacing illiteracy as the new norm. Times change and educational needs to change with them. Post-high school education isn't a necessity, but it's a damn good thing to have, both for personal enrichment and increased economic prospects. It's not a luxury item which should be available only to those who can afford it. Community college should be free and readily available. High school students who have an interest in continuing their education, even if they're not sure what they want to do with it, should be encouraged to take the next step by knowing tuition won't be an issue. People who are years out of high school shouldn't have to check their bank accounts to see if they can afford college, or worry about saddling themselves with years of debt if they decide to go.

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Doug Ducey, CEO

Posted By on Thu, Jun 8, 2017 at 1:15 PM

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So, there's this corporation with 60,000 employees who work in manufacturing plants scattered around Arizona. The plant workers are unhappy. Their pay is lousy, far lower than the national average for people doing similar work, their buildings are in disrepair and their tools and equipment are outdated. Meanwhile, the corporation complains the workers aren't producing a quality product and has begun outsourcing some of its work to other factories which claim they can turn out a better product for the same amount of money.

The corporation's CEO, Doug Ducey, recognizes he's got a problem on his hands. He knows that despite the outsourcing, 95 percent of the company's production still comes from the plants it owns. There's a growing sense among stockholders that the workers may be right to complain about their pay and working conditions. Ducey knows things could spin out of control if he doesn't look like he's doing something to fix the problem. Worst case scenario, if he isn't able to tamp down the discontent, the corporation could vote him out and put a new CEO in his place.

So Ducey tells the employees, "You're right, there's a problem, and we're going to address it. I'm on your side. Improving the lives of my workers is priority number one. So I've developed a plan. It won't take care of all your concerns right away, but it's a strong start. "

CEO Ducey makes a public display of working with the board to look for ways to invest in improving workers' incomes and working conditions. A few months later he declares, "I've succeeded. The board has decided to increase the amount we spend on employee-related issues by $163 million. It'll be used for raises, bonuses for our best employees and building improvements."

It all sounds good until you look at the details. Less than a quarter of the money, $34 million, will be spent on a one percent raise for everyone. But 15 percent of the employees, those who work in specialized plants producing the company's most valued items, will get bonuses amounting to 8 percent of their salaries on top of the one percent raise. They'll also get brand new, state-of-the-art computers along with other improvements to their work places. Their bonuses will turn into permanent raises, as will the money for workplace improvements, if their work stays at a high level. Total cost of the benefits to the fortunate 15 percent: $38 million.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Where the New Education Money Goes

Posted By on Mon, Jun 5, 2017 at 3:30 PM

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Now that the Arizona budget has been on the books for a few weeks, some reporters are taking a look back, and I'm beginning to read a new take on education funding that gives Governor Ducey and Republicans measured praise for putting some new money into schools. It may not be enough, the articles are saying, but it's something. Educators should give our governor credit for making an effort to help our schools and accept the money graciously instead of bitching and moaning because they don't think it's enough.

I beg to differ. It's not enough, not nearly. And most of it will find its way to fewer than 20 percent of the state's public schools.

Here's an example of the new spin on education funding from an Arizona Capitol Times article. The headline: Public education advocates bemoan school money still not enough. The word choices tell the tale. Education advocates "bemoan" the money. Complain, complain, complain. They say it's "still not enough." Will nothing satisfy them?

Here's how the article begins:
Education issues captured much of the attention this legislative session, but public school advocates say they’re disappointed with the outcome.

It’s hard to argue the budget doesn’t focus on education when much of the new spending focuses on K-12 or university education initiatives. The fiscal year 2018 budget adds $163 million above inflation funding to schools.
A news release from the "Reelect Doug Ducey" committee couldn't put the budget in a more favorable light.

Let's take a look at that $163 million in new education dollars. $163 million. That sounds like serious money. But let's remember, the Arizona legislature began stealing from schools back in 2009, and the new $163 million, even when it's added to the money voted in with Prop. 123, still doesn't bring education funding back to the level mandated by Prop. 301 which passed in 2000. We're still not back to the "good old days" eight years ago when funding was merely awful. We sure haven't invested more in our children's educations. The Republican obsession with tax breaks and tax cuts for the wealthy and the business community made sure of that, beggaring the state budget so it can't even find the money to fund schools at a level required by law. You don't steal $100 out of someone's pocket, give back $60 and expect a thank you.

Then there's Arizona's national standing. Add the new $163 million to the Prop. 123 money, and we're still in 49th place in funding per student, trailing 48th place Oklahoma. Another $100 million could put us in 48th place, barely. If we aspire to take 47th place from Mississippi, well, we're not even close. The 47th slot would cost us $600 million, almost four times this year's added money. And if we wanted to dream the impossible dream of reaching the national average, that would cost us $3.5 billion more a year.

We're spending less than we did in 2009. Mississippi-level education funding is a bridge too far. The national average might as well be on another planet. But education advocates should be satisfied with the governor's gesture financial largesse? Sorry. No.

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Arizona Vouchers: Hype vs. History

Posted By on Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 3:32 PM

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Arizona's voucher advocates have a persuasive, but false, narrative about the value of taxpayer-funded private school tuition. It falls apart when you look at our voucher history since the programs began 20 years ago.

The pro-voucher narrative is lovely and seductive. Lots of parents who want private school for their children just can't afford it, advocates say. Vouchers allow those parents the opportunity to choose, so of course lots of children will switch from public to private schools. Vouch it, and they will come. As the student population expands, the advocates continue, it diversifies. Minority students who otherwise couldn't afford tuition will take advantage of the vouchers and flock to private schools. And really, they conclude, vouchers are a break-even proposition, since all those new students using vouchers mean fewer students attending public schools. Vouchers pay for themselves.

That's their story. Now here's the truth. In the 20 years since Arizona began its first voucher program, private schools have gained less than 900 students. During the same 20 years, public schools added over 350,000 students. And while Arizona's Hispanic student population has increased dramatically, the ethnic mix of private school students hasn't kept up.

Before I start into a numbers dive, let me give you my sources, which are as legit and unbiased as I could find. The public school numbers are from the National Center for Educational Statistics, a vast U.S. government data archive where even an amateur like me can sort through the data to find the information I'm looking for. The private school numbers are from a 2016 study, Exploring Arizona's Private Education Sector, created by the pro-voucher organization, EDCHOICE. I begin in 1995, two years before Arizona passed its tuition tax credit law, and follow the numbers through 2014, which is the most recent year with complete data. Empowerment Scholarship Accounts began in 2011, so they're only a small part of the 20 year history.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Meet the New 'What the Hell, I Got Nothing Else To Do' Teacher

Posted By on Tue, May 30, 2017 at 9:11 AM

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    "You mean I can teach with just this diploma saying I have a bachelor's degree? The one I just got at graduation?"
    "That's right, so long as it's in a subject that's taught in middle school or high school."
    "I'm an American History major."
    "Then you can teach history to 6th through 12th graders in any public school in Arizona."
    "It's just temporary, right? I won't be a real teacher."
    "Yes, you'll be a real teacher. They'll give you a Subject Matter Expert Standard teaching certificate. That means you'll be a real teacher with your own classroom full of students."
    "Not a student teacher? I won't have, you know, a real teacher in there with me?"
    "Nope. On the first day, you'll be on your own."
    "But I'll have to take a test first, right? To see if I know enough to teach? I mean, I'm not sure I'm, um, qualified. I just barely passed some of my classes, and I've never really thought about teaching before."
    "No, you don't have to pass a test or do anything else to demonstrate knowledge of your field. You'll be exempt from the professional knowledge proficiency requirements other teachers have to worry about. That diploma in your hand is all you need, along with a fingerprint clearance card to show you're not a criminal."
    "OK, but they'll make me take some of those education classes other teachers take, right?"
    "No, not that either. You can start teaching without any education classes, and you're not required to take any in the future."
    "But what if I bomb out? Will they take away my, whadayacallit, my . . .?"
    "Your Subject Matter Expert Standard teaching certificate? No, the worst thing that can happen is, if in two years the district decides you don't meet the professional knowledge requirements, your certificate can be suspended. Later, if you can convince them you've learned what you need to know, it'll be reinstated."
    "Does this thing, this certificate, expire? I probably won't teach that long, but if I decide I want to, do I need to get a real teaching certificate?"
    "Not according to the law that just passed. This is a real certificate, and it looks like it's good as long as you want to teach."
    "Like I said, I don't think I want to teach all that long. I mean, I never even thought about it until you brought it up. But I guess I can give teaching a try. What do I have to lose? I mean, I kinda know what teachers do. I've been sitting in their classrooms since I was five. You think I should do it?"
    "Let me tell you something, buddy, you're not going to keep living in your bedroom eating free food for the rest of your life, and I don't see anyone knocking on your door offering you a job. Those schools are so desperate for teachers, they'll take just about anyone. Even you."
    "OK, mom, I'm convinced. Can you drive me down to pick up a teaching application?"

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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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