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Of the People, By the People, For the People

What a wonderful world it would be

Recently, Matthew Ladner, Senior Advisor, Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence, posted as a guest on a conservative blog: Ladner’s attack on a parent of a 3rd grader. Here’s my response:

Matt, Matt, Matt, look at you, calling a parent of a 3rd grader your opponent. Really? In both your current capacity and your previous positions at the Goldwater Institute and the Alliance for School Choice, you’ve proven yourself a leading advocate for school choice and charter schools. Makes this back and forth seem a little like a David and Goliath match up doesn’t it? I’d like to suggest that instead of the Copa Cabana, perhaps you should be singing ole blue eyes’ “I’ve got you under my skin?”

I get it. For you and yours to win, district schools have to lose. The really unfortunate part of this argument is that district schools are where over 80 percent of Arizona’s K-12 students go to school–almost one million of them. No doubt some of them continue to attend their neighborhood district school because socio-economic factors keep them from exercising their school choice options, but for most, it’s because their district school is the place they want to be; yes, their first choice.

You mention that the majority of the 3,000 students participating in the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program are children with disabilities. That’s not surprising in that this voucher program was originally started under the guise of serving disabled students. I say “guise” because that was just the start as proven by the Legislature’s expansion of eligibility every year since the program’s inception in 2011. Fortunately, public outcry has kept the Legislature from fully expanding the voucher program. Reasons for opposition include the lack of transparency and accountability for the taxpayer dollars siphoned off to private and parochial schools and, the fact that return on investment cannot be adequately assessed.

Your narrative that public school advocates are focused more on funding than improvement is totally false, as is your position that the state does not have the money to dedicate more to education. The state has only one way to raise revenue and that is through taxation. State lawmakers can choose to raise revenue for education or give it away in the form of corporate tax breaks. The voters in turn, can choose to elect candidates who best represent their priorities or, they can choose not to participate. Thus far, the majority of Arizona voters have voted for candidates that favor corporate tax breaks over public education. As the exit polls from the Prop 123 elections showed though, 75 percent of voters favor spending more money on public education, so I’m confident the tide is turning.

You also make the allegation that district schools can pick which students they accept through open enrollment. This is misleading at best. Districts do have some control over the acceptance of open enrollees, but only when the locally elected school board has predetermined space-based caps. You and I both know it is more the case that charter schools manage to exclude certain students or, force them out after the 100th day so the charter keeps the per-student funding, and sends the student back to the district school with no accompanying funding. And yes, a lack of equity amongst districts is still a problem to be solved and one the Governor’s Classrooms First Council is looking at as it tries to determine how to rework Arizona’s school funding formula.

You are badly mistaken that district public education proponents desire a near monopoly of district schools. Unlike you, we live in the real world, and understand today’s education dynamics. What we do want is for there to be a level playing field with full transparency and accountability for all use of taxpayer dollars and we want the focus of funding and support to be first on the 80 percent of students attending district schools versus the 20 percent at charters or private schools.

In the end, the ongoing argument between charters and district schools serves no one but the Legislature who, by keeping us fighting for the same scraps, doesn’t have to serve up a better meal. I imagine sometimes, what it would be like if we could all just work together for all the students we serve. To end with one more song title, “What a wonderful world it would be. “

Just rearranging the deck chairs ain’t gonna cut it

Representing the AZSchools Now Coalition, Arizona’s 2016 Teacher of the Year Christine Marsh and I recently attended and spoke at a Classrooms First Initiative Council meeting in Phoenix. The Coalition consists of the Arizona Associations of: Education, Business and Education, School Boards, Superintendents, and Parent and Teachers. Also part of the coalition are the Children’s Action Alliance, Valley Interfaith Project, and Support Our Schools AZ. It was formed post-Prop 123 to provide focus to reinvesting in public schools as a way to boost student achievement.

The Classrooms First Initiative Council was established by Governor Ducey in January 2015 and charged with modernizing the school finance formula to ensure adequate funding is available for teachers and classroom instruction. The first of the two main events of this latest meeting was a presentation by Expect More Arizona on the Education Progress Meter. This meter has been accepted by virtually every education group, numerous community and municipality organizations, and 26 major business entities. It measures Arizona’s progress in eight areas to include teacher pay, preschool enrollment, 3rd grade reading, 8th grade math, high school graduation, opportunity youth, college going, and post-secondary attainment.

The other main discussion was about the proposals submitted by education groups for the Council’s consideration. In speaking for the AZSchools Now proposal, I advocated for additional resources to attract and retain high quality teachers in light of the both the current shortage as well as the some 26,000 eligible for retirement starting in 2018. Not only is the shortage critical, but teacher turnover is disruptive and expensive, costing as much as $50,000 to find and contract a new one. ADE reports we have almost 93,000 certified teachers in Arizona, but only 67,000 of them are working in the profession. Many of those who left would love to still be teaching, but were forced to seek employment that would better support their families. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median Arizona elementary school teacher salary is $40,590 while the national median is $54,120. Starting salaries are much lower, often in the $30,000-per-year range.) Even so, one of the changes under consideration by the Council is to eliminate the Teacher Experience Index. As you might guess, this index helps keep experienced teachers in our AZ classrooms and the Coalition believes eliminating it will only exacerbate the problem. If we want to ensure high-quality education, we must have high-quality teachers and that can’t be done on the cheap. With fewer teachers entering the pipeline and over 26,000 eligible to retire by 2018, merely “rearranging the deck chairs on Titanic” I said, won’t do anything to keep this “boat from sinking.”

I also spoke about the Coalition’s recommendation to consider adding a B-weight for poverty to the school finance formula. This is critical because statewide, 58 percent of our K-12 students are eligible for free and reduced meals and many deal with a multitude of poverty related challenges at home, greatly affecting their preparedness to learn at school. That’s why the Coalition believes it is one of the most significant steps needed to make the school finance formula more equitable and fair. We know these students typically face barriers relating to transportation, housing, and levels of support in their communities and families for which additional resources are needed to help them achieve success.

Christine also made a case for additional funding, but her impassioned plea was focused on ensuring reasonable classroom sizes so that no students fall between the cracks. She told of average student loads for AZ high school teachers of 170 students and said that makes it tough for teachers to give each student the individualized attention they deserve. (The National Center for Education Statistics’ reports Arizona has 1.1 million K-12 students, and just 48,358 full-time teachers making our student-teacher ratio almost 23:1 compared to the national average of 16:1. According to WalletHub, only California and Utah are worse.)

She also pointed out that a future President of the United States is in a K-12 classroom somewhere, and current events highlight the importance of our getting this right. Stating that yes, salary is an important factor to encourage teachers to stay in their profession, Christine said it is also important that teachers feel they have what they need to really make a difference. And although she wanted to focus on the needs of students, not teachers, she noted the reality of workloads on the ability to do the job. Even if, she said, she only assigns three writing assignments per week to her 160 students, and each of those papers only takes five minutes to grade, that can amount to over 40 hours of grading time per week, and that takes place outside of the classroom. As if illustrating this point, after she spoke to the Council Christine resumed grading the stack of student papers she had brought with her.

Chris Thomas, Lead Council for the Arizona School Bards Association, said Arizona has one of the most equitable funding formulas in the nation, but is not adequately funding the formula. He highlighted the need for reinstating the cost analysis for special education funding as a way to ensure costs to provide service to these students are adequately funded while not pulling funding away from other programs. Chris also made the point that in considering a new funding formula, transparency should be ensured for the use of all public funds. Sarah Ellis, a Flagstaff Governing Board member, spoke during public comments, reiterating the need for locally controlled funding and the continuation of desegregation funding. For the Flagstaff Unified School District she said, the desegregation funds exceed that received from Prop. 123.

I was encouraged by the questions asked by members of the Council as well as the number of attendees in the audience. There was standing room only and attendees had come from all over the state to participate. I was pleased to hear some Council members voice their concerns that viable solutions to the finance formula would not be possible without additional resources, including the Chair, Jim Swanson. One member did note the reality of convincing the state legislature of this reality, but Swanson indicated he is ready to take on those who may not agree with the Council’s eventual recommendations.

Overall, I was encouraged by the meeting. Although I would have liked the membership of the Council to be more representative of the K-12 population in our state (majority Hispanic), I found them to be actively listening and serious about finding the best solutions. I am also very encouraged about the AZSchools Now coalition. One of the Coalition members, Support Our Schools AZ and its subsidiary the Arizona Parents Network, is an example of the grassroots efforts that has blossomed during and since the post-Prop 123 battle. What is especially important about this development is that it involves mostly parents who are naturally fierce advocates for their children.

One such fierce parent is Alana Brussin, whose My Turn” op-ed titled Tying school success to vouchers is a sham was recently published by the Arizona Republic. Her piece highlights the reasons community district schools are the overwhelming choice of Arizona families, in spite of the best efforts of state leaders and other school privatization advocates.

Just as Mothers Against Drunk Driving turned the tide on the public’s acceptance of drinking and driving, I’m confident our fierce parents can turn the tide on the assault on community district schools and ultimately the students they serve. Every child deserves every opportunity to succeed and when that happens, we all succeed. It really is that simple.

Educated Workforce = State Prosperity

Okay. Let me get this right. Daniel Scarpinato, Press Aide to Governor Doug Ducey says Arizona schools are the 4th worst in the nation because school choice siphons taxpayer dollars out of community (district) schools into private and parochial schools, leaving those community schools underresourced. Okay, those weren’t his exact words, but that is what he intimated. His intent was of course, to invalidate the WalletHub study because it only looked at our public schools and not private schools. So, he thinks the study is invalid because it ONLY pertains to 96 percent of Arizona’s K-12 students?

WalletHub looked at 17 key metrics and found that Arizona is: 49th for pupil to teacher ratio; near the bottom in average ACT score; and below average for low-income student high school graduation rate. Even though these types of rankings are nothing new for Arizona and, he doesn’t dispute the numbers, Scarpinato called the study “baloney.” Rather, he went on to deflect the blame by citing Arizona’s rapidly increasing population as part of the problem for low per-pupil funding and sidestepped whether this meant funding should be increased to keep up with that growth. He also dismissed the idea of halting corporate tax cuts. His justification – Arizona needs to remain competitive with other states in its efforts to cut corporate taxes. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) says “cutting taxes to capture private investment from other states is a race-to-the-bottom state economic development strategy that undermines the ability to invest in education.” We need only look at Kansas to see how this strategy works.

EPI research shows “income is higher in states where the workforce is well-educated and thus more productive.” There is, the Institute says, “a clear and strong correlation between the educational attainment of a state’s workforce and median wages in the state.” Those workers then pay more taxes to boost state budgets. The best companies know they need to go where they can get the kind of educated workforce they need, where their current employees will find good communities with high quality schools, and where the infrastructure can support their business model. That’s why states like Massachusetts (ranked #1) see education as an investment, not an expense.

Unfortunately, the AZ Legislature seems hell-bent on pushing the privatization of our community school system and will continue down this path until the voters boot them out of office. We need lawmakers who understand there can be no significant progress for our state over the long haul unless we ensure all our children are given the tools to grow and prosper. Community schools remain the schools of choice for the vast majority of our students and must be our first priority for state resources. Yes, school choice has its place in our overall educational system, but it shouldn’t be first place.

#BeTheMaverick

Senator John McCain recently said of Donald Trump’s comments about Khizr Khan’s remarks at the Democratic National Convention “I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.” Uh, wait a minute John, yes they do. Trump’s remarks do represent the views of the Republican Party, its officers and candidates because…wait for it…Donald Trump is THE GOP NOMINEE for President of the United States. And, more than that, Donald Trump represents all those GOP leaders who have either endorsed him, or not denounced him, which includes…again, wait for it…Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and yes, YOU!

There was a time I could have voted for John McCain. Admittedly, I didn’t live in Arizona at the time, but I believed in his “maverick” status; I thought he was a standup guy who did what he thought was right, despite the prevailing winds. Then came his failed bid for President, which included his huge misstep in selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate. This, I thought, is what selling your soul looks like.

Since then, McCain has continued to slide in stature in both my book and I think, for many Americans. He appears bitter about the lost presidential race and his bitterness permeates his service. McCain reached a new, very deep low however, when he allowed Trump to basically call him a loser for being captured as a prisoner of war and then, McCain went on to endorse Trump anyway. Remember, Trump said of McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” This, by a man who sought and got five deferments to service. This, by a man who claims he has had more military training than most of our service members because he attended a military prep school. This, by a man who claims he knows more about ISIS than do our generals.

Yet, McCain not only didn’t repudiate Trump, he actively ENDORSED him! Talk about stooping to a new low. And now, even though McCain has “forcefully condemned Trump’s slander of Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, he hasn’t pulled his endorsement of the candidate. Yes, McCain’s admonishment to Trump is much, much more than anything Ryan or McConnell offered in response to this debacle, but I still would like to see McCain stand up and be the man I once thought he was.

In his admonishment statement, McCain said, “he challenged the nominee to set the example for what our country can and should represent.” Well, I say to Senator McCain, withdraw your endorsement and support for Donald Trump. You know he does not represent the ideals of the GOP, you know he does not represent all that is good about America and you know he is not prepared to serve as President of these United States. Reestablish your legacy John; go out on a high note, #BeTheMaverick once again.

 

We Are the Ones Failing

The AZ Department of Education released AzMERIT test scores to districts this week and results show 1,400 third-graders did not meet the “Move On When Reading” (MOWR) cut score required by ARS 15-701. The law requires all third graders in Arizona to read proficiently at grade level or be retained, with three exceptions. The exceptions pertain to English Language Learners, students under evaluation for a special education (SPED) referral or severe reading impairment, and those on Individual Education Plans (IEP.) The law also provides for remedial strategies and once a student demonstrates reading proficiency via a district-administered assessment, they can be promoted to the next grade.

Although MOWR was signed into law in 2010 and enacted by the Legislature in 2012 with the appropriation of approx. $40 million annually, it wasn’t until the 2013-14 school year that the retention was implemented. That year, close to 650 third-graders were eligible to be retained, but less than one percent were. During the 2014-15 school year, data from the new AzMERIT was not expected to be available until after the start of the next school year, so no third-graders were held back.

There can be no doubt that the ability to read, the earlier the better, is critical for a student’s success. Studies show that children who cannot read at grade level by the start of fourth grade are four times less likely to graduate on time. Third graders who live in a poor family for at least a year are six and a half times less likely to graduate on time and have much higher risk for dropping out. “While it is an urban myth that prison population projections are based on the number of third graders that cannot read” –  high school dropouts were 63 times more likely to see the inside of prison walls than college graduates.

Social promotion, or “the practice of promoting a child to the next grade level regardless of skill mastery in the belief that it will promote self-esteem”, has numerous problems of its own. Among them are the potential for ill-educated students, providing parents a false sense of confidence, setting the bar low, and creating a false sense of accomplishment. While social promotion can help ensure students don’t drop out, the stark reality is that they’ll likely be no more prepared for a post-secondary education than if they had.

Retention of students though, is also very problematic. According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), as many as 15 percent of U.S. students repeat a grade each year, and 30 to 50 percent of students are retained at least once before ninth grade. Nineteen empirical studies from the 1990s compared retained students with those promoted. The results showed grade retention negatively impacted all areas of achievement, from reading to math and language, and socio-emotional adjustments such as peer relationships, self-esteem, problem behaviors, and attendance.

So, it is critical for students to be able to read by the third grade, social promotion is the wrong solution, and retention should be the very last resort. What then is the answer? As is often the case with complex problems, we pretty much know what we need to do, we just don’t either want to do it, or don’t have the political will to do it. New America, a centrist nonprofit think tank and civic enterprise, says the solution requires “a comprehensive approach to literacy including attention to a wide range of factors, including teacher preparation and professional development; early identification of struggling students and intervention to support their success; comprehensive and shared assessments; language-rich and engaging reading curricula; provision of pre-K and full-day kindergarten; and school-community-family partnerships.”

The school-community-family partnerships are every bit as important as the rest of the approach since we know literacy and language gaps start well before kindergarten.  Research has shown that children in families receiving public assistance hear as many as 30 million fewer words prior to entering kindergarten than their wealthier peers, putting them at an early disadvantage. Unfortunately, only 42 percent of four-year-olds and 15 percent of three-year-olds are served by public pre-K programs, including SPED and the federal Head Start program. Additionally, the quality of these programs varies significantly with most states requiring just a high school diploma for teachers of infants and toddlers.

New America published a report in 2015 called “From Crawling to Walking” which ranked states on birth to third-grade policies supporting strong readers. The report looked at seven policy areas influencing children’s literacy development: educators; standards, assessment and data; equitable funding; pre-K access and quality; full-day kindergarten access and quality; dual language learner supports; and third-grade reading laws. They then ranked states into three categories based on their progress toward achieving 65 policy indicators. Arizona was categorized in the “crawling” level, at 43rd in the nation. Some of the reasons were no requirement for specialized preparation in early childhood education (ECE) for administrators and ECE educators, pre-K programs not required to screen for dual language learners, and unfunded full-day kindergarten. This last item must carry much of the responsibility for Arizona’s 43rd ranking. In 2004, the state passed legislation creating funding for full-day kindergarten to increase availability, but in 2010, the Legislature eliminated the funding. This forced school districts to adapt by charging parents tuition for kindergarten, raising local property taxes, increasing class sizes, or reducing other areas of their budgets.

Unfortunately just like everything else today, it seems that early childhood education has been politicized beyond the ability to effectively solve the problem. The Republican Party’s platform committee recently added language that opposes public prekindergarten. Of the decision, one of the members of the committee said the party opposes pre-K because it “inserts the state in the family relationship in the very early stages of a child’s life.” This goes right to the heart of the Conservative belief that parents are responsible for what ails a child and they alone have responsibility to fix it. Democrats want proper funding and support to get the job done even if the parents don’t do it.

The primary argument against retention is that in most cases it doesn’t prove motivational to the student. There are multiple reasons for this but in the end, the failure to read at grade-level isn’t primarily the student’s fault. Sure they must accept some of the responsibility, but teachers, school administrators, parents, and district and state officials all share a large part of the responsibility.

A kindergarten teacher I know recently said: “It seems that they [the state] are leaving the school districts responsible for the fallout, without offering solutions, support, or resources. It’s like it’s your problem, now deal with it and let us hold you accountable if you don’t.” One of my Facebook friends phrased it another way: They starve the horse, and when he can’t pull the loaded wagon up the hill, they beat him to death and then pin the blame on him.

Ultimately, what makes the failure of the 1,400 students not meeting the cut score on AzMERIT so unacceptable is that we collectively know what to do to help them. No, the solutions aren’t simple, easy or cheap to implement, but let’s please not pretend we don’t know what they are. These kids may have “failed” the test, but we are failing them.

It’s Complicated

To my post on Blog for Arizona yesterday, former AZ Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal posted the following comment:

“The 170,000 charter school students save taxpayers over 290 million dollars per year. The Peoria school district is projected to grow substantially over the next decade. With charter schools, they will not grow as much. They have enormous advantages, both financially and organizationally, over charter schools and if they can keep improving, they will actually be able [to] suck these students back into their school system from charter schools. I actually see this effect in the Chandler Unified school system. As Chandler has improved from 38% excellent rating to 75% excellent rating you can see certain charter school[s] dying on the vine. Meanwhile, public schools nationally have dropped from 36% excellent rating to 24%. Wrong direction. Competition and great leadership were both necessary for Chandler to get to where it is. We will see if Peoria is also the racehorse that responds to the challenge.”

As far as Huppenthal’s blog comments go, this is one of the more coherent ones and the statistics he cites made me want to dig in. Let’s look at a few: 

1.  170,000 charter school students – True. There are 170K or so charter school students in AZ – 170,700 at 556 schools during the 20015-16 school year to be exact.

2.  Charters save taxpayers over 290 million dollars per year – Misleading. According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in an overview prepared 6/22/2015, charter schools cost the state $1,232 per pupil more in Basic State Aid funding than district schools in FY 2014. Of course, that’s where it really starts to get interesting because district and charter schools each receive funding the other doesn’t. For example, districts can seek overrides and bonds and School Facilities Board funding for construction, emergency deficiency corrections and building renewal (of which there have been zero dollars for over the last three years.) Charter schools on the other hand, get “additional assistance” monies from the state general fund to compensate, and have much more flexibility in spending these monies. Charters can also get AZ Charter School Incentive Program funds to start new locations and charter land and buildings become capital assets of the charter holder regardless of whether taxpayer dollars were used to acquire said land or buildings. New this year, Governor Ducey included $100 million in the 2017 budget for the creation of an Arizona Public School Achievement District (PSAD) that will use taxpayer dollars to reduce bond borrowing costs for charter expansion or new builds. Unlike the funding provided through private investors (such as the Phoenix Industrial Development Authority enables), taxpayers are on the hook for PSAD monies if the charter holder defaults and I suspect (as with any charter bonds) the loan is ultimately repaid with taxpayer dollars.

For the actual numbers, I went to the 2014-15 AZ Superintendent’s Report, which shows that total revenues for districts exceeded those for charters by $1,278 per pupil. Given the students enrolled in each at that time, that amounts to a total amount of almost $206 million less spent on charters, not $290 million. But, only 86.57% of the total revenues for districts came from various in-state sources whereas 91.18% of charter’s revenues did. This means that in strictly “state” dollars, the district schools only cost the state $776 more per pupil for a total “savings” by charters of $125 million last year. Of course, I didn’t yet mention the $800 more per student in “small school funding” charters can get through legal, but creative accounting of their multiple locations. Oh by the way, it is also important to note that one reason district schools get more federal dollars than charters is because they educate significantly more special needs students, which are more expensive to educate and for which, districts almost never receive sufficient funds (from any source) to cover the costs.  (If I got all of this wrong, someone please correct me! I find it hard to believe charters save any substantial money over districts, maybe there’s funding I’m not counting.

Rather than focusing on who spends more though, shouldn’t we really be focusing on who uses the money more effectively? A report written this year by the Grand Canyon Institute, shows charters spend twice the amount ($1,403 vice $628 per pupil in 2014/15) on purely administrative costs than their district counterparts resulting in less money getting into the classroom. In fact, if the seven largest charter holders spent the same on administrative costs as districts, the state would save $54 million per year. BASIS Inc. alone, with 8,730 students, spent 30 times more on general administration than the six largest districts combined (225,000 students.)

3.  They have enormous advantages, both financially and organizationally – False.  If anything, charters have the advantage. From the beginning, Arizona’s charter laws were designed to free charter schools from most regulations and reporting requirements. They aren’t required for example, to follow the same procurement procedures as districts, which allows them to avoid getting competitive bids on major purchases. This lack of accountability/transparency has raised concerns about charter holders “double-dipping” for profit by procuring goods and services with their own companies. In addition, charter teachers aren’t required to be certified, nor are charters required to meet the minimum facilities standards set by the School Facilities Board (SFB) nor the requirement to provide transportation to school for their students. They also don’t have the same requirements for accountability and transparency with no locally elected governing boards and no requirement to be included in the annual AZ Auditor General’s (AG) School District Spending reports. The fact the AG does not compile, analyze spending, or make their review available to the public contributes to the overall lack of accountability we see with Arizona charter schools.

As for the improvement in Chandler “excellent” ratings or the national “excellent” ratings, I looked at the Arizona’s A-F accountability system and AIMS scores, the AzMerit scores, and the NAEP assessment, but was unable to verify the data. With regard to Huppenthal’s assertion that  “competition” was necessary for Chandler to improve, I don’t buy it. After all, Arizona has had “competition” between district schools since 1994 when “open enrollment” was first approved.  And, I find it offensive that he refers to Peoria as a racehorse that needs to “rise to the challenge.” As an “A” district they are one of the top 45 districts and charters in the state. I think they have more than already “risen to the challenge.” Besides, the education of Arizona’s children isn’t some sort of sports competition. It is important work critical to the successes of our communities, our state and our nation. The professional educators in our district schools get that, while some of the state’s charter holders laugh all the way to the bank.

When is a charter school a bad idea?

Hint: the answer is not,  “never.” It is a bad idea, according to education blogger Peter Green, “when charters disrupt and displace [district] public schools.” I would add that often, these district schools are the hubs of their communities so charters contribute to disrupting these communities as well.

Case in point is a new charter school (Legacy Traditional School) being built in Glendale, Arizona. Scheduled to open in time for the 2016/17 school year, the new campus will serve 1,200 K-8 students at the northeast corner of 67th Avenue and Thunderbird Road. Sounds good, right? Problem is, this school is being built within the boundaries of the Peoria Unified School District, within two miles of 10 of their “A” or “B” rated elementary schools (50 percent of PUSD’s schools are rated “A”, another 25 percent are rated “B.)  When PUSD has the capacity to serve the 1,200 students Legacy hopes to eventually attract, why is this school necessary, or even in the best interest of this community?When the charter school concept was first embraced back in 1988, it was as “a new kind of public school where teachers could experiment with fresh and innovative ways of reaching students.” In Cologne, Germany, Albert Shanker visited a public school where teachers made the critical decisions about what and how to teach and the school had students with a broad mix of abilities, family incomes, and ethnicity. He said charter schools could “reinvigorate the twin promises of American public education: to promote social mobility for working-class children and social cohesion among America’s increasingly diverse populations.” Shanker also believed charter schools should be unionized because of the critical role he believed unions played in democratic societies.

Unfortunately, today’s charter schools are an entirely different animal than Shanker envisioned. They are more autocratic (empowering management versus teachers) and more segregated (by race and income) than ever and only about 12 percent of charters provide their teachers union representation. No wonder an “astounding 24 percent of charter school teachers leave their school each year, double the rate of turnover in traditional public schools.”

They are now seen as “a vehicle for infusing competition and market forces into public education.” Whether intentionally or not, charters have served to re-segregate education to a level not seen since the 1960s. A side benefit for the corporate reformers was also no doubt, the weakening of teacher unions and therefore less democracy in our schools and communities. All this eventually brought us to where we are today. Instead of charter schools augmenting and serving as “laboratory partners to public schools”, they are now in direct competition for students and the dollars they bring. Make no mistake, today’s charters – whether they are for-profit or non-profit – are as much about making a profit, as they are about educating children.

What suffers from this “competition” mindset is the collaboration between schools, overall efficient and effective use of available education funding, the richness of the educational experience that truly diverse schools can bring, and the strong school climate vibrant teacher voices can bring. This diversity isn’t just valuable for our students of color, but for their white counterparts as well. Those students who’ve experienced more diversity will be more successful in the ever-increasingly global economy.

So, here we are. A brand new charter school is under construction, right in the middle of 10 excellent district schools with plenty of capacity. As Legacy Traditional School is a non-profit entity, I suspect the school is funded with a bond issued by the Phoenix Industrial Development Authority (quasi-private so the taxpayer is not on the hook.) Nonetheless, the Legacy charter will compete directly with PUSD for what are already too few maintenance and operation dollars. As for other for-profit charters, they’ll likely turn to SB 1531 signed into law during this year’s legislative session which, provides $100 million to provide collateral for lower interest rates on charter school project loans. When those charters default, Arizona taxpayers will get the bill. (Don’t even get me started on how the $100 million could have helped our district schools.) In either case, said Tracey Benson, of the Arizona School Boards Association, charter schools added will “build corporate assets – those held by privately operated charter schools – versus community assets – our local district public schools that add value to our cities and neighborhoods.”

I’m not a charter “hater”, I’ve seen some that serve a special niche and provide a valuable alternative. What I do hate is the narrative that charters are superior to district public education, that they ensure disadvantaged students have access to a “high-quality choice”, and that they save the state money…because that narrative is largely false. At the end of the day, over 80 percent of Arizona’s students attend district public schools and that should be our first priority for funding and support.

 

 

 

 

 

America Worst

On this Fourth of July, I find myself thinking about the future of our country and this year’s Presidential election. I won’t be worried if Hillary Clinton is elected; I believe she is uniquely qualified to lead our nation and will hit the ground running. As for the GOP presumptive nominee, Trump’s “America First” plan is better described as “America Worst.” He brags he will “make America great again, but his xenophobic, racist, isolationistic plan to do that will accomplish nothing of the sort and instead, exposes the worst about America. The dog-whistle phrases he repeats incessantly harken a return to a sort of white supremacy; a return to the “Father Knows Best” “good old days” as viewed by his supporters. What Trump and his supporters either don’t get, or don’t care to get, is that today’s global economy will never allow America to be both isolationistic and “great.”

One person who does “get it” is Secretary of Education John King. In a recent speech to the National PTA Convention in Orlando, Florida, he explained that in today’s working world, your boss may not look like you, your office-mate may not worship like you, your project teammates may not speak the same language as you, and your customer may not live on the same continent as you. “Today” he said, “cross-cultural literacy is another way of saying competitive advantage.” In other words, “diversity is no longer a luxury”, it is what will enable us to compete.

At the National School Boards Association Advocacy Institute last month, I was privileged to hear Secretary King in person. An orphan at age 12 and a product of New York City public schools, Secretary King knows first-hand what a difference opportunity can make. He was an impressive speaker and is obviously a passionate egalitarian, particularly when it comes to opportunities for our students. As articulated in a The Atlantic interview, “[diversity is] not just about trying to expand opportunities for low-income students, but really about our values as a country and to improve education outcomes for all students.”

Unlike Trump, Secretary King acknowledges the truth, that we can’t cut off America’s interaction with the rest of the world.  In fact, I’m fairly certain Trump doesn’t intend to pull all his overseas business ventures back — not his golf course and resort in Scotland, nor his seven hotels and as many Trump Towers all over the world; nor his clothing line manufacturing in China, Bangladesh, and Mexico. When questioned about why his shirts and ties were made in China, Trump said he’d love to make them here, but it costs too much. That’s right Donald, to maximize profits, you’ve gotta go where the labor is dirt cheap, the hell with unemployed American workers!

But I digress. The point I really wanted to make is that isolationism and segregation are two sides of the same coin. Just as pulling back and hiding within our own borders would hamper our business opportunities, our influence and our standing in the world, so does segregating our students by socio-economic and ethnicity hamper their abilities to function and succeed in the world. King calls it “being prepared for the diverse context in which we live and work.” After all, no matter how badly some wish our nation would return to a more homogenous (read “white”) population, it’s just not going to happen. Already, a full half of all K-12 students in the United States are “of color” and in Arizona, the Latin@ students in our schools are no longer a minority, but a majority. Not only does each of these children deserve the equal opportunity to succeed, but their white and/or more affluent peers need to learn how to relate to and co-exist with this majority.

The bottom line is that sticking our heads in the sand, sequestering our children with others just like them, constructing walls and closing borders is not a long-term strategy, it is kicking the can down the road. I suspect Trump actually understands this, but despite his claims that he is not a politician, he sure knows how to pander to his supporters. No matter how many times, or how loudly he touts it though, sticking our collective heads in the sand is not the way to make “America Great Again.”

We must remember what got us here in the first place: our democratic system of governance; our sense of fair play; and free, quality public education mandated for all.” These things don’t come cheap, but pI believe they are the reason the United States has been a beacon of opportunity for much of our existence. That’s why I believe America still is great with the caveat that we have much to fix if we want to stay that way. I also believe as citizens of this great country, we all have a duty to participate in the fixes. That participation can take many forms, but it cannot fall to just a few. Without the vast majority of us showing real concern and dedicated commitment to the common good, our UNITED States will not stay great. Without recognizing the potential in every child and promoting equal opportunity for them all, our nation will never be all that it can. A beacon of opportunity and an example of what’s possible when a people have control of their collective destiny.

Shining City on the Hill?

Yesterday, I was sitting on an American Airlines flight reflecting on my trip to our Nation’s Capitol. I was there to learn more about changes in federal laws impacting education, to network with other school board members from across the country and to advocate our members of Congress.

I had lived in D.C. twice previously, both times assigned there by the U.S. Air Force. This time though, I looked through a brand new lens. During my 22-year military career, I (appropriately) saw myself as a servant of the people. When I stood outside the White House grounds viewing the world’s most powerful leader’s residence, I felt a different call to duty. At that moment, I was reminded of our responsibility to ensure the right person sits in the Oval Office and is held accountable by each of us. Too much is at stake – from representing us to the rest of the world to controlling the launch of nuclear weapons. Not only do we have the right to vote, but a sacred duty to do so. Not primarily in our own interests, or to further our own ideology, but to ensure a more perfect union, a safer world, and a lasting legacy for all of our children.

To me, our visits to Capitol Hill highlighted the representative nature of our form of governance. At any given office we visited, there were often three groups in queue to advocate or lobby for their cause or industry. Sometimes those meetings were with the actual gracious lawmaker (as with Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick), but other times, we were relegated to a young staffer (as with Congressman Paul Gosar.) Either way, we and many others funneled through to influence and seek favors. But, since there will never be enough resources to accommodate all requests (many from opposite ends of the spectrum), winners and losers are assured and conflict is the natural by-product.

There were too, those visiting their nation’s Capitol to see democracy in action. Many of them school children with bar coded tour labels stuck to the front of their matching school logoed t-shirts. There was a man with a bullhorn whose message I didn’t quite get, but he was intent on exercising his first amendment rights even if no one cared to listen. I also noticed the youth that defines so many of those who live and work in the city. It occurred to me that although the average age of those in the U.S. Senate is 61 years old, the daily grind of running our country is in the hands of those with enough energy to meet the challenge.

So, what’s my takeaway? Am I more or less hopeful for the future? Guess I have to say I’m still somewhere in between. Spending time with fellow school board members – “volunteer” elected officials from around the country who had made the trip to D.C. to fight for their students – made be optimistic. Hearing their stories of the on-going war against public education in their states highlighted the hard fight still ahead. The countless young people everywhere I looked, made me optimistic. But, so were there signs everywhere that the world is becoming more dangerous by the minute with bollards, fences, metal detectors and armed law enforcement officers around every corner. Going to see the Senate in session, only to find them departed by the time I worked my way through all the security checkpoints, reminded me of a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”

The one thing I know for sure after my visit is that our democracy is sacred and must be safeguarded. President-Elect John F. Kennedy quoted John Winthrop in 1961 when he said: “We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill – the eyes of all people are upon us.” I don’t think it is too extreme a stretch to say this year’s presidential election could decide whether that shine returns to its original luster, or is forever tarnished. It really is up to each of us, let’s hope we are up to the challenge.

A Must Read: The Great American Bathroom Controversy

Quote of the Day: “Have people who identify and look and dress and act like women, forced to go into a men’s room. Have people who identify and look and act and dress like men forced to go into a ladies room. Are you nuts?” Rep. Alan Grayson speaking to Congress about the recent North Carolina law.

Climate change. Crumbling infrastructure. Dark money in politics. Health care costs. Immigration policy. Foreign policies toward China, Russia, and the Middle East. Transgender use of bathrooms.

Yes, these are all pressing issues. That is, all but one.

I’ve blogged about this in the past, marveling at how the party of Lincoln has evolved from Boardroom Republicans to Bedroom Republicans to Bathroom Republicans. And they have found a new class of citizen to discriminate against.

And I’ve laid out the facts about transgendered people.. Here’s the short of it.

So the facts are these. Gender identity is a product of both biological and social factors. It is formed very early in life, and once formed, it is difficult, if not impossible, to change. Transgendered individuals are found in virtually every society on this planet and some societies even identify transgendered persons as a unique gender.

So Republican governors are full of s#!t when they claim that this is a “local” issue. It is not. It is a global fact.

Once again I have to ask: how in the hell did America manage to put use of gender-appropriate bathrooms on the same level as all the other issues facing our country. I’ll stick my (childhood) Lutheran neck out and claim that there is no biblical support for any of that discriminatory policy. Continuing, what kind of family values condone discrimination against someone unlike yourself? And I’ve already stuck my experimental scientist neck out on the matter of the facts (above); three-year olds do not make a conscious choice to be transgendered. Below is a lot more.

A couple of days ago Rep. Alan Grayson (D, Florida), candidate for US Senate, addressed the House of Representatives about what he calls the Great American BathRoom Controversy.

Following is the full text, in italics, of Grayson’s remarks (from an email message dated May14th, 2016). Grayson’s remarks are the most cutting and impassioned that I’ve seen on this sorry topic. It’s a long speech, but please read on. I wind up at the end with an update with a local theme from this morning’s Daily Star.

“I rise today to address the Great American bathroom controversy. This is a picture, on my right, of someone who may or may not be recognizable to many Americans today. I’ll say her name; the name may be more recognizable to some. Her name is Christine Jorgensen. y or may not be recognizable to many Americans today.

Christine was born in 1926; she grew up in the Bronx like I did. She went to Columbus High School, near the public housing where I grew up in the Bronx. In fact, my father taught history at Christopher Columbus High School. I don’t know whether he taught Christine or not. But it is possible.

In 1945, Christine was drafted and served in the U.S. military. Now that may be a puzzle to some of you listening to me right now, who say, ‘I didn’t realize that women were drafted in the 1940’s.’ Well, at that time, Christine’s name was George. George Jorgensen. That’s the name she was born with. She was, in fact — on her birth certificate — male. Something she struggled with greatly all through the time she was growing up, being a male. Something she struggled with, being in the military.

And then after leaving the military service in 1951, she heard about the possibility of changing her gender, so she went to Denmark and underwent three or more surgeries, plus a very substantial amount of estrogen treatments; she came back to the United States, and then forever thereafter, after 1953, was known as Christine Jorgensen. Christine Jorgensen was “out,” she was well known in America as someone who was transgender.

I knew about her story when I was growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s. She made no effort to hide it. She didn’t feel any shame about it. She was proud of the fact that she’d been able to take advantage of what medicine had to offer, and live the life that she felt she would have been able to have, if at the beginning, she had had the proper gender.

She had some degree of fame. Republican Vice President Spiro Agnew referred to her once in a speech to mock one of his opponents. She performed both as a singer and as an actress all through the 1950’s, through the entire 1960’s, and well into the 1970’s. She was the most famous transgendered person in America, probably to this day.

Now, I have to tell you, I don’t know exactly where she went when she “had to go.” I don’t know exactly whether she went into a men’s room or ladies room, but here’s the interesting thing: Even though this was something new under the sun, even though America never had to address this issue before, no one ever even bothered to ask. I don’t remember anybody saying, ‘Christine Jorgensen, she ought to go to the men’s room, she was born a male.’ Or for that matter, ‘Christine Jorgensen, she identifies as a female, she should go to the ladies room.’ Isn’t it odd that America in the 1950’s seems to have shown a lot more maturity than America is showing today, with our great bathroom controversy right now — where the cisgender people of America try to dictate to the transgender people of America where they can go to the bathroom. Or at least, frankly, the more bigoted among us.

We had a law pass recently in North Carolina. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it passed almost exclusively with cisgendered Republican votes. They tried to dictate to which bathroom Christine Jorgensen would have to go, if she were alive today and had to relieve herself. And amazingly enough, they decided in their ‘wisdom’, that Christine Jorgensen, if she were alive today, like all other transgender brothers and sisters, Christine Jorgensen would have to go to the bathroom she didn’t identify as, but instead, the bathroom on her birth certificate.

This is particularly ironic. There was one form of discrimination that Christine Jorgensen did face in her lifetime. She was not allowed to get married. Not allowed to get married to a man because her birth certificate said that she was a male, and she was not issued a marriage license on account of the fact that a male was trying to marry a male.

My goodness! Here in America, just in the past 12 months or so, we finally managed to solve that problem, and Christine Jorgensen could get married today to her lover. Now we have a whole new problem. Now, thanks to Republicans, bigots in North Carolina, we have a law that would require Christine Jorgensen to go to the men’s room.

Think about that. Think about that.

In fact, the natural consequence of that law is what I’m about to show you right here.

Here Grayson includes a photo of two women using urinals in a men’s bathroom.

So you folks in North Carolina who are obsessed with where the transgender people go to the bathroom, this is the result you’ve come up with.

People who self-identify as women, people who look like women, people who act like women, they somehow are being driven into the men’s room. And the same thing is true of transgender people who identify as men. You’re going to force people who look like men, act like men, you’re going to force them into a ladies room.

My God, what’s wrong with you? That doesn’t make any sense at all.

More follows the break.

Read more…

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Peregrinations

Travels and Observations of Two

GUEST TEACHERS USA

Professional and Committed to EXCELLENCE

Slanting to the Right

Blogging from a conservative perspective.

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©mayor5 2016, All Rights Reserved

Christian Thomas Golden

What I love to do.

Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

I don't break news, I fix it.

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A blog to inform, inquire, and communicate

austin vivid photography

heather schramm-lifestyle photographer

deutsch29

Mercedes Schneider's EduBlog

educarenow

Educare- Latin, "To draw out that which lies within." Now- the only time we have. Thoughts on education by Bill Boyle. Thoughts expressed here are my own.

School Matters

K-12 education in Indiana

moderndaychris

an education reform blog

Cloaking Inequity

A blog focused on education policy and social justice

The Baggage Handler

I made the impossible easy in both worlds!

Arizona Education Network

Of the People, By the People, For the People

STORIES FROM SCHOOL AZ | RSS Feed

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