Disadvantaged students 3+ years behind more affluent peers

A recently-released study by Harvard and Stanford universities shows the “achievement gap is as big today as it was for children born in 1954, with disadvantaged students three to four years behind their more affluent peers.” There are of course, multiple reasons offered for this stagnation, but the Boston Globe reports that researchers Eric Hanushek and Paul Peterson suggest “a decline in teacher quality through the years may be offsetting gains made in education reforms such as head start school desegregation, and federal aid to districts with low-income students.” Peterson said, “There is every reason to believe that the quality of the teaching profession will have a particularly adverse effect on low income…disadvantaged students, because those are the students who are unfortunately encountering the most inexperienced teachers.”

Hanushek and Peterson (H&P) write in EducationNext, that, “while some might see income inequality as the result of adult life choices about matters such as how hard to work or where to live, educational inequality seems unfair, because the economic status of a child is outside the child’s own control. It is an inequality of opportunity that runs counter to the American dream.” This is my point when I hear someone say something like, “it isn’t the school’s job to feed kids breakfast…their parents should be feeding them at home.” Uh, well yes, their parents should be feeding them. But…what do we do about those children that come to school hungry because their parents don’t properly care for them or, those who don’t even have parents in the picture?

H&P agree there is an achievement gap affected by socioeconomic status, writing that,

“A variety of mechanisms link socioeconomic status to achievement. For instance, children growing up in poorer households and communities are at greater risk of traumatic stress and other medical problems that can affect brain development. College-educated mothers speak more frequently to their infants, use a larger vocabulary with their toddlers, and are more likely to use parenting practices that respect the autonomy of a growing child. Higher-income families have access to more-enriching schooling environments, and they generally do not face the high rates of violent crime experienced by those in extremely impoverished communities. All these and other childhood or adolescent experiences contribute to profound socioeconomic disparities in academic achievement.”

But, they disagree with past research is that the gap is widening to correspond with ever-increasing wealth inequality. They posit that negative and positive factors in family demographics such the increased age of the mother at birth, higher number of single-parent households at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, higher overall education attainment levels, and the number of siblings, could result in a stagnant impact of the family contribution to the achievement gap.

Likewise, opposing forces in the educational system could be helping maintain the status quo there. Positive moves such as Head Start, Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Disabilities Education Act, a quadrupling in overall funding between 1960 and 2015, and accountability mandates disproportionately directed toward schools serving low-income students, may have all been largely countered by a “decline in the quality of the teaching force.”

Critics of H&P’s findings are pushing back. Sean Reardon, a Stanford professor of poverty and inequality in education, says growing income inequality is linked to an expanding achievement gap, and says the H&P report “paints an oversimplified picture of the issue”. Likewise, Richard Rothstein, author and fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, says H&P’s report showed results from desegregation, indicating that reforms do work. He also chided H&P for not owning up to their past support of the failed No Child Left Behind law and their previous criticism of people making the very same points they are making now, regarding the ties of socioeconomic status on achievement.

When answering why the achievement gap hasn’t closed, Peterson says,

“the simple answer is that nothing has changed out there that is relevant”.

And, what he and Hanushek believe is relevant is improving teacher quality, especially for disadvantaged students, and focusing on improving high school achievement (where any gains made are lost) is key.

Arizona is on the right track with its Arizona Teachers Academy, but until the pipeline is flowing at an adequate rate to compensate for the 25% of teachers eligible to retire, and those who just choose to do something that either pays better or is less frustrating, it is an uphill battle. Salaries that are still well below the U.S. median, and a lack of adequate autonomy in the classroom and respect for the critical work they do, aren’t helping. Quality teachers are the most significant in-school factor to improve student achievement. Doesn’t it then, stand to reason that educating, hiring, and retaining them, should be our collective focus?

The right to know how tax dollars are spent

The just released AZ Auditor General’s Office report on Arizona School District Spending – Fiscal Year 2018 states that,

“In fiscal year 2018, Arizona districts spent 54% of available operating dollars on instruction—the second consecutive increase in the instructional spending percentage in 14 years.”

It also stated that,

“Arizona school districts spent about $3,500 less per pupil than the national average and allocated their resources differently, spending a lower percentage of resources on instruction and administration and a greater percentage on all other operational areas.”

Six key takeaways from an article about the report in the AZ Daily Star are:
1. Even with recent increases to teacher pay, Arizona’s teacher salaries remain over $11,000 below the national average. According to Lindsey Perry, the AZ Auditor General, part of the lower salary may be due to an AZ average teacher experience of 11 years compared to 13.7 for nation.
2. After adjusting for inflation, total per pupil spending is $177 less now than in 2004 and $861 below that of 2008.
3. Arizona spends $8,300 per student with 54% of that being in the classroom, compared with a national average of $11,800 and 60.9% in the classroom.
4. The lower amount Arizona spends in the classroom isn’t due to high administration costs which are only 10.4% of total dollars versus a national average of 11.2%. Rather it can be attributed in part, to higher energy costs due to extreme temperatures, more money spent on food services, higher transportation costs to serve rural and remote areas and higher class sizes.
6. Student support cost is high due to the large percentage of students living in poverty or those with special needs.

Also important to note when discussing classroom support expenditures, is that Arizona lawmakers and educators disagree with the AZ Auditor General’s exclusion of instruction and student support when calculating classroom support dollars. In 2015 in fact, the governor, legislators and educators agreed to a change in state law that required, (beginning with the FY 2016 budget) to include reading and math intervention specialists, media specialists, librarians, counselors, social workers, nurses, psychologists and seed, occupational and physical therapists in the classroom support line item. They understood that these specialists directly contribute to improved academic outcomes for students and should be included in the classroom support totals.

The Auditor General report goes on to state that,

“Although factors outside a district’s control—such as district size, type, and location—can affect its efficiency, some districts operate efficiently and have lower costs despite these factors, while others do not. What the report does not discuss, and is what has never been included, is how charter and private schools perform with the taxpayer dollars they receive.”

Yes, at least charter schools do get audited (not by the state, but an auditor of their choice), but it is a compliance audit, not one to determine efficiency of operations. And, it is the State Board for Charter Schools rather than the AZ Auditor General who is responsible for audit and compliance oversight, so the results of audits are not reported by the latter which makes it difficult to compare them with those of district schools. We do know however, that administration costs in charter schools have typically been double that of district schools. So much for charter schools being models of efficiency.

What we are in total darkness about, is the efficiency of private and parochial school tax dollar spending (via corporate and individual tax credits and vouchers) which in 2017 was about $200M and grows exponentially every year. Funny how those who rail about inefficiencies at public district schools, seem to never be as concerned about tax dollars spent by alternative options. Fortunately, this tide has been turning lately, given all the charter school scandals in the news. As for what’s going on in private schools, that’s anyone’s guess.

Here’s the bottom line. WHEREVER public tax dollars are spent, the public has a right to know the efficiency and effectiveness of that spending. If educational entities accept our money, they should be forced to accept our oversight. It is that simple.

$23 Billion – The Wrenching Reality

U.S. News and World Report and CNN recently highlighted an EdBuild report that shows $23 billion dollars separate America’s white and nonwhite school districts. In other words, “nonwhite school districts get $23 billion less than white districts despite serving the same number of students.”

More than half of all U.S. public school students are enrolled in racially concentrated school districts” which the EdBuild report defines as more than 75% white or nonwhite students. In addition, about 20% of students are enrolled in districts that are both poor and nonwhite, but just 5% of students live in white districts that are equally financially challenged. These conditions help create an average disparity in the U.S. of about 19% or $2,600 less per student in poor nonwhite school districts than those in affluent white ones.

At least Arizona is one of the 35 states that “actively works to redistribute education money to make up for the fact that wealthier school districts generate more local funding than poor school districts.” It is called “equalization funding”, and provides school districts a base funding of $3,960 for every student enrolled (2018–19). With the school funding system reliant on local taxes however, EdBuild says smaller districts can have the effect of concentrating resources for a small, privileged few. And not only do wealthier districts have higher property values to better support the district, they may enjoy more active PTAs and well-funded school foundations to provide additional assistance. These conditions have resulted in Arizona having the biggest funding gap between districts where predominantly nonwhite districts received an average of $7,613 less per student.

Moreover, when we consider poor nonwhite districts to poor white districts, the disparity gets even worse. In Arizona, 34% of students attend racially isolated school districts, with 32% attending high-poverty, predominantly nonwhite school districts, and 1% attending high-poverty predominantly white school districts. “The average high-poverty, nonwhite school district in Arizona has 5,920 students compared to 433 in the average high-poverty, white school district. The difference in funding between them is 59%, or $11,000 less per student. Where the average revenue (funding) per student is $10,400, that can be hard to wrap your head around. But, Chuck Essigs of the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, and Matthew Ladner, Senior Research Strategist at the Arizona Chamber Foundation, agreed that EdBuild should have added up expenditures for all white and non-white school district groups, and divided that number by the number of students in each group. If they had said Ladner, the disparity would have been about $772 per student, rather than the astronomical $7,613 that EdBuild reported. On the high poverty, racially concentrated schools, the actual disparity would have been about $1,400 rather than the nearly $11,000 EdBuild reported.

 

According to EdBuild, “Because schools rely heavily on local taxes, drawing borders around small, wealthy communities benefits the few at the detriment of the many. White districts enroll just over 1,500 students – half the size of the national average, and nonwhite districts serve over 10,000 students – three times more than that average.” This problem is exacerbated in Arizona where many of the mostly white districts are small and rural and the nonwhite districts tend to be larger, in urban areas. “The comparison groups are like oranges and apples,” contends ASU Teachers College assistant professor Margarita Pivoarova. “We can’t really compare, not in terms of size, not in terms of location.” Other Arizona officials admit there is a disparity, but say EdBuild should have factored in more of the state’s students, such as charters with just a dozen students. Anabel Aportela, the director of research for the Arizona School Boards Association said, “There’s so many things to question about the data [like the small school weight formula], you can easily dismiss the message.”

I know Anabel and if she says there’s more to the story, there is. But, we must be open to the truth that our current school funding formula, which has been in place for 35 years — before charters, school tax credits, and vouchers were part of the landscape — needs to be relooked.

“”So long as we link opportunity to gerrymandered borders and school funding to local wealth, we will never have a fair education system,“ Sibilia says. ”The wrenching reality is that“, says Rebecca Sibilia, CEO of EdBuild, ”from any angle, America is investing billions more in the future of white children.” And that should not be, of course, acceptable to anyone.

corruption and greed

Greed Fueling Arizona’s 48th Ranking for Anti-Corruption

We currently have many crises in America, but one that affects our ability to deal with them all, is the crisis of confidence in our public institutions. Some might argue this lack of confidence is fueled by those seeking power and profit via privatization of said institutions. Whether manufactured or organically grown, the lack of accountability and transparency among public officials is no doubt contributing to the crisis.

In 2015, PublicIntegrity.org ranked the Arizona Legislature 22nd in the nation for state government accountability and transparency. And although the scores are not directly relatable, a 2018 report by the anti-corruption Coalition for Integrity, ranking Arizona 48th in the nation, leads me to believe we are not headed in the right direction. The Coalition’s scorecard is called the “States With Anti-Corruption Measures for Public officials” or “S.W.A.M.P. Index”. It “analyzes the laws of the 50 States and District of Columbia regarding the establishment and scope of ethics agencies, the powers of those agencies, acceptance and disclosure of gifts by public officials, transparency of funding independent expenditures and client disclosure by legislators.” This is important said the Coalition’s CEO Shruti Shah, because

“There is a strong link between an ethics regime and trust in government—and state laws are the first line of defense against corruption.”

Unfortunately, Arizona state laws are lax when it comes to school choice, once again earning the state a #1 ranking for a favorable privatization environment by the conservative bill mill American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). According to its website, the Report Card on American Education is

“part of its mission to promote limited government, free markets and federalism.”

Note that accountability, transparency and ethical governance, are not mentioned. ALEC exists after all, to support legislation favorable to the corporations that finance their work and influence. Instead, the ALEC report card discusses private school choice, purchasing power, flexibility, and freedom. Hey, I like freedom as much as the next gal and served 22 years in the military to help preserve it. But as the saying goes, “freedom isn’t free” and it isn’t maintained by just the ultimate price that some have paid, but other “costs” such as rules, laws, responsibilities and accountability without which, we would have anarchy.

The “A” in Arizona doesn’t yet stand for anarchy, but there are those lawmakers who evidently don’t see a problem working around a few ethical conflicts of interest to benefit themselves at our expense. At least the Arizona Constitution prohibits lawmakers from employment by state, county or city governments, with the exception of serving as school board members, teachers or instructors in the public school system. Where lawmakers act ethically, this exception can help ensure we have those with educational experience helping shape educational policy. Where that is not the case however, unethical actors interested in self-enrichment, can take advantage of a system that doesn’t hold them accountable.

Take for example, Senator Yarborough who termed out in 2018. For many years now, he has run a highly profitable Student Tuition Organization (STO), while sponsoring the majority of legislation expanding the diversion of state income tax liability to STOs. Likewise, According to the AZ Republic, Representative Eddie Farnsworth (now President Pro Tempore of the Senate) profited greatly on the sell of his charter school business (the one built with taxpayer funds) to a nonprofit company after voting for legislation favorable to the non-profit’s board members. In addition to the $13.2M from the sale, he will earn $478K on a loan he made to the school, another $80K in rent on his building that serves as the school’s corporate headquarters, and a consulting fee. And of course, there are numerous GOP lawmakers who have pushed the expansion of vouchers session after session, without sufficient accountability, despite numerous instances of fraudulent expenditures by parents. At the very least, many of them benefited from campaign contributions for their trouble, from Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children and other pro-privatization forces.

And now, the Arizona Republic recently reports that Arizona Speaker of the House, Rusty Bowers,

“was paid more than twice the going rate ($216.62 per day versus $90) for substitute teachers in the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT)”.

Interestingly, Bowers was EVIT’s director of external affairs (basically a lobbyist) from July 2011 to June 2015 and was paid $62K to $64K per year for this part-time work (double what a legislator makes incidentally.) In conducting an investigation of allegations related to operational and legal compliance concerning the East Valley Institute of Technology“ lawyer Susan Segal found that,

”Bowers had no class roster and didn’t have proper certification to teach his JTED classes.“ She also found that Bowers took it upon himself to scratch out the part of his contract that required certification, and wrote in ”permanent certification of substitute teacher.“

But, as reported by the Capitol Times, the district governing board never approved that change, and Segal noted that, ”there is no such thing as a permanent substitute certification. In another instance, on top of this sentence in his contract:

“If the Legislature fails to fund fully or partially, for any reason, the amounts appropriated for the salary and benefits categories of the District budget, the Board shall reduce pro-rata the total amount of compensation due under this Contract”;

he wrote (exhibiting great hubris in my opinion):

“who gets to decide whether or not the legislature appropriates enough?”

Maybe he thinks it is the AZ Speaker of the House?

Of course, that’s mere conjecture on my part. What is not, is the fact that Bowers has failed to allow even a modicum of increased legislator accountability to move forward this legislative session. Remember former Representative Paul Mosely driving close to 100 mph in a 55 zone, (his seventh time being pulled over for excessive speeding) and then bragging about his immunity to the police officer? The incident prompted Governor Ducey to call for repeal of legislative immunity and Representative T.J. Shope to sponsor HCR 2008 to do just that. Unfortunately Speaker Bowers did not assign it to be heard in any committee, so it is basically DOA at this point. Maybe he figures passing the bill would be a slippery slope toward more ethical governance?

As long as the foxes are in charge of the hen-house at the state Legislature and we don’t hold them accountable for the carnage they wreak, the unethical behavior will continue. After all, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had people ask me how in the hell did Senator Yarborough continue to get away with creating and voting for legislation that personally profited him? My answer is that there was no consequence for his actions. After all, he wasn’t violating any laws or existing ethics standards, and he continued to get reelected. From his perspective, why should he do anything differently?

There is a reason greed is one of the seven deadly sins within Christian teachings. Mahatma Gandhi said,

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”

We should be able to count on our government to ensure a fair shake for all of us. But, when those governing write and enforce the rules to give themselves a leg up, we need to do our job and give them the boot out. The voters of LD5 did the right thing in voting Mosely out of office in 2018. We need to all do the right thing by demanding ethics standards for our elected representatives at every level and then holding them accountable for not only illegal, but also unethical behavior. Government can work, but it takes ALL of us doing our part.

Mark Finchem, the master of condescension

As one of LD11 ‘s Representative Mark Finchem’s constituents, I’m thinking he largely penned today’s shared op-ed in the AZ Daily Star titled “Bills see to improve oversight of education vouchers”, and asked Senator Sylvia Allen (AZ Senate Ed Cmte Chair) to give it some credibility by lending her name to it. His attack on the Save Our Schools Arizona folks as “lobbyists” is soooooo “him”. Give me a break. They are grassroots advocates led by a group of moms who were sick and tired of being ignored by school privatization zealots like Finchem. Their movement caught fire over the last couple of years because it was obvious they actually were/are “in this to help our children”.

Contrary to what Finchem would have you believe, they and other public education advocates don’t argue for a lack of choices for parents. In fact, public education advocates and education professionals work hard to ensure our district schools offer an increasingly wide variety of programming to appeal to our diverse student population. This has been one of the good impacts of open enrollment and charter schools which have been providing choice since 1994.

Finchem’s claim that “100 percent of current [Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or vouchers] ESA students have unique challenges” is purposefully misleading. Education professionals understand that every child has unique challenges and the ideal way to educate them would be to ensure an education program individualized to meet each of their specific needs. Unfortunately, Arizona’s public school funding doesn’t allow that sort of personalized attention as it is still $600 million short of even 2008 levels. Compounding the problem are the 1,693 teacher vacancies and 3,908 individuals not meeting standard teacher requirements as of December 12, 2018. This adds up to a total of 75% of teacher positions vacant or filled by less than fully qualified people, contributing to the highest class sizes in the nation and likely helped push 913 to abandon or resign their positions within the first half of the school year. When quality teachers have proven to be the #1 factor to in-school success, this is not a winning strategy to improving outcomes.

Those requiring the most personal attention, our special needs students, have had access to vouchers since the ESA began in 2011 and made up 58 percent of students on vouchers in 2017. Yet, our district schools still educate the vast majority of these students even though the state’s formula funding for such was $79 million less than what it cost in 2017 to provide the services required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This shortfall requires districts to fund the special ed programs (mandated by state and federal law), from non-special education programs (i.e. mainstream students). And while special education enrollment remains steady at 11.5 percent, the severity of disabilities (more expensive to administer to), have been increasing.

Of course, Finchem is “all about” those students “who have been bullied or assaulted and need ESAs to find a healthier environment in which to learn”. Again, open enrollment and charter schools already provide that option. And maybe, just maybe, if Finchem really wants to help students who have been bullied, he should focus on decreasing class sizes, providing more music and art education, and working to increase the number of counselors at Arizona’s schools? After all, there is nowhere to go but up in this area given our 903:1 ratio which puts us in “first” (worst) place for the number of students per counselor. (The national average was 482:1 in 2018 and the industry recommended ratio 250:1.)

As for his HB2022 providing increased transparency and accountability because it turns over financial administration of ESAs to a private firm, I call total BS. Just look at private schools and private prisons and the amount of transparency they afford the public. The best way to ensure transparency and accountability is to keep public services in the public domain and hold elected officials responsible for ensuring such.

Wait a minute. Maybe I’m on to something. After all, when ESAs were first implemented, Arizona lawmakers were told that the auditing requirements were so weak they were “almost a sham”, but the warnings went unheeded. Not only did the Legislature expand the program almost every year, but “resources to scrutinize the expenditures – made using state-provided debit cards – never kept pace. Yes, some improvements have been made, but an AZ Auditor General audit released in October 2018 found that ”Arizona parents have made fraudulent purchases and misspent more than $700,000 in public money allocated by the state’s school-voucher style program, and state officials have recouped almost none of that money.” Could it be that these lawmakers just don’t want to be held accountable?

Far be it from me to point out that Finchem was first elected in 2014 and is now serving his third term in the Legislature. Why is he only now taking an interest in making the ESA program transparent and accountable? I’d hate to think it has anything to do with the fact that our new Superintendent of Public Instruction is a Democrat who is committed to finally tackling the problem. Upon taking office after all, Superintendent Hoffman immediately launched an audit of the Department of Ed and has now established a bi-partisan task force to look at ESA accountability.

If Finchem really wanted to show our kids how to work together,” he should be working to properly fund ADE’s oversight of the ESA program. Even the former Superintendent of Public Instruction, Diane Douglas (Republican), said “the misspending of the voucher money is the result of decisions by the Republican-controlled Legislature to deny her department money needed to properly administer the program.” Douglas claimed lawmakers resisted properly funding oversight because they wanted a private entity to oversee it.

“If you’re not willing to put the resources into the oversight, then it doesn’t happen appropriately,” Douglas told the Arizona Republic.

Likewise, Republican Senator Bob Worsley said,

“My guess is just that the (Republican) caucus – my caucus – has been, probably, overly enthusiastic about ESAs, and vouchers in general, and therefore anything that would…make it more difficult, it would not be a high priority for them.” He went on to say that it is “neither fiscally sound nor ethical for lawmakers to inadequately fund oversight of the program.”

But, this is exactly what they’ve done. “Under the law, 4 percent of the program’s funding is supposed to go to the department to administer and oversee the program.” In 2018, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) only received about 2 percent or $1.2 million. Douglas said the full 4 percent was needed to properly oversee the program, but the Legislature had not authorized the department to spend $5.7 million sitting in a fund allocated for program oversight. Let that sink in. Finchem is up in arms about the need to introduce more transparency and accountability into the ESA program, but is part of the GOP-led legislature that hasn’t allowed oversight funds to be spent.

Most galling to me of any of his positions in the op-ed though is Finchem’s admonishment that,

“it’s time for adults to start acting like adults and show our kids how to work together, even if it means working with people with which you may not always agree.”

This also is “him being him” as condescension is a tool Finchem has mastered. I guess when he showed total disdain for teachers (to their faces), during the #RedforEd walkout (and at every opportunity since), he was/is demonstrating how to work with others? I’m not buying it and neither should you. He is a blight on southern Arizona and I hope all those who care about public education, (regardless of where you live), work very, very hard to deny his reelection in 2020.

AZ in Top Third with National Board Certified Teachers

Let me be clear. I’ve never worn blackface and can’t for the life of me understand why someone would think it is okay. But, I’ve been guilty (when much younger), of making the insensitive and derogatory comment that, “those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.” I was referring to military trainers, not K–12 teachers, but I am still mortified and profusely sorry for ever thinking, let alone saying that, about any educator.

I was ignorant and didn’t know what I didn’t know. I now know that good teachers are highly skilled professionals who have honed their art. I know that the overwhelming majority of K–12 teachers have chosen their profession because they have a passion for helping children grow and thrive. I also know that teachers are the number one in-school factor to student success. I fervently believe, that if we are to truly unleash our students’ and our state’s potential, we must focus on preparing, hiring, supporting, and trusting, high-quality, professional educators.

I was surrounded by several hundred such professionals at this year’s Arizona K12 Center’s 10th Celebration of Accomplished Teaching. It was a wonderful gala to celebrate the 136 Arizona teachers who achieved or renewed National Board Certification (NBC) in 2018.

Established in 1987 as a rigorous assessment program, NBC was designed to “develop, retain and recognize accomplished teachers and to generate ongoing improvement in schools nationwide.” To be an NBCT, “a teacher must hold a baccalaureate degree and have three years of teaching experience on a provisional or standard certificate (no emergency or intern) in early childhood, elementary, middle, or secondary schools prior to submitting an application. “ According to the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) website, “National Board Certification was created by teachers, for teachers, to “represent consensus among educators about what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do…and is available in 25 certificate areas spanning 16 disciplines from Pre-K through 12th grade.”

In the AZ Republic’s Joanna Allhands words, NBCT “Teachers are tested on their content knowledge and must prove academic growth in their students. They also must demonstrate how they interact with their students and that they can effectively use testing data to help their students grow.” She goes on to note that Arizona doesn’t pay teachers extra (though some districts do give a stipend) for achieving NBCT status. Rather, the teachers work for certification anywhere from one to five years, at a personal cost of about $2,000, because “they know what it means for their students. Studies from across the country show that students learn more – the equivalent of one to two months’ extra instruction – from a National Board Certified Teacher.”

As a professional educator (what a breath of fresh air that is), Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, understands how important professional development is for educators and the students they teach. Speaking at the Celebration event, she lauded the 86 new and 50 renewed NBCTs for 2018. She also told the audience she is absolutely committed to maintaining her unbridled optimism in support of Arizona’s educators. The future of our state she said, will be determined by the future of our students, and they must have professional educators to prepare them. At a time when challenges abound for public education in Arizona, she proudly highlighted the fact that our state is 18th in the nation for the total number of NBCTs and 14th in the nation for the number of new NBCTs.

A big reason for these success is the leadership provided by Arizona’s K12 Center, led by Executive Director Kathy Wiebke. Our state’s first-ever NBCT, Kathy is the program’s biggest cheerleader saying that, not only does it elevate the profession, but individual teachers as well. As the Center’s website states, NBC provides the opportunity for our best teachers [and school counselors] to pursue “the accomplishment and recognition that other professionals, like doctors and architects, pursue in their areas of specialty. In fact, ”more than 150 studies indicate that National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) make a significant and measurable impact in their schools, and the process is regarded the finest single professional development program available to teachers today.”

In addition to running the National Board Candidate Program, the Center is home to the Master Teacher Program, which works to “build capacity for teacher leadership, while providing support to the newest members of the teaching profession. The program places experienced, accomplished teachers into non-evaluative leadership roles in schools as mentors or coaches for their peers.” Other programs include a professional development opportunity called Lesson2Life which “brings education and business together to better prepare students to be career and college ready with the skills necessary to be successful citizens in a rapidly changing world.” The program takes place over the summer, and “allows teachers to see firsthand the skills needed in today’s workplace while educating businesses about the current reality of today’s education system.”

We’ve already seen how lowering job requirements for teachers hasn’t helped improve retention, with only one-third of the way into the 2018–19 school year, almost half as many certificates being issued to untrained teachers as the entire previous year. How’s about we try something else? I don’t know…maybe like treat our teachers as the professionals they are and encourage and support their efforts to continue to develop their craft?

The solution to our teacher retention problem is staring us in the face and is the same solution that will drive more student success. That’s because teacher working conditions are student learning conditions. Only when we truly embrace this concept will we begin to make sustained, statewide progress we can all be proud of.

So, how’s that teacher shortage?

Anyone wondering where we stand with Arizona’s teacher shortage? After all, last year was probably the most significant year ever for Arizona public school teachers. Some 75,000 of them marched on the state Capitol demanding better pay for themselves and support staff, lower class sizes and more. The result was an additional 9% salary increase added to the 1% Governor Ducey had originally offered for the year. Surely this must have helped us retain quality teachers, right?

Well, not so fast. As the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA) learned in their annual statewide survey of districts, we are a long way from “out of the woods” and aren’t even headed in the right direction.

242EFF29-BFCA-4C0A-B496-C54953BBAD3DThe 211 districts and charters that responded last year reported that 7,453 teacher openings needed to be filled during the school year. As of December 12, 2018, there were still 1,693 vacancies and 3,908 individuals not meeting standard teacher requirements, for a total of 75% of teacher positions vacant or filled by less than fully qualified people.

On top of that, 913 teachers had either abandoned or resigned from their teacher position within the first half of the school year without a candidate pool to replace them. To make matters worse, 76% of these teachers held a standard teacher certificate.

These are alarming statistics, made all the more so considering the strides made in 2018, and the worse status since the 2017–18 report. It showed that as of December 8, 2017, 62.5% of teacher positions were vacant or not meeting standard teacher requirements and 866 teachers had abandoned or resigned within first half of the year, over 80% of whom held a standard teacher certificate.

The salary increase didn’t solve the problem, partly because salary and benefits still aren’t competitive, but also because teacher working conditions (such as high class sizes and the dramatic increase of children dealing with trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences) make it really tough to do the job right. And, oh by the way, allowing our districts to hire uncertified teachers hasn’t done anything to make our teachers feel valued as professionals. As the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, told the state House Education Committee yesterday, our teacher shortage is a crisis. To make matters worse, 25% of Arizona teachers are eligible to retire in the next two years.

I’m sure there are people who thought the Governor’s #20X2020 plan would fix the teacher drain but of course, it was never going to be that easy. First of all, only 10% of it has been allocated thus far. The other 10% is but a promise and must be appropriated by this, and probably next year’s Legislatures.

Quality teachers are the number one in-school factor contributing to student success, so it makes sense that they should be our focus. Ask yourself then why yet again, state legislators are sponsoring several voucher expansion bills that will further drain resources available for 95% of Arizona’s students.

We can solve this, and most other problems, IF we have the collective will to do it. Therein lies the rub.

Our very different pains rhyme

During this week of Martin Luther King Day, I’ve found myself reflecting on both the state of equity in America and my personal journey toward the greater understanding of such.

In the Air Force, we received annual training designed to teach respect for differences and promote the value of diversity. We were taught that in spite of any “deeply held beliefs”, we must not act in a manner inconsistent with Air Force values. The Commander of Air Mobility Command General Darren McDew, wrote in 2015 that,

“Diversity is part of our DNA. America’s strength is even greater than the sum of its parts. Our best qualities as a nation shine through when we embrace different cultures, backgrounds, and ways of thinking.”

While serving, I felt the Air Force believed this ideal even if it wasn’t always successful at achieving it.

It wasn’t until I retired from the Air Force and managed a nonprofit with social justice as one of its core tenets, that I gained deeper insight into the meaning of equity. In fact, I was some 50 years old before I can remember hearing the term “white privilege”, especially used in reference to me.

The job was an ill fit for a hard-charging retired Colonel who wasn’t really prepared for the vastly different culture I would encounter. One example was my effort to learn more about each staff member by taking them to lunch. One of my goals was to learn what was important to them and how I could support them. One, an African-American transgender male, seemed very distrustful of me and was not interested in opening up to me or helping me navigate the new environment. He indicated early on that I didn’t understand and when I asked him to help me understand, he said that wasn’t his job. I was incredibly put off by his response and did not try again to reach out to him.

A decade later I understand more about what he meant when he said it was not his job to make me understand. When I think back on it now, I’m mortified at how ignorant I was about the real state of equity (or rather inequity) in America. I credit the Arizona School Boards Association for much of my increased awareness and understanding. I’ve gained great insights via attendance at conferences, tuning in to webinars, being a part of the Black and Hispanic and Native American Indian caucuses, or just talking to the very diverse membership. I’ve also enhanced my understanding of equity challenges by reading a variety of books and articles on the subject.

One such book is “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn. According to the publisher’s summary, it “is the first scholarly work to tell America’s story from the bottom up – from the point of view of, and in the words of, America’s women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, the working poor and immigrant laborers.” My perspective is that it lays bare, the truth about American exceptionalism. Yes, our founding fathers set out to create a “more perfect union”, but they did not do it on their own. They did it through a combination of grit and ruthlessness and on the backs of those who largely, were not white.

White settlers n America and the soldiers that paved their way, were for all practical purposes, a conquering force. And let’s face it, those being conquered always get the raw end of the deal. As we know though, America’s indiginous people were not the only ones used, abused and slaughtered. There has always been some group of people who paid the price for the rest of us to succeed and prosper. Another book I recently listened to, poignantly drove that message home. It is a novel called “Washington Black” by Esi Edugyan and tells the story of the fear and brutality of slavery in the 1800s.

These books helped me understand the sins of our American past that set the stage for the inequities many of our citizens continue to experience. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really understand that connection earlier in my life. I didn’t understand what impact centuries of systematic oppression could have on people living today. I didn’t know that poverty is the greatest barrier to student success and that those students in poverty are overwhelmingly of color. I certainly didn’t know about our discriminatory policies such as “redlining” to deny blacks homes in certain neighborhoods (still happening today), that insidiously creates barriers almost impossible to overcome.

These aren’t the only barriers that seem almost impossible to overcome. According to the Pew Research Center, in the twenty-five years they’ve been surveying Republicans and Democrats about how they view the other party,

“the majority of respondents in both parties answered ”very unfavorable“ for the first time in 2016. More than half of Democrats (55%) say the Republican party makes them ‘afraid’ while 45% of Republicans say the same about Democrats. And just half of the members of both parties say that the other party makes them feel ‘angry’.”

I’m not trying to equate racial hatred and oppression with political polarization. Isn’t it all though, tied together in some way? Hate crimes in the US are up by 20% since 2016 and in the first three months of 2017 alone, anti-Semitic incidents were up by 86%. We know it has always existed, but a political environment unmoored from norms has unleashed the ugliness.

That’s why I was drawn to a book called “The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity”, by Sally Kohn. Tired of the 24/7 vitriolic bombardment and of feeling helpless to affect the change we need, I was looking for some nuggets of wisdom. Kohn offered many such nuggets, primarily gleaned by going into the field to talk to people in situations where they have every reason to hate, but then overcame that inclination and exhibited just the opposite. From the Palestinian vs. Israeli conflict, to the Rwandan genocide, to the real and very painful hate played out everyday in our own country (on-line and in-person), Kohn provides hope via examples of people who have “listened to their better angels.”

“Our identities and experience in the world in our skin aren’t the same”, she writes, “but can we all perhaps notice how, as the writer Anand Giridharadas says, ’our very different pains rhyme”’?”

LOVE this! We all are after all, just and equally, human.

Unfortunately, that concept often eludes us. The concept of “cultural hegemony” Kohn writes, is that

“whereby the worldview of the elite becomes the accepted social norm. The dominant view in the United States that white people should rightfully have more privilege and power is a form of cultural hegemony. And groups who benefit from hegemony don’t see their own bias – they just think that’s the way things should be. As the saying goes, ‘When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.’”

So, not understanding that I have “white privilege” doesn’t necessarily make me a bad person, but not being willing to learn about it and work to mitigate its potentially deleterious impacts (at least on a personal level), just might. As Kohn points out, “writer Audre Lorde suggests that forgiveness is injustice:

“Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.”

So, I suspect, my former employee didn’t want to waste energy trying to educate me, when he didn’t believe I would either “get it”, or be part of the solution.

I understand now that the equality is not the same as equity. I also understand that the real question is not whether we are biased but rather how much bias we have and what we do to counteract it. Research shows it benefits all of us to do just that. We know that racial and ethnic diversity is great for communities, increases home values, and lowers crime (without putting up fences and gates). It also raises the achievement of all students in a school, not just those disadvantaged. But, as Kohn points out,

“it is too easy to believe that poverty and crime afflicting urban black communities is their fault, not seeing it as the result of centuries of violence and oppression, economic discrimination, and white flight. Just as it’s too easy to believe that poverty and crime afflicting rural white communities is their fault, not the product of discrimination and perverse health system incentives and the massive shift of manufacturing jobs from those rural towns to overseas. Because if it’s their fault, then there’s nothing for us to try to understand, let alone have to address. If it’s hard enough to overcome our own individual prejudices and biases, overcoming systemic hate is an even steeper uphill battle.”

Key to “Repairing Our Humanity” according to Kohn, is understanding our commonality.

“All hate is premised on a mind-set of otherizing. It doesn’t matter whether that “other” is someone of a different color, or gender, or race, or political party. The sanctimonious pedestal of superiority on which we all put ourselves while we systematically dehumanize others is the essential root of hate. In big and small ways, consciously and unconsciously, we constantly filter the world around us through the lens of our explicit and implicit biases [which we ALL, every single one of us has]. We think we’re good people, but we don’t see how that sphere of moral concern is constricted by hate, by the history and habits and culture of who matters and who doesn’t in our society, which we have all bought into, whether we mean to or not. The opposite of hate is the beautiful and powerful reality of how we are all fundamentally linked and equal as human beings. The opposite of hate is connection.“

One great example of this concept is the movie ”Green Book” which I just saw. I won’t go into it here, but trust me, it is a great illustration of the difference connection can make.

So, connection is key, but so is the personal responsibility to work for it. We must, as Kohn writes,

“become more conscious of our own hate – in all its forms, and work to catch and challenge our ideas and assumptions. We must support policies and institutions that bring us together, rather than divide us.”

That, she writes, will take talking to each other differently. “With the generosity and open-mindedness and kindness and compassion of connection-speech, instead of hate.” Again, a pearl of wisdom from Anand Giridharadas in a 2017 speech,

“Real change is systemic and self-implicating, urging us to see our role in vast, complex problems.”

We ALL, each and EVERY one of us, have a responsibility and role to play, to get us out of the gutter. No one has a free pass that relieves them of that responsibility.

Kohn spoke to me throughout her book to include this sentence,

“I haven’t arrived at some place of enlightenment. I’ve simply realized I need to turn on the light – and start noticing things differently and trying to be different.”

There is not a person on earth who does not have a bias. Realizing our biases exist is the first step. The second one is taking the required actions to see through them so you can be a part of the solution versus part of the problem. Mahatma Ghandi said we must each, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” And as the ancient Chinese saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Wondering What Happened To Steve Smith?

Grrrrreeeeaaaatt! The Capitol Times just reported that former state Senator and GOP candidate for U.S. House of Representatives in CD1, Steve Smith, is joining the American Federation for Children as the new state director.

Many LD11 residents (especially those in his home town of Maricopa), were thrilled to get rid of him as our one of our lawmakers. Now though, I imagine public education advocates will likely emit a communal groan to this news. Smith was no friend of public education as a state Senator, and in fact, was a co-sponsor of the full-expansion of vouchers (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) law.

In 2017, he voted for Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) supported bills only 2 of 7 times. In 2016, he did better, but voted for three ESA expansion bills. In 2015, he voted for ASBA supported bills only 2 of 9 times, with two of those bills being ESA expansions. Back in 2014, he voted against ASBA positions all 7 times, and one of those was an ESA expansion.

The American Federation of Children (AFC) of course, is the organization that Betsy DeVos headed before she got the gig as U.S. Secretary of Education. Their mission, according to their website, is: “The American Federation for Children and AFC Growth Fund seek to empower families, especially lower-income families, with the freedom to choose the best K–12 education for their children.

Yeah, right, it is ALL about the low-income, disadvantaged child. No matter that “the freedom to choose” means nothing if there isn’t true access to the choice. An example of this is the expansion of vouchers to students living on tribal lands. Ask yourself…how many private schools are there on tribal lands? Exactly! The whole idea that AFC is all about empowering lower-income families “with the freedom to choose” sounds like a nice idea until you know the facts.

AFC is no stranger to Arizona, making its presence known via big campaign spending for pro-voucher candidates. In 2014 alone, they spent $205,000 in the state. Smith was one of the recipients of those funds. In 2016, AFC spent $213,000, but evidently none on Smith, they must have considered him safe that year.

The last time I met with then Senator Smith in his office at the Capitol, he was complaining about how the Feds were trying to shove something down Arizona’s throat and he wasn’t going to have it. I told him that just like he didn’t like the Feds trying to tell Arizona what to do, locally-elected school board members don’t like state lawmakers trying to tell them what to do. Everyone, I intimated, should stay in their lane to allow the system to work best. He didn’t even acknowledge what I said, but started ranting about how the Feds aren’t the parent, the state is the parent. He was finger pointing and literally, spitting mad. I decided at that point I was getting nowhere and left.

Smith is an ambitious ideologue and will continue his rampage against Arizona’s public schools. Certainly the pro-privatization crowd are not dissuaded by the failure of the full voucher expansion last November. Rather, I suspect they’ve circled the wagons and have been plotting their next assault on our public schools. Smith has certainly had lots of practice doing AFC’s bidding and now can be even more “unplugged” in leading the charge. Or, maybe, just maybe, he’ll be as successful at this, as he was at building the wall he promised to raise money for. Geesh…I keep telling myself! The session hasn’t even started yet!

Enough of Trump’s Sh*tdown

Ever since Trump announced his candidacy, up has been down, black has been white, wrong has been right. That trend continues as a man who is viewed by his supporters as a populist (seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people) obviously cares nothing about the 800,000 federal employees (about a quarter of all government employees) who are not being paid during this partial government shutdown.

This Trump Shutdown is now in its 16th day and some 420,000 government employees designated as “essential” (in some cases, the lowest paid) are being forced to work without pay. The New York Times writes, “This includes upward of 41,000 law enforcement officials [including FBI and DEA], 54,000 Border Patrol agents, and 53,000 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers”.

It can be no surprise that now some of those TSA employees have begun to call in sick in protest. According to CNN, “as many as 170 TSA employees called out [sick] each day this week” at New York’s JFK International Airport. At the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, “call outs have increased by 200%–300%.” And, union officials are predicting call-outs will increase when agents miss their first paycheck, forcing them to find other jobs to put food on the table, or pay their rent, or to stay home with their young children because they can no longer afford child care. What will happen is largely unknown though, since as TSA Administrator David Pekoske said, “We’ve never had a situation where officers did not get paid” since recent shutdowns have been of a duration that didn’t result in pay delay.

This, in a job where the annual turnover rate at some airports is already as much as 80%. About half of TSA agents after all, make less than $40,000 per year, and I for one, can’t imagine these jobs are the most fulfilling, stressless ever created. And, even if there are plenty of people to backfill departing employees, the on-boarding and training of replacement employees must be incredible and the instability and uncertainty caused by this shutdown aren’t going to help.

Reduced safety and security though, are the focus of airline pilots from Delta, United, JetBlue and others who have President Trump. “In a scorchingly fact-based letter” writes Inc.com, Captain Joe DePete of the Air Line Pilots Association (representing 61,000 pilots), wrote,

“I am writing to urge you to take the necessary steps to immediately end the shutdown of government agencies that is adversely affecting the safety, security and efficiency of our national airspace system.”

He goes on to write,

“The nation’s airspace system is a complex transportation network that involves government and industry partnerships to function properly, and the disruptions being caused by the shutdown are threatening the safe operations of this network.”

Finally, DePete points out

“Mechanical inspections, drone oversight and new enhanced communications systems are all threatened. Worse, air traffic controllers, airspace system maintenance personnel and Air Marshals are working unpaid.”

And although a TSA spokesman said,

“Security effectiveness will not be compromised and performance standards will not change”,

eventually something’s got to give. As a veteran TSA official said,

“If you’re not seeing long wait times at airports, there’s something on the security side they’re not doing.”

Options airports may use to keep lines down include fewer random pat down security checks on passengers, giving passengers who have not been vetted for the PreCheck program an expedited screening, or the use of a procedure called “positive passenger bag match” to loosen standards for checked baggage.

This is a scary proposition, but it shouldn’t be the only shutdown consequence giving us pause. A Republican authored op-ed in USAToday.com uses irony in its lead stating,

“In the name of strengthening border security, Trump refuses to fund the FBI, TSA, Coast Guard and Border Patrol(!). You can’t make this stuff up.”

And the New York Times Editorial Board writes that, “Trump’s Shutdown is Not About Border Security”, but rather, that the

“800,000 federal employees, and the citizens who depend on them, are being hurt for an empty political stunt.”

After all, they write, Congress has already,

“on a bipartisan basis…been allocating more money for border security – although the administration has spent less than 10 percent of what [has been] allocated in the past year.”

That’s likely because Trump claims there can be no border security without a wall, and he isn’t willing to learn about why that just isn’t true. He even claims that “‘many’ federal workers have urged him to ’stay out until you get the funding for the wall.” I doubt very seriously this is true, since a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that “only a quarter of all Americans support the shutdown” and only 35% favor including wall money in a spending bill. More likely this is about Trump placating his base as Senator Lindsey Graham recently expressed on Fox News,

“If he gives in now, that’s the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president. That’s probably the end of his presidency.”

No matter the reason for the shutdown, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) says forcing employees to work without pay “is nothing short of inhumane” and has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration. A previous such suit was filed during the 2013 shutdown and a federal judge finally ruled in 2017 that, “the government had to compensate 25,000 federal employees for damages due to the 2013 shutdown because it was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act to make workers do their jobs during the funding lapse.“ Those employees have yet to receive their damages compensation, but AFGE is hopeful that the precedence set will expedite matters this time around.

Of course, federal employees aren’t the only workers in government that are affected by the shutdown. More than 40% of the federal government workforce in fact, are white- and blue-collar contract employees, and many of the latter, in lower wage jobs as janitors and security guards. These workers likely won’t ever be compensated for their lost wages. Likewise, small businesses that depend on the patronage of government employees (restaurants for example) won’t recoup the revenue they are losing.

Ultimately, no matter the outcome, the shutdown will hurt us as a nation more than help us. The longer it continues, the more important work will backup, to include business ability to “E-verify” immigration status of new hires and immigration courts to deal with their already overwhelming backlog. Experts also calculate the shutdown will end up costing us more than the $5B Trump wants for his wall. According to Time.com, Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul said the 2013 shutdown that lasted 16 days

“cost us more to shut the government down than to keep it open”,

a statement rated true by Politifact.

The costs incurred according to the center-right American Action Forum, include federal budgetary costs, forgone services, and economic disruption. The federal employees will after all, eventually receive their back pay; and there is cost associated with: shutting down and reopening offices, lost productivity, inability to collect permits and fees, and a lowered GDP growth (estimated at $2B to $6B for the 2013 shutdown.) And in 2013, we weren’t also paying for President ordered troops to the southern border to fight off the threat of a migrant caravan. The Pentagon estimated it would cost $72M to pay for the deployment through December 15, 2018. The administration is now considering  an increased presence there until September 2019.

We recognize when troops are being used as political pawns though, because we’ve seen it before, even on our homeland. As the Associated Press wrote last year, “When former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama deployed the Guard to the border in 2006 and 2010, they were pushing Congress to pass wide-ranging overhauls of immigration policy. Both overhauls failed. A 2011 government review estimated the Bush and Obama deployments cost at least $1.3 billion.

Whether it is federal employees not getting paid, or troops going on BS missions, enough, is enough. I’m sick and tired of the little guy always taking it in the shorts while the powerful play silly games. Here’s an idea. How about the American people demand Congress work without pay until this issue is resolved? What if every single one of us called our U.S. Representatives and Senators over the next few days and left them the message that they should lead by example and work without pay if they are going to continue to require essential federal employees do the same? Here’s a link to the contact information for members of Congress: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials. It’s a small action, but as Margaret Mead said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”