Bottom Five List – Discouraged but Hopeful

A recent article in The Atlantic magazine featured experts on K-12 education who offered their reasons for hope and despair with regard to education. It was an interesting read and prompted me to come up with my own list for Arizona. In this first of two posts, I share my “Bottom Five” list of what discourages me and what I’m hopeful about. First, what discourages me:

10. The extremely well funded efforts of the corporate “reformers.” Make no mistake about it, the effort by the corporate “reformers” to make sweeping changes to the Nation’s public education system is as much about making a profit as it is an interest in making a difference. The exact number is up for debate, but The Nation magazine says the American K-12 public education market is worth almost $800 billion. Now, everyone from basketball players to Turkish billionaires want a piece of the pie. It is no accident that the Koch brothers backed, corporate bill mill ALEC is pushing many of the reforms, and the technology magnates Bill Gates and Mark Zuckenberg are heavily involved in the “reforming.” All you have to do is follow the money and the intent becomes clear.

9.  The apathy of Arizona voters. I worked on three Arizona Legislative campaigns in the past few years and although I mostly enjoyed talking to voters, I was beyond dismayed when I learned that in 2014, not even half of the LD11 voters with mail-in ballots bothered to mail them in. These are people who are registered to vote and are on the Permanent Early Voters List (PEVL). They are mailed their ballots and can fill them out in the comfort of their home. They don’t even have to put a stamp on them, postage is pre-paid. These votes should have been the “low-hanging fruit.” Combined with the overall Arizona voter turnout of 27%, this is pathetic by anyone’s definition.

8.  The fact that Arizona leads in all the wrong metrics. Does Arizona care about children? Let me count the ways maybe not so much. According to the Annie E. Casey’s “Kids Count Databook”, Arizona ranks: 46th in overall child well-being, 42nd in economic well-being, 44th in education achievement, and 42nd in children’s health. The Databook also reports that 26% of Arizona’s children live in poverty, 4% more than the nationwide average. The personal finance website WalletHub reports much the same, ranking Arizona 49th for child welfare which shouldn’t surprise anyone given the dysfunction in our Department of Child Safety. I don’t know about you, but these statistics disgust me and should absolutely drive what our Legislature spends our taxpayer dollars on. It is about defining what kind of people we are, it is about helping those who can’t help themselves and it is about the future of our state.

7.  Some seem to think the path to success is to lower the bar. Even though there are people whose opinions I value that think Senator Sylvia Allen will do a good job as the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, I remain hopeful but have my doubts. Call me crazy, but I think the legislator with the most sway over what education bills see the light of day should actually have more than a high school education. Along those same lines, Arizona Representative Mark Finchem (LD11-Republican) evidently doesn’t think teaching experience is valuable for our county schools superintendents. He has already submitted House Bill 2003 for this legislative session, which seeks to delete the requirement for county schools superintendents to have a teaching certificate. Instead, it will require only a bachelor’s degree in any subject, or an associate’s degree in business, finance or accounting. I know some would ask why should county schools superintendents have certificates when the state superintendent of public instruction doesn’t require one. Well, I’d rather see us make it a condition of both jobs.

6.  The polarization of our county makes it seem impossible to come together to find real, workable solutions. I was recently speaking to a friend of mine who I’ve known for over 25 years. We started talking about education and he started railing about how all public schools do is waste money. He talked about the fancy new high school in his town that was built (in his opinion) much more ostentatious than necessary. “Why do the kids need that to learn” he asked? “Why not just give them a concrete box?” Really?? Where do I begin? Truth is, I didn’t even try because I knew he wouldn’t listen. He knew what he knew and no amount of fact was going to sway him.

But all is not lost and I am more optimistic than pessimistic about Arizona’s public education. Here’s what makes me hopeful:

10.  Across the Nation, more and more charter school scandals come to light every day highlighting the need for more transparency and accountability. I’m not glad there are charter school scandals, but I am glad the public are learning more about the dangers of a profit-making focus with inadequate oversight. That’s one of the reasons district schools have rules and controls; they are after all, dealing with taxpayer dollars. And oh by the way, it’s no longer just charter schools we need to watch. The continuous expansion of vouchers exponentially broadens the potential for abuse and requires the same kind of public oversight. There just is no magic pill to student achievement. It takes resources, dedicated professionals, and hard work. Short cuts in other words, don’t cut it.

9.  The fact that we still have dedicated professionals willing to teach in our district schools. Despite low pay, higher class sizes than the national average, insufficient supplies, inadequate facilities, and ever-changing mandates, Arizona still has close to 50,000 district teachers willing to be in our classrooms because they love the kids and they love their work. They are underappreciated and sometimes even vilified, but they know their work is important. Now, if only our Legislature acted like they knew this too.

8.  Recognition is growing that early childhood education is really important. Even Governor Ducey said in April 2015: “Research shows that a quality early childhood education experience can yield significant long-term benefits on overall development of a child. It’s the most profitable investment we can make in their future.” A recent review of 84 preschool programs showed an average of a third of a year of additional learning across language, reading and math skills. Preschool has also been shown to have as much as a seven-fold return on dollars spent over the life of the child. The public is starting to “get it” and support for preschool funding is growing.

7.  Speaking of Common Core, it seems to be working okay. Yes, I saw the recently released AzMERIT results, but we knew they would be low. That’s what happens when you raise the bar. Despite no additional funding or resources to implement Common Core (oops, I mean Arizona College and Career Standards), our districts made it happen and the numerous teachers and administrators I’ve talked to say our students are now learning more. Efforts are underway to determine what should be changed about the Arizona standards, but my guess is that they will be minor.

6.  If nothing else, the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) saves us from the really bad legislation that was No Child Left Behind. Everything I’ve read about the new ESSA touts it an improvement over its predecessor. It reduces what some considered Federal overreach and provides states more flexibility in implementing their K-12 education programs. Which, oh by the way, makes me concerned our state legislature will look to relax requirements where it serves them, at the expense of those children who most need our help. At least now though, they won’t be able to blame everything on “the Feds”, to include whatever version of the Common Core standards we end up with.

Please stay tuned, still to come are the top five reasons I’m discouraged and hopeful.


From the K-12 Public Education War Front in Arizona

The war on public education has been waging for several years in Arizona, but this year has seen some especially heavy fighting. The attacks on public education by the first session of the 52nd Legislature (hereafter referred to as the ENEMY) have been asymmetrical and relentless. Recognizing that K-12 public education (hereafter referred to as FRIENDLY FORCES) can’t accomplish the mission unless well-resourced, General (Governor) Ducey has already signed a budget cutting $113M more from their budget. This, on top of the ENEMY’S continuing battle to deny FRIENDLY FORCES the people’s mandated and court adjudicated inflationary funding ($317M definitely owed with another $1.6B in question.) The ENEMY is also continuing the assault on the FRIENDLY FORCES’ supply lines with their attempts to exponentially expand vouchers, (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) and corporate tax breaks for donations to private schools (Student Tuition Organization scholarships.) And, just to be sure it is as difficult as possible for the FRIENDLY FORCES to communicate their resource needs to the public (hereafter referred to as ALLIES), the ENEMY continues to try to mandate additional language in bond and override descriptions to obfuscate and in fact, mislead the ALLIES. Of course, there are also bills to dump Common Core since renaming the controversial standards the Arizona College and Career Standards didn’t really fool the ALLIES. The ENEMY believes this is an important battle to fight so they can keep the FRIENDLY FORCES in a constant state of instability and uncertainty and continue to win the hearts and minds of the fringe that supports them.

Up until recently however, FRIENDLY FORCES were able to communicate to their ALLIES ramifications of the ENEMY’S strategy and intent. Now though, the ENEMY has countered with Senate Bill 1172 to totally cut the FRIENDLY FORCES’ lines of communication. Initially, this bill was written to prohibit school districts and charters from releasing directory information for the purpose of political activity, which would limit the ability of local parent and community organizations from engaging other parents on district bond or override issues. In a last minute change to their strategy, the bill has now been amended to also fine an employee of a school district or charter school $5,000 for distributing written or electronic materials to influence the outcome of an election or to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation.

On one level, this tells me the FRIENDLY FORCES are gaining ground in this war on public education. Surely, if the ENEMY feels the need to “gag” the FRIENDLY FORCES, they must be making headway. Perhaps the showing of over 1,000 FRIENDLY FORCES and ALLIES at the Capitol in early March to protest General Ducey’s cuts to public education gave the ENEMY pause. The FRIENDLY FORCES cannot however, underestimate the ENEMY’S objective to seize, retain, and exploit their initiative to kill public education and turn it over to private profiteers. They will not be happy until all the FRIENDLY FORCES are subdued and the economically safe (largely white) students are safely ensconced in private schools and the socio-economically disadvantaged students (largely students of color) are stuck in pathetically underfunded and therefore underperforming schools.

Make no mistake. This isn’t a matter of the ENEMY not understanding the needs of the FRIENDLY FORCES and those they are charged to protect and serve. This is a matter of not caring about them. The ENEMY is backed by the AXIS OF EVIL (corporate money, American Legislative Exchange Council, and ideological fanatics) and is committed to victory in this fight. FRIENDLY FORCES must recognize we are at war and employ the strategies and principles thereof to win the fight.


When it comes to Arizona funding for public education, I just don’t get why the public body isn’t in the streets with pitchforks. Please walk down memory lane with me on the matter of voter mandated inflationary funding for school districts:


  • AZ voters mandated (Proposition 301) the state sales tax be raised by 0.6 percent and that the money be spent on annual inflation increases for schools.


  • Lawmakers quit providing the annual boosts for inflation.
  • The Arizona School Board Association (ASBA) and the Arizona Education Association (AEA) offered to “move on” if the Legislature would only begin to comply, but they refused.
  • Several school districts, ASBA and AEA filed a lawsuit to force compliance.


  • A Superior Court Judge ruled Prop 301 did not require the Arizona legislature to annually inflate education funding for Arizona’s public schools.
  • The plaintiffs filed an appeal.


  • AZ Court of Appeals reversed the lower court.
  • AZ Supreme Court ruled with the Court of Appeals that the inflationary increases must be paid.  The decision emphasized that the Voter Protection Act limits the legislature’s power to modify voter initiatives and referenda.
  • The legislature began paying the increases again in the 2013-2014 budget year.


  • The trial court ordered the base level funding be reset to the level it would have been if it had been inflated properly over the last five years (estimated to be $1.6B over the next five years.)
  • The court also ordered an evidentiary hearing be held on whether the state should pay the $1.3 billion in inflationary funding not given the districts from 2010 to 2012.[i]
  • The parties in the lawsuit agreed to mediation in an attempt to resolve the matter.[ii]

So where are we now, seven months after the ruling the monies must be paid? Yep, that’s right, nowhere. Not only has the Legislature refused to comply with law and judicial order, but they continue to further cut the public education budget. This legislative session, three new expansions of voucher eligibility have passed their committees of origin as has a bill to make it even harder for Districts to pass bonds and overrides. In addition, Governor Ducey is proposing a five percent reduction to “non-classroom” expenses.

Then yesterday, the House Education Committee gave a “due pass” to basically dump the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards “common core.” This, after our school districts have spent huge amounts of financial and human capital since 2010 to implement these standards. Statewide, the costs are estimated to have been $156M just for the 2013-2014 school year, and that doesn’t consider the turmoil caused by changing course yet again.[iii]

Okay, so to recap, the Legislature has refused to comply with both the people’s mandate and with judiciary orders for the same. In addition, they are working on legislation to divert even more taxpayer dollars from public education to private providers and, the Governor’s budget looks to cut another $113.5M from district budgets across the board, as with a sequestration.[iv]

Are you kidding me? It is beyond time for us to demand our representatives listen to us. I’m calling for an Arizona Education (AZED) Spring . Yes, that’s a play on the Arab Spring. Of course, I’m not looking to start a real revolution; I’ll leave anything to do with guns to our legislature to obsess over. What I do hope for though, is for the public body to wake up after a very long hibernation that has allowed our representatives to continue to ignore the will of the people and the rule of law. I’d love to hear what you think.





The NPE Conference in Austin was AWESOME!

I traveled to Austin this past weekend for the first-ever #NPEConference.  This organization was founded by Diane Ravitch, who is an education historian, educational policy analyst, was an Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush and is currently the nation’s number one advocate for public education.

The conference was awesome as Diane wasn’t the only education rock star in the house.  Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teacher’s Union spoke openly and honestly on a variety of subjects. One of the statements she made was that “we are in dangerous times when the Chicago Tribune tells teachers to “shut up and sit down, schools are not a democracy!”

John Kuhn, the superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Independent School District in Texas also spoke.  He originally burst onto the national state a year ago at the national Save Our Schools rally in Washington, D.C.  John spoke with an energy and passion that only comes from experience.  He said that “anything that weakens the public schools in America weakens our Nation.”  He also said that “public education is our trust fund and our nest egg.”  Both of these speakers obviously spoke to the frustrations of the 400 conference attendees, but also gave hope that standing together, we can make a difference.

The only criticism I have of the conference is that too many interesting breakout sessions were scheduled at the same time. On Saturday, I attended sessions on “Educators Organizing Resistance”, “Framing Our Message”, and Education Blogger Network.  I was especially impressed with a young African American woman, Sabrian Joy Stevens, who is the Executive Director of Integrity in Education.  During one of the sessions, she said:  “people complain to the void as if there is a justice fairy.  We are the government and must take responsibility.”

On Sunday, we heard an expert panel discuss the Common Core Standards.  Panel members included Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers and Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana public school teacher and education activist who holds a PH.D in applied statistics and research methods.    A very lively debate ensued on the part of all the panelists.  Randi Weingarten pulled no punches when she said:  “If we’re going to have a Pub Ed system, we need standards & sufficient support where every child can achieve.”  She also said:  “We HAVE to be about saving middle class & kid’s ability to achieve. That should be the REAL conversation.”  Probably the most poignant comment for me though was:  “We need to get cmty on our side to defeat big $.” Is #commoncore mostly distraction to take our eyes off prize?  I agree with Randi.  I think the corporate reformers are using #commoncore to divert us from the real problem; the liquidation of our democracy.

As a professional educator, Mercedes Schneider shared her frustration:  “Common Core completely ignores my independent professional judgement – that’s my main problem with it.”  Randi Weingarten finished off with:  “The conversation needs to be about public ed and the ladder of opportunity that fights poverty.”

IMG_3190It was obvious when Diane Ravitch entered the auditorium.  She was immediately mobbed by people who wanted to meet her and get her to sign their copy of her book, Reign of Error.  When Diane spoke, her main message was one of optimism.  She said “we are going to win because everything corporate reformers are doing is failing.  You can’t fail your way to success.”  She also said “when there’s a race, it goes to the swift and strong, not the weak and needy.  DOE is not supporting equity.”  At the end of her speech, Diane said “be not afraid, be strong.  Retired teachers must step up.  Get political, get involved.  Be there for the kids.”  ll the panel members.  Randi Weingarten said: “if we’re going to have a Public Education system, we need standards and sufficient support where every child can achieve.  She also said:  “We have to be about saving middle class and kid’s ability to achieve.  That should be the real conversation” and “the conversation needs to be about public education and the ladder of opportunity that fights poverty.  As a current educator, Mercedes Schneider said “Common Core completely ignores my independent professional judgement – that’s my main problem with it.”  Paul Horton, teacher of history at the University of Chicago Lab School, said “schools are the incubators of public discourse and democracy.”

The final session I attended was a meeting of the Education Bloggers’ Network.  Jonathan Pelto announced that the network currently consists of 123 bloggers, but they are looking to expand and were hoping to gain more folks contributing. There was a lot of energy in the room with all the bloggers who’ve been shedding light on the work that needs to be done to save public education.   I hope to be one of those contributing to the cause.

I am so glad I attended this conference!  I believe it was historic and represents a formalization of the movement to save locally controlled, community centered, public education.  In fact, after the conference the NPE called on Congress to hold hearings about the over-testing of our K-12 students.  I met numerous teachers, administrators, and advocates who only want the best for our students and our nation.  I am honored to be a small part of this movement and look forward to supporting it however I can.

Five Biggest Lies by School Choice Advocates

Linda Retire Crop#5.  School choice saves the taxpayers money.  First of all, did you know that in the state of Arizona, charter schools get $1,000 more per pupil in state funding than traditional district schools?  Secondly, all the funding workarounds concocted (often by the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC) and implemented by our legislators, only serve to obfuscate the reality and prevent blame being laid where it belongs.  Tax credit donations, empowerment scholarship accounts, and school tuition organization donations serve to redistribute state revenue and hide the truth that Arizona led the nation in per public spending cuts between 2008 and 2012 ($3 billion).  Tax credits reduce funding into the state coffers and in the case of district schools, give the taxpayers the impression they are doing their part to support education when the reality is the funding doesn’t go into the classrooms, but only for extracurricular, fee-based activities.  In the case of private schools, it is even worse since tax revenue is diverted directly into private education.  Although proponents say school choice saves the state money, this is true only if students who started out in public schools, end up in private schools.  Unfortunately, many tuition scholarships funded by the tax credits have gone to students who would have attended private schools anyway, representing a financial loss for the state.

#4.  School choice puts parents in control.  Au contraire.  Local control puts parents in control.  School choice promotes competition versus collaboration amongst district schools, and encourages charter school development.  Although non-profit charter schools are technically classified as public schools, they are often owned or run (behind the scenes) by for-profit companies who don’t follow the same rules of transparency as district schools and, aren’t accountable to taxpayers.  Charter schools are also legally required to accept all, but they are very adept at cherry picking their students and therefore have less than their “fair” share of special education and English language learning students.  Despite this, charter schools do not by and large perform better than district schools.  Parents are often aware of this and just assume charters perform better.  Some do, but many don’t.

#3.  School choice is the rising tide that will lift all.  Arizona State Senator Al Melvin, now a gubernatorial candidate, says that giving $9,000 vouchers to parents for each child will allow them to send their children to the school of their choice.  This, he says, will cause the bad schools to close and improve the quality of the rest.  First of all, there isn’t enough money in the entire Arizona state budget for all 1.6 million school children in the state.  Secondly, those who have access to make the choice will go, leaving those who don’t “stuck” with less funding in the public schools and much less opportunity for improvement.  As Diane Ravitch writes in her latest book, Reign of Error, “in a democracy, important social goals required social collaboration.”  Schools are not businesses that can reject “inferior” raw product.  They must take all and teach all.  Yes, they should operate efficiently but that should never be their primary concern.

As profiled by Malcom Gladwell in The New Yorker, economist Albert Hirschman, in his best know book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, said there are two strategies people have for dealing with badly performing organizations and institutions.  Hirschman said the “exit” option “failed to send a useful message to underperformers.”  When engaged parents “exit” the system, versus using their “voice” to improve it, they remove agitation that could have improved the school for all.

#2.  School choice is about the children.  To put it plainly, baloney!  School choice is about business…big business.  Those on the right are up in arms about “government shoving Common Core standards down the states’ throats.”  The real drivers behind the standards though, are huge corporations and their foundations such as Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and Koch Industries just to name a few.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation alone gave at least $150 million for the development and implementation of the standards.  The National Governor’s Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State Schools Officers were big recipients and key to the adoption of the standards.  The education industry in the United States is a big pie (worth over $600 billion dollars) and everyone wants a piece of it.  This effort has been building for a long time, but Diane Ravitch says the current administration’s Race to the Top initiative and push for Common Core Standards is the “first time in history that the U.S. Department of Education designed programs with the intent of stimulating private sector investors to create for-profit ventures in American education.”

#1.  School choice is the civil rights issue of our time.  School Choice advocates say school choice ensures disadvantaged children the same opportunities as those more fortunate.  Not hardly.  By and large, disadvantaged children don’t have the access to make the choice.  Their parents either can’t drive them to the charter or private school, or their language skills don’t allow them to complete the complicated application, or they can’t donate time to help out at the school as often required.  School choice is not the civil rights issue of our time, poverty is.  Segregation, largely by socio-economic status (which often translates into race), is the highest it has been since 1964.  This has happened quietly and by design and the result is that those with less have a very good chance of always having less.  The American Dream is really now just a dream for many people.

Ultimately, parents shouldn’t have to make a choice.  Every district school should provide an equally high quality education.  The original intent of charters was not to compete with traditional district schools; rather, it was to meet unique needs.  In many cases, that original intent has now devolved into just another business opportunity and way to milk the taxpayer.  A strong public education system helped provide a sense of community and make our nation the greatest on earth.  The current trend of privatization will do nothing to help promote the public good and keep America strong.  School choice isn’t the solution, it is the easy way out and won’t work in the long run.  Blogger Steve Hinnefeld, in his blog School Matters, wrote “the contempt that school choice advocates commonly express for public schools is, at its root, contempt for democracy itself.”  I tend to agree since the democratic process requires education, engagement and is rarely easy or efficient.  It is much easier to cut and run.

The Truth About Common Core

First of all, let’s set the record straight.  The Common Core Standards are not a curriculum.  They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. The workplace is very different than it was even ten years ago and teachers today must prepare students for a world of possibilities that may not yet exist. The ability to effectively communicate, collaborate, and adapt to situations will be critical to ensuring we remain competitive in a highly globalized market.[i]  Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others are critical to making this happen and will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.


Secondly, they were not developed by the Federal government or the current administration, but by the nation’s governors and education commissioners, through their representative organizations the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).  The education reform movement began in 1996 when the nation’s governors and corporate leaders founded Achieve, Inc. as a bi-partisan organization to raise academic standards, graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability in all 50 states.  This led to the launch of the American Diploma Project (ADP) in 2005, the initial motivation for development of the Common Core Standards.[ii]  Teachers, parents, school administrators and experts from across the country together with state leaders provided input into the development of the standards.[iii]  In fact, our very own Dr. McCallum, head of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Arizona, was a lead author of the Common Core Math Standards.[iv]

There can be no doubt that one of the reasons the United States rose quickly to its super power status is our commitment to providing every citizen a public education.  This was a new concept that helped us make the most of our most valuable resource…our people.  It is also what helped make the American Dream a reality for so many.  Unfortunately, that dream is now no longer a given – studying and working hard no longer guarantee that you’ll be better off than your parents were.

Fear mongering over “the Obama administration federal take-over of education” is simply that, and diverts focus away from the real threats to our public education system.  Instead, we should be concerned about the corporate influence in the form of venture philanthropy as opposed to the more traditional philanthropy.  The difference of course being that the traditional philanthropists supported the work of others and the venture philanthropists view their giving as entryways into that work.  The 1983 report by the Reagan administration, A Nation at Risk, set the stage for the business elite to look at public education as a profit center.  The leading venture philanthropies are now pushing charter-school growth, school choice, and education privatization in general; alternative routes of teacher and administrator certification; and curriculum and test development.  Unfortunately, all this drives a transition from public deliberation by elected officials to decisions of individuals with no accountability to the public.[v]

Opportunity, that most fundamental American value, is now at risk for so many.  It is at risk, not because of some imagined plot to nationalize education, but because we are refusing to deal with the real threats – poverty and a lack of respect for our teaching professionals whom I believe can fix what’s wrong if we’ll just give them what they need and get out of their way.  Learn more at

What Really Are Common Core Standards and Why Do They Matter?

According to Erin Powers (Education Consultant and Literacy Specialist) in a post on Edutopia, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) represent the most significant, widespread education reform that has ever occurred in American public schools.  These new standards are designed to link learning to 10 Career and College Readiness Standards intending to ensure students are ready to thrive in college and in the career world.

Thomas photo med_2

One of the pluses of the new standards is that they recognize that learning builds through the grade levels.  Erin Powers says this “will help teachers focus on the big picture and see how their work with students is connected to a child’s academic past and future.”  Another plus is that the standards address the ever-increasing important issue of literacy and how teachers of all disciplines have a role in literacy development.  To ensure students stay current in ever-changing information age, CCSS also incorporates research and media skills  into every subject.  The recognition being that students must be able “to navigate through, independently, a vast amount of information, learn and mimic new genres, and communicate with others near and far.”

What has yet to be fully fleshed out is what the new assessments will look like.  Will the new PARCC tests demonstrate a student’s ability to think critically versus just regurgitate?  The states will begin the new testing in the 2014-2015 school year and that is right around the corner.

Finally, we already know sufficient funding has not been allocated for implementation.  What about time?  Teachers are already stressed with too much to do and not enough time to do it.  Will CCSS be just another mandate shoved down their throats without sufficient resources to properly implement?  Or, will they be allowed to help shape what it looks like, thereby being more open to taking ownership?

As Diane Ravitch recently pointed out in her blog, the CCSS are controversial and their flaws should be fully dissected.  As is usually the case, there is no one “silver bullet” to perfect our education system.  It will take dedicated people, working together, with sufficient resources to move ahead.  And of course, it is absolutely amazing what can get done if one doesn’t care  who gets the credit!

Common Core Standards Have a Common Problem

Thomas photo med_2     Efforts are well underway in 45 states and three territories to implement the new Common Core Standards for educational goals.  These standards are promising, having been developed by governors and educational and corporate leaders across the country.
     Proper implementation of these standards faces an all too common problem…lack of sufficient funding.  According to the Arizona School Board Association and the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, the cost for statewide implementation of the essential elements of Common Core for fiscal year 2014 is estimated at $156.6 million.  This number comes from a survey of districts across the state, representing over 339K students (38% of the total K-12 district population.)
     A breakdown of the costs shows $47.8M to train teachers and other district staff, $96.1M for curriculum material and textbooks, and $12.7M to design and revise district-level student assessments.
     Of course these are just the FY2014 costs.  The costs of additional hardware and software, and associated PARCC assessment of student mastery of the standards will be $205.6M statewide.  In addition, the cost of increasing Internet capacity related to these items will be $24.6M statewide – if they can find it (20% said the may have difficulty with this.)
     This is new money required and doesn’t even begin to address the hole the state legislature has dug for traditional public education in AZ.  Arizona enjoys the dubious honor of leading the nation in per pupil funding cuts ($3B) since 2008.  To that amount, we must add the $80M shortfall per year caused by the recent appeals court decision that the legislature must fully fund the annual inflation adjustments to the base education-funding formula approved by Prop. 301.
     By my calculations, that means we are already $3B in the hole in per pupil funding, need an additional $230M one-time cost for preparing us for Common Core Standards, plus $236.6M per year for implementation, and $80M per year to make up for inflation costs.  It honestly isn’t even worth totaling all this up because it is not achievable.  The point is that education has not been properly funded and much more is needed to ensure the success of Common Core Standards implementation.
     Henry Ford is credited with saying:  “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”  We just can’t afford to not properly implement these standards.  Our children deserve the best we have to offer.  Our future is dependent on our getting this right.  Right here, right now.  I’m in…how about you?