The politics of Arizona education

by David Safier

Two bits of Arizona education news:

First, the Arizona Charter Schools Association, a private group set up as a booster for the charter school movement, named Megan Henry, who heads the Arizona Virtual Academy, as a finalist for the  Arizona Charter Schools Leader of the Year Award. It's an odd choice, seeing as how Arizona Virtual Academy is one of 26 AZ charters on academic probation with the state. It would make more sense if she was a new face trying to turn around the failing virtual school, but she's been head of the school since 2009. That kinda makes this sound almost like satire:

Henry was selected as a finalist based on her role as an instructional leader and advocate for growth and advancement in student learning. For instance, Henry set and achieved district-wide academic goals, and provided innovative resources and professional development opportunities for effective teaching strategies and practices.

The fact that Henry is on the advisory council of the Arizona Charter Schools Association may have something to do with her selection. It may also help that Craig Barrett, who has become Jan Brewer's mouthpiece for the conservative "education reform" and "school choice" movements, is on the Board of Directors of K12 Inc., the for-profit Charter Management Organization that owns and runs AZVA.

Speaking of Craig Barrett, he's the second piece of AZ ed news. In a Star article this morning, Barrett sings the praises of Arizona's "'massive' educational transformation." Barrett, ex-Intel CEO, famously said awhile back he wouldn't bring Intel to Arizona given the state of its education. So what's changed since then? We have less money per student and no better achievement scores. But Barrett is now head of Brewer's A-Wreck — sorry, AREC — the Arizona Ready Education Council, so it makes sense he'd say everything's coming up roses these days.

The only reason Barrett gave for his glowing report is the recent implementation of the national Common Core Standards.

He said the standards were perhaps "the biggest transformation of K-12 education" in Arizona history.

The Common Core is in its infancy, so no one has any idea what it will accomplish. If he were being honest, the best Barrett could say is that he's hopeful it will boost the achievement of Arizona students. But now that he's Brewer's cheerleader, he's trumpeting the Brave New World of Arizona education. Oh, and since he's come out against Prop 204 — he says our schools don't need any more money "thrown" at them — he would look foolish if he said Arizona education was hurting.

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