by David Safier

Ed Supe John Huppenthal prides himself on his research, by which he means plowing through education studies and finding the ones that reinforce his preconceived notions — or if he can't find a whole study that works, cherry-picking an out-of-context stat. Whatever works.


Here's an example of Hupp using a clever but deceptive stat to make his point. Worse, Hupp obviously knows he's distorting the information he presents.

Hupp is among conservatives who are pushing the notion that more money doesn't lead to better education. Their point here in Arizona is: Forget we're rock bottom in spending per student. Doesn't matter.

To back up his money-doesn't-matter notion, Hupp brought up a stat that sounds like it means one thing but really means something entirely different: the amount of money spent per classroom.

Huppenthal cited the Vail School District, which spent $30,000 less per classroom than Tucson Unified, a district that spent more but was ranked lower.

Wow. Vail spends $30,000 less per classroom? That sounds like they're doing more with less, doesn't it? Actually, it means Vail's average class size is about 4 students lower than TUSD's. The amount spent per classroom is the number of students in the room times the amount spent per student. The more students crowded into the room, the more money is spent in the classroom.

I've heard this same stat used by school-budget-cutting conservatives to show Arizona is doing great next to other states because we spend more per classroom than other states. What's true is that we have the highest (or among the highest) class sizes in the nation which results in higher spending per classroom. What is a source of shame when presented accurately is being turned into a source of pride by conservatives.

The other skewed "truth" in Hupp's statement is that Vail has a higher ranking than TUSD. That's true. Vail also has a much higher family income. That's the determiner, as Hupp and everyone with a passing knowledge of the correlation between family income and school success knows well.

If Hupp and I disagree on fundamental education issues, that's one thing. But when he purposely distorts data to make his point, that's no longer a disagreement, that's purposeful deception, which is another thing entirely.