by David Safier

I knew what the results would be, but I didn't know they would be this dramatic.


The AZ Dept of Ed has a web page where you can choose an area of the state and see a map with every school in that area and its state grade. I set the map for the greater Tucson area and saw that school grades divided geographically into distinct areas. To show the grade clusters more clearly, I created colored clouds around the areas where most of the schools had certain grades: Green for A, Blue for B, Yellow for C and Orange for D — the same colors the state uses for each grade. This is what I came up with.


The vast majority of the A schools stretch almost uninterrupted from Oro Valley and Marana across the Foothills and down the east side to Vail. B schools are clustered above Speedway and below Orange Grove. C schools predominate in the central Tucson area, east of I-10 and as far south as Ajo. Most D schools are in an arc to the south and west of I-10. (You can see the map without the added colored clouds below the fold.)

I can't imagine a more dramatic representation of the correlation between neighborhood income and AIMS scores. But what do I know? I'm not rich like Bill Gates, and I'm not the U.S. Secretary of Education like Arne Duncan. So I'll bow to their greater wisdom and say, the reason certain areas have better or worse school grades must be related to the quality of the teachers, the rigor of the curriculum and high expectations of the staff.

If they're right, that means most of the great teachers and administrators in the Tucson area must be clustered north and east of the city — they're probably using the superior Common Core Curriculum as well — and the staffs and curriculum get progressively worse as we head south. It must be that simple. It's all about the quality of the teaching and the curriculum, according to people like Bill Gates and the members of the Billionaire Boys Club, most of whom have never been K-12 teachers. Ed Sec Arne Duncan helps to reinforce that notion.

So I've got a simple solution based on their analysis. Let's just swap the entire staffs of the A and B schools, along with their superior curriculum, with the staffs of the C and D schools. If the people who know more about education than I do are right, in a few years we should see a complete reversal in student achievement and state grades. Those C and D schools with their predominantly low income students will soar to the A and B range while the schools that currently have the high income students and the highest state grades will slip down to the C and D range.

Because if that's not true, we're going to have to admit, as the research indicates, that student achievement on standardized tests correlates more closely with socioeconomic status than any other factor, in the Tucson area, in Arizona, in the U.S. and around the world. And that means we'll never come up with a magic formula that will change student achievement simply by changing what goes on inside the school walls. Our increasing poverty levels, which are part of our increasing income inequality, need to be addressed if we want to increase our children's success in school.

Below is the same map as above as it looks on the ADE website before I added the colored clouds.