Plenty of blame to go around

Linda Oyon

Cross-posted from

Let me first say that I have much respect for Richard Gilman of “Bringing Up Arizona” and the work he has done on behalf of public education. I also very much appreciate his gracious support of my work and wish him well as he moves on to a new chapter of his life.

I did find much though, in his last blog post, to disagree with. It shouldn’t have surprised me, as the last time he and I had lunch, it was pretty clear he was frustrated. I tried to allay his concerns, but obviously, failed. It’s not that I don’t agree with his position that “the status quo in K–12 education is not acceptable. Of course I do. We have the lowest paid teachers in the nation, our per-pupil funding ranks 48th, and our education performance ranking isn’t much better. I do not agree though, that ”the onus belongs as much or more on public school administrators.” School administrators are after all, busy managing their schools and school districts. They are busy focusing on their students and the teachers educating them. That’s where their focus should be.

The good news is, they aren’t in this fight alone. Organizations like the Arizona School Boards Association, Arizona Education Association, Arizona School Administrators, Arizona School Business Officials Association, and Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, offer training and professional development to their membership, engage their members in advocacy, do outreach to the public, lobby legislators and collaborate with each other to improve Arizona’s educational outcomes. They are aided by organizations like Support Our Schools Az, the Arizona PTA, Voices for Education, Expect More Arizona, the Children’s Action Alliance Arizona, and the Helios Education Foundation, who tirelessly engage both their members and supporters on behalf of public education and encourage others to do the same. All these parents, community members, business leaders and voters are groups of people both our legislators and the general public are unfortunately often more apt to “hear” than our school administrators.

None of these organizations operate in a vacuum. They know there is strength in numbers and that together, they can come up with the best solutions. One example of this collaboration is AZ Schools Now, a coalition of parent, educator, business, and community leaders fighting to reverse the destructive politics of the last 30 years and see Arizona schools adequately funded. It isn’t just these education advocacy groups or school administrators though, who recognize our schools need more funding. Even Governor Ducey’s Classrooms First Council, charged with revising the school finance formula, determined after a year of study that simply revising the formula won’t help if there isn’t more money to push through that formula.

Neither “the Legislature nor the public is going to write a check without getting a promise of improved results” he writes. Really Richard? Come on now, you’ve been around long enough to know that promises are easy to make, politicians do it every day. What is hard, is delivering on those promises. I learned a long time ago that if something was easy to fix, someone probably would have already fixed it. As for that blank check, isn’t that exactly what the Legislature is trying to do by pushing for a full expansion of vouchers? They don’t know how many students will leave districts via vouchers, but they do know each one will cost about $1,000 more than if that student were to stay. Sounds like a blank check to me and not only is it one without any promise of improved results, but by law, without any requirement to deliver and report those results.

I also agree with Richard’s recommendation “they need to speak with a unified voice.” If all the public education advocacy groups would agree on the top 1–3 legislative priorities for each year, it would make their voices much more powerful and harder for legislators to ignore. That is though, a big ask. Even in the Air Force, where teamwork was paramount and everyone was focused on the same mission, leaders had the natural tendency to protect their areas of influence. It was common to reflect that “it would be amazing what we could get done if no one cared who got the credit.” Yes, public education advocates all have the same basic mission, but they are not one cohesive organization and they all have different stakeholders. Nonetheless, I believe they can do it. They are dedicated professionals who all, in the end, just want to see every student have every opportunity to succeed. Agreeing on a few key priorities such as teacher recruitment and retention, funding for full-day kindergarten and renewing and expanding Proposition 301 for example, and absolutely standing together in demanding solutions would likely make a real difference.

That brings me to who is really responsible for the challenges faced by Arizona’s district schools. As long as Arizonans continue to vote for candidates committed to privatizing our district schools, we will continue to see funding and support get siphoned away. To really affect change, we must elect more pro-public (district) education candidates and voters must hold all elected officials (including governing board members) responsible for moving the needle for our students. Otherwise, we will continue to spin our wheels, the advocacy efforts will continue to be frustrating and yes, the results will get ever more sad.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely” and “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” Ultimately you see, it is up to each of us to ensure the students of Arizona have what they need to succeed. Ultimately, it is up to each of us to make the world a better place to be. Dramatist Edward Albee said it well, “Remember one thing about democracy. We can have anything we want and at the same time, we always end up with exactly what we deserve.”


  1. 1. Teachers in Arizona are more satisfied than national teachers.
    2. Teacher job satisfaction in Arizona is negatively correlated with pay.
    3. Teachers in charter schools are more satisfied with their jobs than teachers in district schools.

    School choice is not just school choice for students, it is also school choice for teachers. Just as a parent has as many as 20 choices for their child’s education, teachers now have many choices if their school, district and peers do not treat them with respect.

    All of the energy and screaming about money would be better spent in focusing on measures of teacher job satisfaction and support in the classroom. We need to shut down the entire policy apparatus which is continuously telling teachers what to do and start using our current resources to better support them in every way possible.

    We need a complete reversal. Instead of telling them what to do, they tell us what to do. When I did this as board president, our teacher job satisfaction went up every single semester, our parent quality rating went up every single semester and we were in the top 10% of academic gains in the state.

    Teachers currently working in public schools reported significantly greater levels of dissatisfaction with teaching than did their charter school counterparts, 2 (2, N = 8,861) = 34.01, p < .001, V = 0.06. Twenty-six percent of public school teachers said they were dissatisfied with teaching; whereas, 20% of charter school teachers reported being dissatisfied.

    We got our dissatisfaction down to 3% as revealed in surveying that was both anonymous and confidential.

    "Very surprisingly, nearly another fourth (23%) of the teachers surveyed indicated that they knew or worked with more than 10 teachers that they would classify as unmotivated."

    You can't solve this problem with money or pay. Only cultural change can make a difference and only school choice can force that cultural change by stripping away students from schools that poorly support teachers, parents and students.

    • The entire argument here is bunk.

      If you use an endogenous selection model and combine it with the theory of compensating differentials instead of just relying on OLS correlation, you get the result that money does in fact have a positive effect on teacher retention. Despite the ‘school choice’ (for upper-middle class families) which you so laud, Arizona still has a massive teacher shortage in most districts, and lack of good pay is a frequently cited reason.

      Now, I do agree in part. The legislature and the federal government need to stop clamping down on this battery of standardized testing in the name of ‘accountability’ that they impose upon students and teachers every year. It wastes hundreds of valuable hours of instructional time and makes the students hate school. But when the state hobbles district schools with rules and regulations that charters don’t have to be held to, you don’t get to argue that charters operate on a level playing field.

      But I wonder. Will charters spring up to meet demand in rural schools? How many of the ‘choices’ will be religious schools not open to those with different faiths, or because the student or parent(s) are LGBT, or so on?

      I know you love to pick and choose a handful of good charter schools and isolated incidents in district schools, but you get both types in each. At least District schools don’t generally operate in a fly-by-night manner.

      Oh, and one last thing?

      “Very surprisingly, nearly another fourth (23%) of the teachers surveyed indicated that they knew or worked with more than 10 teachers that they would classify as unmotivated.”

      Do you think that that’s markedly different than, say, literally every other occupation ever?

  2. “and our education performance ranking isn’t much better.”


    1. Number one in the nation in combined reading and math gains from 2011 4th grade4 to 2015 8th grade.
    2. African Americans rank number one in the nation in math scores.
    3. Hispanic 8th graders rank #11 in math scores
    4. White 8th grade students rank #6 in math scores.

    Arizona ranked #1 in the nation in the increase in High School graduates from 2005 to 2015 (National Center for Education Statistics). So much for the idea that choice has starved schools for students and success. Rather, choice has driven success. This measure wasn’t close, the second place state was 20 percent behind us.

    • Never ending non sequiturs. Absolutely no evidence school choice played any role in your dubious and selected data.

      • No evidence? Since the beginning of time logic and data have been used to seek truth.

        Nationwide, in the last Gallup survey, 8% of parents, parents of 4 million students, rated their child’s school a D or an F.

        Now, you may sneer at the validity of their perceptions, you may question their ability to discern a horrible school from a better school.

        But consider this story from a school in a state without choice. Yesterday, 6 students held a girl’s head in a toilet while they took turns raping her.

        I think the parents at the school know what their child is facing and it is an exact correct perception. They are part of the 4 million. But they have no choices. Policy makers like yourself have trapped them.

        That’s your idea of the type of schools that deserve a monopoly. The worst teacher in the worst school in the worst district is guaranteed a full classroom in your model public school system. In your model public school system, each school is closed to 99.9% of the public to ensure that no minorities or poor people can improve their lot (that’s not a Tom exaggeration or a typo, its an exact number).

        Keep saying that you aren’t white supremacists. If you and enough people agree with you, you can be sure its true.

  3. in a democracy you get what you deserve. those supported hillary clinton over bernie sanders deserved what they got the minority voters thought clinton was the safe vote they were wrong. how do you expect to do better in arixona when you put up fred( I will appeal to republicans not latinos ) duval. or ann these boot are made for walking kirkpatrick. they appeal to wealthy democrat donors so the paid staff’s pay checkd don’t bounce. but to who else? trump didn’t play safe clinton did. perez dmc chair another safe corporate choce instead of keith ellison. when you straddle the middle of the road the voters run you over. the voters want toughness not fred duval clones.

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