“Someone to Shine Our Shoes”

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

In a recent article titled “Chartered Cruise” on knpr.org, the author Hugh Jackson wrote: “Today’s charter industry, much like Nevada’s voucher plan, reflects a chronic civic defeatism. Echoing the perverse social Darwinism of more than a century ago, faith in free-market education is surrender to pessimism. Society really isn’t incapable of providing a fair educational opportunity to every citizen. Some people are doomed to fail, that’s just the way it is, so best to segregate those with promise, the achievers, in separate schools. As for everyone else, well, too bad for them.” Of course, this attitude isn’t confined to only Nevada; I have a real life example of it right here in Arizona. Three or so years ago, an acquaintance of mine asked an Arizona Senator whether or not he supported public education. He replied, “of course I do, we need someone to shine our shoes.”

It’s bad enough the Senator thought this, let alone that he said it out loud to a public education advocate. That says as much about the voter contempt some of our lawmakers hold (especially when the voter is from a different party) as it does what they think of public education. As the primary water carrier for the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC), the Arizona Legislature has led the nation in efforts to offer school choice options. Proponents tout school choice as the way to help disadvantaged children, but truth is, they’ve already written these children off. Instead, school choice is really about resegregation (the highest we’ve seen since the mid-1960s) and profiteering.

The school choice and education privatization movement gives me great pause because:

  1. The vast majority of our students (85%) are attending significantly underfunded district schools;
  2. Taxpayer dollars are increasingly being siphoned off to profiteers with very little (if any) accountability and transparency;
  3. The claim of school choice proponents that school choice provides much better results, either isn’t backed up by facts, or is an oranges and pineapple comparison;
  4. Voucher and charter schools actually provide parents less choice than district schools.

Allow me to explain. By now, most Arizonans probably know our state is 48th in per pupil funding. Even if the $3.5 billion infusion from Prop 123 is approved by voters this month, it won’t move us from 48th place in overall per pupil funding. To move up just one notch (above Oklahoma), we’d have to give out districts twice that much. That’s how far behind Arizona is.

As for the lack of accountability and transparency in Arizona’s school choice programs, for-profit companies dominate the charter school movement.  These companies do not have school boards, let alone locally elected boards and are not required to disclose the details of their business operations. As for private schools that take Empowerment Scholarship Account (voucher) or Student Tuition Organization tax credit dollars, there is no way for taxpayers to determine funding efficacy. Private school students are not required to take state assessments nor provide any academic results. Neither are private schools required to disclose any information regarding their business operations.

Then, there’s the apple and oranges comparison. Irrespective of the law requiring charter schools to accept all students, it is a well-documented fact that most manage to steer clear of special needs and English language learning students and that they manage to attrit (at incredibly high rates) students of color or those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale. Of course, when these students return to the district schools, it is often after the 100th day of the school year, when the average daily attendance has been calculated and the charter school has cemented the funding for the year for that student. The district school is forced to absorb that same student for the rest of the year with no compensation.

Finally, district schools are run by locally elected governing boards that are accountable to the community. School district residents have the right to be present at board meetings and have their voice heard. They also have a right to know how their tax money is spent. Charters and private schools are run by executive boards not accountable and often not responsive to parents. If you aren’t happy with the way they are being run, your only recourse is to withdraw your child.

The myth perpetuated by those bent on destroying pubic district education is that district schools are failing and that privatization in various forms is the answer. The reality says that school choice will never be the answer for the vast majority. The evidence also shows despite charters and private schools being much more selective of their students, most charters and almost all cyber charters do worse than their district schools. We don’t really know how private schools do since they aren’t required to provide any information about results.

The movement to privatize public education is straight from the GOP playbook on reducing government. As President Reagan said in his first inaugural address: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” That might have been a good sound bite for the right, but I believe concentrated, unchecked power is the problem. Our system works best when we have a balance of power that ensures all sides are heard and produces compromises to come up with the best possible solution. It also works best when government provides for the public good and checks and balances are put in place to ensure efficiencies and effectiveness of both the public and private sectors where taxpayer dollars are involved. Those checks and balances are lacking in school choice options and taxpayers are paying the price. Examples abound of virtual (on-line) school scams, greedy charter school operators, and even illegal purchases with voucher dollars. No, district schools are not entirely immune from fraud, but at least they have locally elected school boards responsible to the taxpayer for oversight and the state conducts annual audits. Neither of these happens when taxpayer dollars fund school choice options.

The original intent of charter schools was to provide teachers greater flexibility to experiment with new ways to educate students. Charters were not meant to compete with or replace district schools, but rather complement them. Now, charters and vouchers have become a way for state legislatures to deflect their responsibility to provide a quality public education for all. When funding follows the child, it becomes the parent’s responsibility to ensure a quality education. School choice also allows our lawmakers to obfuscate the real problem, poverty and all the challenges it brings to our district schools.  Of course, the focus on school choice creates demand which causes funding loss in districts, making it harder for them to excel and reinforces the message that they are failing. The truth is, that despite significant funding shortfalls, severe teacher shortages and crumbling infrastructure, our district schools continue to do well. It makes one wonder what miracles could be achieved if they received the funding and support currently being siphoned off to charters and private schools.

The one thing I know for sure is that until we elect new pro-public education candidates, nothing is going to change. We will continue to see efforts to take the brakes off vouchers, create laws more favorable to charter schools, and attempts to de-professionalize the teaching profession. We have the power to create change; the only question that remains is do we have the will? Prop 123 has raised the level of attention to the challenges of our district schools. Many have been vocal on both sides of the issue. Let’s come together on May 19th at 4 pm for a Pro-Public Education Rally to tell our Legislature that enough is enough, we are done with them short-changing our kids and our state’s future! #ItStartsNow #YouPlusOne #RememberInNovember

28 thoughts on ““Someone to Shine Our Shoes””

  1. Yeah, I absorbed the negative energy of the Common Core controversy, almost all of it, that’s your job when you are in leadership. I was doing 3 hours a day of presentations six days a week. As a result, much less of that negative energy hit the teachers in Arizona. We turned it largely positive by doing a much better job of training. Our training could be described as ” training teachers to train teachers.” We did over 300 training sessions. In other words the standards implementation was largely done by the teachers in Arizona. I would describe other states as training done to the teachers which created a very negative reaction, a sense of victimization. We ended with teachers supporting the standards 8 to 1 in Arizona while teachers across the nation opposed them 5 to 4.

    Also, I would not regard my statement as any sort of flip flop. I have never felt that standards for students, any standards, have anything but negative consequences for education improvement. So, it wasn’t a case of supporting common core. It was a case of supporting stability and continuity with massive chaos threatening at the gate.

    Common Core was devastating to the nation. Our math scores went down for the first time ever. Our reading scores did not improve. There has been no accountability on this issue – none.

    It was not so devastating for Arizona. We went up significantly relative to other states. But, it wasn’t good. We clearly lost ground relative to where we could have been.

    The only thing worse would be switching standards and getting run over by the truck again.

    • Hi John,
      Yippee! I finally agree with you on something. It would be horrific for AZ to ditch the Common Core or Arizona College and Career Standards and start all over. What our educators and their students really, really need, is stability and the proper support.

  2. But Ducey and Biggs can fund “economic freedom institutes”, where you have the freedom to take public funds and not be accountable, you have to freedom to rape public lands at will and the freedom to create a separate but unequal school system. It’s the raging hypocrisy that is so difficult to take, from Huppenthal, Ducey, Biggs and the rest. Think of the anti regulatory fetish the State legislature is on. They restored JTED funding already owed to the students of this State, only after massive pressure from the business community, while piling on new “accountability” regulations on JTED programs. Meanwhile the money laundered voucher program does not have to account for any performance standards or even certified teachers.

    • Amen Frances! It really is the hypocrisy that is most incendiary. Republicans claim to be ALL about accountability and ensuring tax dollars are well-spent, but then some of their major programs have virtually NO accountability at all (like vouchers.) AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!

  3. “The Obama administration has funded…” WTF are you talking about?

    Congress controls the purse-strings, how did Obama fund anything? Please cite your sources.

    This is why I know this Huppenthal is a chatbot. A climate change denying America hating racist chatbot.

    • Oh yes, Obama funded it. Congress appropriated the money but the Obama administration picked every single project and state. The 4.5 billion dollar race to the top. Every bad idea that has been tried and failed in the last 150 years. But hey, let’s try them again. From 2011 to 2015, as their proposals were implemented, Math scores went down for the first time ever and reading scores were flat – no improvement. Four and a half billion dollars and nothing to show for it.

      • So what you’re saying is that the Tea Party controlled congress gave President Obama a bunch of money that he then spent on education?

        Government is working after all!

        Thanks for sharing, disgraced former Arizona politician and current racist chatbot John Huppenthal!

        • I am saying that everything that the Obama administration funded, expensively, not only didn’t work, it did significant damage.

          • You were head of schools for AZ during the time you say that nothing worked.

            So that would look bad for you, right?

            Because if nothing worked, and you’re saying literally nothing, and you were part of it, then you’re a failure, right?

  4. sen. john mccain has explained how this issue and all other issues will be resolved. he is worried that 30% percent of the vote in arizona is latino and will vote him out. every day in arizona 100 latino kids turn 18 voting age and if you add dreamers its 140 a day. also 15 to 20 republicans die off each day. mccain has done the math as has the republican party (vote surppression) white liberal democrats are to busy ringing their hands over dark money and fear latinos taking over the democratic party. john kavenaugh doesn’t reply to me because we understand each other I want to do him and fountain hills what he wants to do to me and south west phoenix. as for huppenthal who cares.

  5. Kavanaugh takes pride in redistributing my tax money from people who do actual work to people who just take a cut off the top and do nothing.

    He calls it “profit” but in reality it’s the vig.

    • If they are just taking a cut, who is making their school #1 in the state?

  6. Basis High School in Scottsdale, the #1 school in Arizona, has over 50% minority students. And I believe over one third of charter school students are minority group members. That is not consistent with your narrative that charters “attrit” minorities.
    I suspect any minority population lag in charters is due to geographic issues.

    • Wow John, where are you getting your data? Data from an ASU paper presented at the American Educational Research Association in 2014. The paper discussed both BASIS and Great Hearts Academy schools. These schools all served between 53 to 86% white students compared to 43% in district schools at the time. Native American, Hispanic and Black students were all underrepresented compared to district schools. The paper also highlighted high atrittion rates and methods of “counseling out” of students who might negatively affect average school performance. There is plenty of data to show the minority population lag is sometimes by design more than it is due to geographic issues, but I suspect you already know that. https://dianeravitch.net/2014/04/10/a-review-of-some-top-charter-chains/

  7. Wow, laid all out there district education culture counterattacks.

    So, lets compare apples to apples: 8th grade math: our Blacks beat Wisconsin Blacks; our Whites beat their Whites; our Hispanics beat their Hispanics. They did this because they ranked 1st, 6th and 11th respectively in the nation.

    That’s accountability, not second guessing somebody on the size of tbeir schools, the salary of their principals or their teacher training program at a board meeting.

    School choice works and nothing else does.

    • John,
      A couple of weeks ago I requested you give us the sources of your claims. You responded with a reference to the NAEP and nothing more. I was already well aware of the NAEP studies but checked them out anyway and could not find the conclusions you cite. Can you please give me something more specific?

    • As usual John, you are a broken record. NAEP, NAEP, NAEP. I tried to follow your numbers in one of your previous comments, but just couldn’t get there from here. And your absolute comment that “school choice works and nothing else does” should tell our readers all they need to know about the veracity of your comments. Almost NOTHING is ever ABSOLUTE. For 2016, University High School of the Tucson Unified School District (yes, your favorite!) was ranked the 5th best in Arizona (and 24th in the Nation) and there were two other district schools in the Top Ten. Yes, BASIS schools ranked higher, but as previously stated, the comparison is one of apples and oranges.

      • You very seldom hear me reference BASIS. But, I will take a second to do so here. If you take a continuous student cohort of Arizona from 3rd grade to 8th grade (meaning the same students in each grade level, throwing out all students you don’t have 6 data points for), you find that students who attended BASIS for at least one year, grew academically at the 58th percentile of all students for those years they were in BASIS. That’s a sizable chunk above the average. If you convert that to scale scores, they grow at 18 points a year versus the average of 15 points per year.

        But, here is the kicker. When these same students weren’t attending BASIS, they grew at the 56th percentile. Although 2 percentage points year after year is not to be sneered at, it is not enough of a margin to be considered above average.

        Here is another challenge for BASIS. The National Educational Longitudinal Study followed 10,000 students from 8th grade all the way to adulthood. Part of their database was Advanced Placement study. The beauty of the Longitudinal studies is that they have such large sample sizes and so many data points that you can hold everything constant and truly examine one variable. When you do that to Advanced Placement, its effect vanishes in all classes with one exception: Calculus.

        Here is another challenge that BASIS has: over 40 schools had greater academic gains than the BASIS system. And, academic gains are really all we know about a school.

        Finally Caveat Emptor: we now have huge longitudinal data bases in education that show that the effects of a school year on the emotional growth of a child will affect his arc of educational growth for the rest of his life.

        Having said that, this Blog site and education culture in general, is crowded with people who are convinced that somebody, somewhere is having a lollipop without sharing and they are angry about it.

        BASIS is not profiteering, these people are obsessed with winning and a particular brand of excellence. Their corporate structure is used for an entirely different purpose, to develop intellectual property in pursuit of educational gain and to keep that intellectual property secret.

        Michael and Olga Block were associates of Vernon Smith who won the Nobel Prize for his work in experimental economics. Essentially, the Blocks are working to extend the human network theory of Smith into education and breakthrough to higher levels of productivity – thus gaining an absolute advantage over all other schools. That’s what’s going on behind the Corporate veil, an intense effort with hired scientists akin to Jobs and the Macintosh and the Wright brothers and the airplane with all of the 600 billion plus in education spending on the line and up for grabs.

        But, they are not there yet. Carefully analyzed, their results can’t be proven to be above average. But, they are a marketing blockbuster and if they break through on results, they could become the Apple of education. We think of a district like Mesa being huge with 70,000 students at its peak. The charter school system that breaks through might end up with 10 million students and revenues of over $100 billion dollars.

        • Such fancy talk from a climate denier.

          Seriously, you’re hard to take seriously.

  8. Let’s say we crack down and require charter schools to be more fiscally accountable to the public with outside boards and publicly available audited financial statements. Could we live with charter schools under conditions similar to those (basically, greater accountability)?

    • I believe charters have a role to play, but not as the mainstay as our educational system. Yes, they need more accountability and transparency. And oh by the way, when charters spend double the amount on administration as district schools, they obviously aren’t being as efficient at ensuring more money gets into the classroom.

    • Students of color and students from impoverished homes are trapped in a system in which they can’t read with even basic fluency and can’t add 6+3 in their minds. Now you demand that the trap be extended to every possible source of innovation.

      Right now, we don’t have a public education system. Public education isn’t the bricks, buses and employees, it is the knowledge and skills developed in our at-risk students. With school choice, the possibility exists that we might evolve a public education system.

      • Hi John. I’m not demanding anything but that the Arizona Legislature do what the state constitution requires: provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system. The public school system we currently have is not uniform, neither is is properly maintained. Our district schools are the only ones that take all comers and that’s why they should be the first to get sufficient taxpayer dollars to get the job done right. School choice is not the answer to all the problems, it is contributing to the problem.

        • Again, I would say that words and definitions matter a lot. Public education isn’t a uniform system of bricks, people and buses. It is the knowledge and skills of the students. I estimate that we have over 300,000 students above 2nd grade who can’t add 9+8 in their minds. They have to go to their fingers. It is intolerable that this continue.
          The Obama administration has funded everything to attempt to break through with common thinking. Vanderbilt was named one of the centers for performance. Read the studies posted there. No successes.
          All of the paths we are looking at right now are dead ends. Look at our whole framework: Race to the Top, Common Core. Math scores went down for the first time ever.

          • One question Former State Superintendant of Public Instruction Huppenthal, just how long were you at the helm of Arizona’s Department of Education?

          • I was from 2011 to 2015. During that time, Arizona 8th grade blacks went from 6th in the nation in math scores to 1st. Whites went from 21st to 6th and Hispanics went from 35th to 11th.

            All of our support functions for schools improved. The percentage of school business directors, principals and special ed directors rating the Department excellent went up at a pace of 7 percentage points a year. That’s a blistering pace. Arizona’s largest city went 30 years without a single percentage point of improvement in their excellence rating.

            Our computer system, the brain stem of the education system, went from 50% reliability to 99.6% and went from 6 week turn around of financial reports to 20 minutes.

            Our special education division mediation of disputes between parents and schools developed to the point that Arizona had only two of the nuclear bomb lawsuits between parents and schools. This contrasts with over 60 for other states.

            Our standards division did over 300 continuously improved training sessions for the standards. As a result, Arizona teachers supported the standards 8 to 1 while the nation’s teachers rejected them 5 to 4.

            We set up a zip code project to provide special support for the school districts in the highest crime zip codes of the state.

            We partnered with the Black churches in south phoenix, making them delivery agents for the summer meals program delivering tens of thousands of meals to the most needy children during the summer.

            We partnered with the Native American community to certify teachers of Native American languages for the very first time. They weren’t even allowed to teach their own language prior until my action.

            We got the veterinary Career and Tech program at Kayenta national attention, with a two page spread in Time magazine. They were able to leverage this into a National Teacher of the Year award for Clyde McBride the director of the program and were able to further expand and develop their program.

            Just in general, we create both a performance culture in which we had objectives for every department and division that we held them accountable and we created a support culture of answering the phone and helping everyone who was asking for help. All of this was tied into a positive performance pay program which I started for all of state government in 1994.

            I created over 20 advisory committees that met monthly and we were able to identify issues through those committees for action by the agency. Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, Principals, Teachers of the year, regular teachers, principals, Career and Technical Education, Special Education, Superintendents, Students, Parents, Computer Users, the list goes on and on.

            We were thoroughly tethered and grounded in all of our daily actions. We were customer focused and our customers were the education community and our mission was to create a great place to work that provided “knock your socks off service”. We lived that mission every day.

          • And how much of that sweet, sweet Obama money did you spend while you were in office, before the teary-eyed scandals and before you lost an election based on your Common Core flip flop that caused Michelle Malkin to so mercilessly beat you down?

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