(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
In Mediocre May Be Closer than it Appears, Jonathan Butcher cross listed the Arizona Board of Regents Report showing massive, widespread failure of the Arizona High School Class of 2006 to graduate from college by 2012 with the state’s A-F grading system. He found that 75 percent of graduates of A rated schools did not complete a BA in six years.
Outside of a few islands of excellence, how close is mediocre in AZ? Try 2:40 through 2:45 close:
Note for the record that there have been conversations about raising the standards of the grading system, but right at the moment we have no idea even what test the public schools will be using for accountability purposes next year. The AIMS statue is long overdue for demolition so that the townsfolk can beat it with their shoes, but we sadly have a few things to sort out before making adjustments to the grading system.
Meanwhile, T-Rex will continue to feed on T-Gen employees, blood sucking lawyers and unfortunate kids who are not getting the education they need to succeed in life.
The school choice tribe has been getting a great deal of grief in Arizona, as if we were the cause of the funding declines here in our pleasant patch of cactus. Despite rumors to the contrary, we did not induce the housing crash to go on a rampage to gleefully cut public school budgets. Charter schools for instance have never received as much total funding per pupil as the district schools and they have had to suffer along with the districts. Say what you will about Arizona conservatives in the legislature, but it is a simple mathematical fact that last year’s Medicaid expansion will do more to constrain growth in K-12 district spending once the temporary federal bonus money runs out than the ESA program ever will.
It’s also worth noting that public school groups went to the ballot with an initiative that would have prevented cuts. The accounts I have heard of the enterprise had prominent business leaders abandoning the effort in disgust during the formative stage. Various interests, most notably the road construction guys, log-rolled their way into the package and well-meaning but inexperienced people played prominent roles in the campaign. It wasn’t exactly a shock when the voters soundly rejected the measure. A lack of confidence that the money would make it into the classroom seemed decisive.
I can see why people might suspect that school choice sleeper agents infiltrated this effort in order to sabotage it from the inside, but I can assure you that this did not in fact happen.
Meanwhile, second by second by minute by minute Arizona continues to get older, our dependency ratio gets larger, and our prospects for growth dimmer.
A grand bargain might look something like this: a revamp of the state’s tax system to ditch the income tax and replace it with consumption taxes. This would address the fact that two large groups- Snowbirds and undocumented immigrants-have ways of avoiding income taxation but still consume state services. You could hope to get this to be pro-growth and thus pro-revenue. If anyone in Arizona thinks they don’t need a top-notch tax system to compete, look over there, I saw Texas holding hands with your girlfriend. She was gazing admiringly into his eyes with a blissful expression on her face while gently brushing his cowboy hat.
The second part of the grand bargain would be to tie increased funding to quantifiable improvement. Florida’s program to provide a $700 bonus to schools and teachers that get a child to pass an Advanced Placement exam for instance seems like a great idea for a state in which only 19% of the Class of 2006 earned a BA degree. I think many Arizonans would be willing to invest more in public education. I am potentially one of them, and I am potentially willing to pay higher taxes to do it, but many of us are not willing to simply pay more for the same bad results. Some pilot programs that show improvement associated with increased funding could be the only realistic place to start. At the moment, many don’t want to put more water into what they regard as a leaking bucket.
Finally there are some fundamental questions that the public school groups need to confront. Such as: why can charter schools receiving $1600 less per student often crush the results of nearby district schools with more money and similar student demographics? Two main reasons: charter school kids are all there by choice and have bought in to the culture of the school. Second these schools efficiently remove ineffective instructors from the classroom in a way that most district schools do not.
The hour is later than most realize and we do need to embrace improvement strategies beyond expanding choice. Everything should be on the table and we need to get serious.