(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
In the Seinfeld episode “The Opposite” Jerry discovers that he is “Even Steven” in that setbacks are quickly followed by gains and his life basically remains the same. Meanwhile, George slowly morphs from a loser living in his parents basement to getting hired by the New York Yankees after giving George Steinbrenner a dressing down about the poor management of the franchise. Meanwhile Elaine ruins a merger of her company and finds herself unemployed. “I’ve become George,” she glumly observes. I often think of this episode when reading odd summaries of Arizona’s K-12 which are opposite of reality. Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego for instance recently wrote a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos making a variety of claims about education in Arizona. The letter however makes a variety of claims about which are demonstrably mistaken. I’d like to address the following paragraph in particular:
Arizona public schools have improved performance over time rather than seeing performance decline. Student performance, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has improved both in the aggregate and across a variety of subgroups as shown in the figure below, which shows NAEP data from the first NAEP exam that includes all states (2003) to the most recent data available (2017) in 8th grade reading and math.
NAEP gains have improved Arizona’s subgroup rankings in overall proficiency by subgroup. For instance the chart below shows where Arizona Black students ranked compared to Black students in other states in 2003 on the left, 2017 on the right on 8th grade math. Moreover, as shown in the figure above, the largest Arizona gains were made by Black students in math (16 points), Hispanic students in reading (14 points) and American Indian students in Reading (16 points). Each of these student groups displayed a command of math and reading at 8th graders in 2017 that we might have reasonable expected their 2003 peers to have shown as 10th graders.
Here is the breakdown for Hispanic students:
Here is the breakdown for Anglo students:
If these levels of gains and proficiency represented the “fifth worst” school system, the rest of the world would be looking at America’s international test scores with envy. It seems profoundly unlikely that Arizona students would be making these enviable academic gains if choice harmed their education. Most Arizona students in Maricopa County attend a school other than their assigned district school. Students attending other district options however outnumber charter students by nearly two to one. Statewide charter student vastly outnumber private choice students in Arizona. Individual district schools both lose and gain students through family decisions. Choice is being done primarily by district schools rather than to district schools. Schools which fail to gain the confidence of families as the best option for their child do lose enrollment, but the positive academic trends show that Arizona schools are rising to the challenge rather than wilting under pressure.
Opponents of choice often conflate it with spending, which is misleading. A great many factors influence public school spending- the wealth of a state, the relative priority placed on K-12 compared to contending priorities like health care and higher education, local and state elections on funding and age demographics-states with lots of elderly and young people. One of the factors influencing per pupil funding trends is enrollment growth. Fast growing states have a harder time in accommodating growth and spending more per pupil at the same time. Arizona had the largest increase in per pupil spending among states with a 20% or more growth in enrollment between 2000 and 2015.
I will however agree with Representative Gallego to this extent: Arizona’s academic improvement is not a coincidence. They represent a huge amount of hard work put in by Arizona students and teachers and some very underestimated policies. This is not to say there isn’t more progress needed (there is) but these gains don’t have “man-hands” or eat their peas one at time and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Virtually none of this is known to readers of AZ newspapers. The Republic in Phoenix is derelict in its coverage of K-12. With few exceptions K-12 journalism in general across the nation has been unable to break free of its legacy ties to the blob. In the case of Matt’s AZ work, the Republic is aware and simply ignores. Malfeasance.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Education is the hottest political issue in Arizona, and certainly Scottsdale. Time after time voters approve more funding, march on the Capitol asking for more and support their Teachers as they walk out.
The fact that we’ve improved is also in large part due to the exuberance of parents and their buy in to the needs of their kids. A factor far more powerful than any other predictor of future success or failure.
It’s foolish to argue about which factor is more important, because for the 1.1 M kids in K-12’s there are thousands of differing answers.
But one thing is certain. Our schools are a pitiful mess. Our textbooks are ancient and tattered. We make Teachers beg parents for copy paper donations to supplement our crappy books. (even in Scottsdale, yes here too).
Our Teachers are paid wages that don’t allow them to live decent lives without two or more jobs. And for that reason not enough want to enter the profession and teach.
A bubble chart showing NAEP gains is interesting. But unless you can wad it up and run it through your gas tank, it doesn’t help solve Teachers’ cash problems.
So Mike the auditor general puts spending per pupil in SUSD at $10,800 per pupil. A class of 25 generates $270k in revenue so why isn’t the teacher paid decently?
There goes Matt w/ his trick questions
One of the reasons Teachers are paid poorly – I’ll stick to just one – is that Special Education is woefully underfunded. And since it is underfunded, Charters in Scottsdale avoid SPED kids pushing the majority of SPED kids back to SUSD and almost all of the severely disabled kids back to SUSD.
SUSD has to spend 15% of its Budget to provide minimally acceptable care for those kids. While Great Hearts and BASIS spend 2.5% to 5% and serve a fraction of the share of the population that they should.
This isn’t about waste at SUSD. This is about Charters ducking their statutory duties to serve disabled students and pushing that unfunded mandate back to District schools.
You will deny that a pattern of avoidance exists, Matt, while mumbling something about proof that any child was mistreated through a lottery enrollment system, blah, blah.
But data is data and facts are facts. There is not one decently funded SPED program at any of the 8 BASIS and Great Hearts campuses within the SUSD boundaries. If I brought my wheelchair bound kid to a Scottsdale Charter and asked to meet the highly trained para-professional who would be required to care for my kid, exactly who would I meet and what facilities would I see? And then, of course, I would race to sign up for your lottery.
If you have any evidence that any school charter or otherwise has pushed special education kids out of school, you should present it to the Attorney General, ADE and/or State Board for Charter Schools. I’ve already explained why simplistic examinations of SPED rates don’t constitute proof. BTW when SUSD was asked about SPED kids leaving via the ESA program they babbled as if SPED is over-funded in AZ : https://jaypgreene.com/2014/04/17/wsj-on-esa-and-jordan-visser/
Do I have evidence of a student being “pushed out”? Well, what I do have is evidence of a student’s family being told no IEP would be done because the student was “on track” [not true, BTW) and evidence that the district simply dismissed an independent evaluation by one of the Valley’s top pediatric neuro specialists. I also can’t break a confidentiality agreement insisted on by the school. It is sometimes tempting to break it and let them come after me. But that puts the student and its family in play. The good news is the student has thrived in a new setting where the team is enthusiastic and committed to providing support.
What is even worse is when a 504 is denied—-and yes, I have heard of schools doing it- there is a real lack of training in 504- and all teachers and principals should be required to learn about 504- and yes, the school gets no money for a student with a broken arm, or hay fever, or allergies or asthma- but let’s stop and think about what kind of messages we are sending our students ( and parents)..While the Jerry Seinfeld message is great- I have another one–” Lawsuit waiting to happen”
Let’s get on NPR to talk weekly.
Why doesn’t Great Hearts have one single Black kid at Scottsdale? Or a SPED budget 65% of its Group A funding. We can go on for days. This never turns out well for you
Sure we could go for days if I were to make the mistake of going down the rabbit hole of diversionary tactics, which I am happy to concede never goes well for anyone.
Here’s how the radio program could go:
Ladner “Arizona shows broad over time improvement on national tests and for instance has the highest 8th grade math scores for Black students in the country in 2017.”
Mike “Yeah but up in this lilly White section of Scottsdale there is a charter school with below the FERPA threshold for Black students.”
Ladner “Mmmkay so if I produce a list of district schools without a Black student population above the FERPA threshold that means what exactly?”
Mike “Nothing of course. It’s totally fine when we do it.”
Ladner “Your arguments are very compelling Mike. Maybe we should roll back K-12 policy to 1993, but I’m a little worried about also bringing back those Alabama-like NAEP scores we had back then.”
Mike: “Not to worry you’ll be too busy celebrating the massive increase in spending to much care about the decline in performance. You just need to get your priorities straight.”
Is it safe to assume Mike is wearing RedforEd today? In the early choice days in WI — pre-social media — the teacher union had designated folks send silly letters to the editor. The school choice coalition had a system for responding and the union strategy more or less melted away.
Maybe today but he can shift on a dime to “burn down SUSD admin and bathe in the ash” on a dime tomorrow. It’s fun to watch.
Or, maybe it is state standards aligned with NAEP that have made the difference in spite of the steps away from support for an adequately resourced public education system. In 2003 districts in AZ were still utilizing locally adopted academic standards and performance on the embedded NAEP test questions was dismal. Much has changed since then. We should be careful not to ascribe too much of the growth to other factors. Teaching to the test is a clear causal factor that accounts for the difference in test scores. Theories touting the benefits of Choice are too often driven by people trying to make a point and a buck.
To say that I am pretty good at math (for my age) is an understatement. I taught Calc as a student professor at BYU. I had a scholarship to M.I.T.
I also went to Chaparral High School to check their Honors and A/P programs. A/P kids at Chap get Trig and Calc classes that I didn’t get until my third year of college. They get subject matter I never studied at all despite being an Econ and Accounting Major.
If they absorb it, our kids leave High School with vastly more knowledge than you and I did, Matt. So when we all whine about what’s wrong about our schools, let’s keep it in perspective.
Us saying “I got Straight A’s but my kid didn’t” is like comparing low hurdles to pole vaults.
No argument from me there- I know my kids are getting a vastly superior education to the one I received back in TX. Everyone one bags on AZ schools today but the evidence is clear that today’s students are substantially more literate and numerate than their peers from yesteryear.
To say that Special Ed is woefully underfunded is an under-statement. Special Ed requires a high degree of training, understanding and special skills that the normal general ed teacher does not have- and there always seems to be more and more students being referred for special ed or at the very least for Section 504 consideration. Sure- it is not the entire problems- but a BIG part of the problem with very little insight as to how to solve the problem on the horizon.
There is no doubt in my mind that Arizona’s method of funding SPED needs modernization badly.
And there you have it – today’s moment of Matt and Mike agreeing on something. I promise you, Matt, that I would go to the Capitol with locked arms to get the funding formulas straightened out.
In a world where every kid comes with a backpack of cash sufficient to cover that kid’s needs, Charters and Districts can put the daggers away and just concentrate on serving their customers’ needs.
Yup need to work this out with SPED and more generally. It can be done.
Re special ed, I have two anecdotes but am restricted by (1) a confidentiality agreement and (2) the need for someone to be anonymous so I can’t really elaborate. But I can say that K-12 schools that supposedly “welcome all students” most definitely are happy not to have certain ones. And then the same folks attack programs that help parents absorb a fraction of the cost of private special ed.
I personally know a parent of a SPED student who literally had the phone hung up on her while seeking an open enrollment transfer in SUSD as an SUSD taxpayer. The current funding formula has some absurdly low funding weights for certain disabilities in the AZ formula. For instance, there are effective therapies for dyslexia but the AZ funding weight only provides a token level of additional funding.
I also have the database for SPED kids in the State of AZ as well as Scottsdale. Statewide BASIS reports less than 1/5th the percentage of SPED students as Districts. How did that accident happen over and over and over, Matt?
Earlier you acted like it was outrageous that a classical charter in North Scottsdale would not have many Black students. This handy bit of information however shows that 99% of the residents of North Scottsdale are not Black https://statisticalatlas.com/neighborhood/Arizona/Scottsdale/North-Scottsdale/Race-and-Ethnicity
Since the statewide rate of Black residents is 340% higher than North Scottsdale, you must feel terrible living in such an overtly racist neighborhood Mike! Working class hero SUSD residents like me (zoned for Tavan and PROUD!) have a great deal more diversity, which of course is to say “maybe a little bit.” You North Scottsdale folks however obviously hate Black people or there would be 3.4% Black residents up there.
In any case this is the same sort of crayon and Big Chief Tablet analysis that you are using on schools. The Black population of North Scottsdale is not only tiny it is also unusually wealthy and if they don’t happen to apply to GH (remember- random lottery required) I’m struggling to see why I should be concerned.
I plan to use your crayon and Big Chief Tablet line, probably without attribution. One of the better lines I have seen in some time.
PLEASE let’s not talk about ” simplistic rates of SPED kids”. There are students with physical problems, there are students with emotional problems, there are students with autism, there are students with head injury, there are students with vision and hearing difficulties–SO- we really can’t be simple when discussing SPED students……there is vast heterogeneity and vast needs and the schools are supposed to individualize for them !
Agreed, Mike Shaughnessy. And the most severely disabled kids don’t got to BASIS – or Great Hearts. They end up at Districts or private schools – or EdKey if it’s still around.
I have been very precise in my statements about diversity and inclusion, Matt. We moved to the Copper Ridge area because it was, at that time, the platinum standard for SPED kids and my SPED kid needed that help badly.
The Cheyenne Site Council has asked the District to allow us to set aside KG enrollment for black kids because we don’t have black student enrollment proportionate to Scottsdale census reports. We also asked for buses to help South Scottsdale kids get a Traditional School education (the District instead converted Pima to Traditional following the Cheyenne standards almost precisely – a good move that may or may not resonate with the neighborhood, but still a good move.
But let’s chat about the North Scottsdale community and Arcadia community, since you stepped right in front of this punch and you deserve to hit the deck for a while.
Great Hearts Veritas campuses are 73.7% White. SUSD’s campuses in the same region are 50.4% White. How did Great Hearts manage to keep its Black enrollment at “*” per the State report for 2018 while the K-5’s in the same area educate 140 Black kids? C’mon, Matt, let’s go deep on this issue?
Great Hearts Archway Scottsdale campus also reports “*” Black kids. While SUSD’s schools in the same community have 130 Black kids. Again, how did GHA manage to convince those 130 Black kids they might fit in elsewhere better?
Hispanic kids fare no better at GHA. 665 Hispanic kids attend the 3 K-5’s surrounding Veritas. They are 34.7% of the SUSD enrollment. But not at GHA Veritas, the Whitest school in that region managed to keep Hispanic enrollment down to 14.7% of its students.
I can keep doing this all day, Matt. Keep tossing out batting practice curveballs and I’ll keep hammering them back.
You are hammering back…drinks? Good to see that you are enjoying that legendary status in your own mind.
Drinks are in order. We convene Sushi Thursday activities weekly. Mostly on Thursdays. Of course. Tonight Sushi Ra at Scottsdale and Thunderbird. From now until about 8.