Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey makes two critical errors in touting the state’s progress under his watch: the first is what it means to invest in public district schools; and the second is what makes a “good” school.
The governor claims that partially restoring cuts to additional assistance provided to district schools is an increase. However, even with the proposals this session, the budget does not restore the damage done over the last decade.
During the recession, legislators made cuts to education that created a ripple-effect causing Arizona to continue to rank lowest among K-12 funding across the nation.
Arizona’s ability to attract and retain teachers should be evidence enough that so much more needs to be done. Yet rather than addressing the clear needs and seeking sustainable funding,
Gov. Ducey and select policymakers insist our schools are good, but it’s their definition of “good” that’s the problem.
What’s “good” school?
School quality is about the characteristics of the adults working to build positive and nurturing communities of learning for children.
The governor mistakenly believes that putting all of the “good” kids — translate higher achievers — into the same schools makes for better schools. Sadly, he is not alone. Charter schools often have selective criteria to handpick their students; district schools must open their doors to welcome all learners.
The whole idea of a “good” school can be misjudged.
Standardized test scores are so strongly tied to family resources that they mislead people into making judgments about their local neighborhood district public schools. Our state policymakers continue to encourage higher-achieving students to leave district schools for charters with higher ratings online.
Investing in educators
The Governor’s signature results-based funding plan for excelling schools does not address the comprehensive needs of all district schools. The plan, though well-intended, only rewards schools that received A or B letter grades, causing concern about the fairness and effectiveness in boosting student achievement.
The plan rewards teachers in affluent communities, leaving out the teachers in schools where student poverty and language barriers are abundant. When this happens, teachers flock to schools where they know they will be rewarded, instead of working at the schools where their talents are so desperately needed … and where the teacher shortage is most prevalent.
Results-based funding to reward schools with high outcomes is not equitable. This approach will not raise overall student achievement.
Teachers and parents working together improves student achievement. But our teachers and parents need more support. The best thing Gov. Ducey could ever do to improve schools in Arizona would be to continue the effort to raise teacher working conditions.
No more gimmicks; just plain, straightforward teacher support.
James Lee, Ed. D., is the former superintendent of the Paradise Valley Unified School District and an affiliate of The Best Public Education in Arizona Foundation. www.lovepublicedaz.org.