Category Archives: Education politics

School Choice Week town hall

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Foundation-Arizona with Arizona School Choice Trust will host a town hall, Restoring American Exceptionalism – Arizona Townhall, January 22 at Radisson Phoenix-Chandler from 6-8 p.m. as part of National School Choice Week. The purpose of the townhall is to promote school choice as an avenue to improve the performance of American students. According to the event website they want to support successful schools and hold failing schools accountable.

“It’s time to put children and parents first in the education policy debate, not the bureaucrats and not the unions,” Tom Jenney, director of AFP Foundation-Arizona, said in a press release. “Governments in Arizona spend over $9,000 a year on the average child in the public district schools, and yet 71 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in math and 73 percent are no proficient in reading.”

There will be a simulcast event with Fox News contributor Juan Williams and Hugh Hewitt that will also be aired live on the internet at Tom Jenney, Education Policy Director Jonathan Butcher and Arizona School Choice Trust Executive Director Liz Moser Dreckman will hold a Q&A session on education policy reform.

This is one of almost 50 events taking place nationwide between January 22 and 28. Free tickets are available.


High stakes for kindergarteners, crucial info for parents

A new law approved in 2010 by the Arizona State Legislature will raise the bar for this year’s kindergarteners when they reach the third grade. The law mandates that students who have not met the standard reading level by the end of third grade will be held back to repeat the grade.

According to First Things First, an organization that aims to help parents prepare their young children (ages 0-5) for school, there is plenty that parents can do at home to set their children up for success in kindergarten and throughout their lives.

On the organization’s resource website,, parents can find tip sheets to help guide them through caring for their children at the various ages and stages of their early development, and learn how best to prepare kids for entering kindergarten.

Consistent talking, reading and explorative play is extremely important during early childhood, says Jolene Mutchler, a preschool teacher and member of the First Things First Central Pima Regional Partnership Council.

The first five years of life serve as the foundation for future learning and development, and students who begin school behind the standards typically stay there, research shows. That’s why it is so important to begin preparing kids early, providing them with positive learning environments, both in and out of the home, Mutchler says.

For more information, including tips for promoting early childhood learning development, visit

PUHSD to consider “dating abuse” policy and instruction

The Phoenix Union High School District will hold a special meeting on dating abuse policy and instruction at 6pm tonight in the governing board room at the district office, 4502 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix.

A public hearing and a special meeting on the budget will follow.

Recent legislation (Senate Bill 1308) has resulted in a legislative mandate to have all school districts review the need for a dating abuse policy. The mandate requires that the governing board hold a public meeting on the possible adoption of a dating abuse policy and the possible addition of dating abuse instruction in the health curriculum for students grade nine through 12. The Phoenix Union High School District currently does not have a dating abuse policy.

Interested citizens are invited to attend the public hearing.

Smart Phone learning Apps help bring lessons everywhere

Parents may have to hand over their smart phones to their kindergarten to third grade kids. Dr. Gary Bitter, Professor of Educational Technology at Arizona State University has developed Math Apps called MathReady for young school-aged children to learn basic math skills on the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad.

The 12 different Apps, which are available from the Apple Store for $2.99 each, go through simple math problems to help give K-3 students a little extra practice. In the kindergarten Apps, kids will learn to use words like “big, biggest, large and largest,” learn how to identify basic shapes and how to count to five.

First grade Apps teach kids how to do basic addition and subtraction with numbers up to 18 as well as beginning lessons on time and money.

Second grade Apps focus on time and money as well as continuing addition and subtraction and fractions.

Money and time continue to be a part of the third grade programs as well as learning how to add and subtract with numbers up to 100.

These Apps are great if you have somewhere to go with your kids that may require a lot of waiting. Instead of playing mind-draining games, they can get ahead on what they will be working on in school. They could also be good in-car activities for long road trips to keep your kids busy and keep your sanity. Having these Apps available on such portable devices makes it possible for you to take your child’s learning anywhere without having to drag books or textbooks along.

Using these kinds of Apps are very effective for students especially as the technology world is ever changing, however it is important that parents also understand these pieces of technology. To a lot of parents, these new developments can be very confusing. Unlike their kids, they didn’t grow up in the age of Internet, email, and text messaging.

Technologies like Smart Phones and iPads are becoming more and more popular in schools all over the country. A January article from the New York Times showcased some of the schools that are filling classrooms with iPads so students can bring their learning home. Pinnacle Peak School in Scottsdale was one of the schoolsl mentioned after 36 iPads were brought in for the new school year.

If your early elementary school child starts to be frustrated trying to understand the Smart Phone programs, make sure you’ll be able to help them figure it out. You may have graduated from school years ago but the learning won’t be stopping anytime soon.

Visit the MathReady website to learn more about the programs and look for them to become available on Android and Microsoft Smart Phones in the future.

Not on the test

This song, by three-time Grammy Award winner Tom Chapin, has a great message for those of us who care about education. Chapin will appear in concert at 2pm Saturday at Higley Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for children.

The future of education in Arizona

Jim Rice, John Huppenthal, Gabriel Trujillo and Sybil Francis.

Phoenix Country Day School hosted a panel discussion on the future of education in Arizona on Wednesday night. John Huppenthal, our newly elected state superintendent of public instruction, was there, along with Sybil Francis, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for the Future of Arizona; Jim Rice, Ph.D., program administrator for the Rodel Foundation of Arizona and Gabriel A. Trujillo, principal at Trevor G. Browne High School.

The topic? How the educational system must change in order to meet the needs of Arizona’s children.

There were a lot of empty seats in the audience, which is surprising, considering the scope of the discussion and the importance of the educational system to anyone, whether they have children or not. There were probably about 150 people, including members of Boy Scout Troop 340, who were in the second row to take notes and absorb information to earn a communications merit badge.

Boy Scouts in Troop 340 from St. Thomas the Apostle School in Phoenix attended the panel discussion to communications merit badges.

Francis started out saying education had to change to fit the needs of the students. “We are not going to meet the future by doing what we have done in the past,” she said. “We cannot keep doing what we have been doing, educating in the same way, with the same structure that we’ve been using for the last 100 years, and think it’s going to take us successfully into the next 100 years.” Expectations of the school system have changed and a high school education is not sufficient for today’s job market. (A hundred years ago, just an elementary education was enough.)

Our schools are still organized on the industrial model, Francis added, meaning that schools treat all students coming in the same way: grouped by age, with students in each grade learning the same thing at the same time. Students are treated like widgets to be turned out uniformly.

When I was taking education classes from 1991 to 1993, professors at ASU said essentially the same thing. And that was in the pre-Internet world. I attended this event hoping to hear something new — something that had changed significantly in nearly two decades since I first decided to become a teacher.

But the topics discussed on Wednesday were pretty much the same as those discussed in my education classes in the early 1990s. High school graduation rates are what they were in 1970. Reading and math proficiency need to be increased. Parent involvement in their children’s education is essential to student success. We need to reorganize schools to meet the needs of modern students. And of course funding and teacher compensation is still an issue.

At far right is PCDS Assistant Head of School James Calleroz White who moderated the panel discussion.

Trujillo was optimistic. “I believe that…we are at the dawn of a new age brought on by competition and open enrollment,” he said. “A possible Renaissance Age is upon us if we embrace change.” Change will be hastened because public schools will have to compete with online education, alternative schools and school-within-a-school models.

Rice, who was in the Alhambra district for 39 years, says the biggest catalyst for student performance is parental involvement, regardless of funding or the amount of technology in the schools. The bottom line, he said, is that parents must work with students and teachers to support the education of their children. He also advocated focusing on positives.

“We need to start sharing what is going on in our good schools,” he said. There are pockets of innovation that do work and those innovations need to be spread to other schools.

I was interested in what John Huppenthal had to say, since he is our new superintendent of public instruction. He talked about the thousands of research reports he reads and the analysis of test scores and data he sifts through, looking for “breakthrough” ideas to improve education. He hasn’t found many.

“There’s a huge cloud of dust in education when it comes to research studies,” he said. “One of the painful things was to realize there was research about research. And the research about research said that 95 percent of the research wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.”

He is convinced technology will bring breakthroughs, though he admitted that research doesn’t indicate that educational software will offer that breakthrough. I couldn’t help thinking about all of the software packages I saw when I was teaching and the millions of dollars spent on them.

I talked to Huppenthal after the panel discussion ended. I asked him when he thought the changes the panelists described might occur, and when the successful innovations of specific schools might hit the public schools as a whole. He said gains will be realized in the next seven or eight years and that two years worth of educational gains will occur in one school year, in what he called “Education 2.0.”

And what will drive this huge gain in efficiency? Huppenthal believes competition with charter schools and private schools will drive the public schools to innovate and improve to keep their enrollment up.

So we still have to wait. Not what you want to hear if your child is entering high school this year, but encouraging for parents whose young children are just getting started. Unfortunately, large systems move slowly.

Changes the panel talked about included:

• Organizing schools to meet the needs of individual students.

• Preparing students with the academic and/or trade skills suitable for the realities of the job market they will face.

• Training and paying teachers to drive innovation. Teachers must approach a classroom full of kids with a wide range of different tools and skills.

• Compensation for teachers must not be based on teaching a certain number of students or the number of years teachers have survived in the system. Compensation models should be driven by progress made by students based on where they started. A teacher with a high school freshman reading at the fifth grade level and progressing to an eighth grade reading level in one school year would be rewarded for that student gain, not penalized because the student was still reading below grade level.

Huppenthal believes in running schools like successful businesses, with an emphasis on efficiency and performance.

Trujillo believes that “it’s not necessarily the amount of money we’re throwing into public education, it’s where we’re throwing it. Can we honestly continue to sit here and not talk about the fact that hundreds of thousands of students across our state do not have access to pre-K, kindergarten and preschool programs?”

When kids don’t have the benefit of preschool and pre-K instruction, they are lagging behind on their first day of school. That leads to “huge inequities in educational product,” he said. His recommendation?  “Pour a little bit more money into the educational starting line.”

It’s hard to argue that the “one size fits all” approach to education is inadequate in meeting the learning needs of individuals. But as any classroom teacher will tell you, meeting individual needs is a massive undertaking dependent on so many variables that theories and systemic movements are merely debate topics when faced you’re faced with a classroom packed with 30 to 40 students, all at various levels of aptitude and with individual learning styles.

It would have been interesting to hear what a few teachers with 25 years of experience in the classroom would have added to the discussion Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, the people who would be actually implementing the changes in the educational system, and bringing innovation to the individual students, are often not included in these kinds of discussions. — Dan Friedman

Expectations are an uphill battle

The irony of the Expect More Arizona video Education and the Economy is the people who will watch it are likely already advocates of a better education system. Really, it’s everyone who doesn’t watch the video that is the target audience, and that is Expect More’s mission, to increase expectations for all students so they actually have an  education after they spend all that time in school, so they can get the jobs that demand highly  educated students the schools don’t currently provide. Is that asking too much?

The saddest part of the video is that there are technology jobs available for Arizona students but too few Arizona students have taken Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) classes to fill the them. Colleen Niccum, of Raytheon Missile Systems, says her company must hire American citizens since they are Department of Defense contractors, but they have trouble finding qualified applicants. Maybe the economy isn’t so bad, but the pool of potential employees is.

What’s behind these disappointing facts are the students who don’t want to study hard enough, for enough years to achieve jobs in the more demanding fields. Rufus Glasper, PhD Chancellor Maricopa Community College says in the video, “Only about 50% of students graduating from high school are prepared to go on to a two or four year institution.” That’s a school district problem if students are allowed to graduate without being proficient in the required skills. What were half the students doing in school all that time, using up school supplies, occupying desks, standing in lunch lines?  So teachers are lowering their expectations and standards but passing kids who shouldn’t and/or the administration isn’t backing up teachers when they fail a student whose parents run to the administration of the school or district and raise hell. Oh, and the students aren’t really into the studying thing. And that is the message of the Expect More Arizona video: What exactly is going on in our schools?

Expectations come from the parents who motivate their kids, whose teachers then can expect and demand more. When parents don’t do their job responsible teachers use up a good bit of the school day getting unmotivated kids ready to be educated. To change public education, change the public that comes to school. A little simplistic but partially true.

At the same time, teachers who demand little short-change students and frustrate parents. My son had several of those teachers in high school. High school teachers who asked nothing more of students than to paste pictures from the Internet onto poster board for credit. I kid you not. When I was teaching, I saw plenty of parents who wanted the teachers to be the parents because they were too busy working or going on vacation and the nanny was in charge. I kid you not. Expectations have to be in place for all before any of them work.

The video asks questions whose answers can be texted to Expect More Arizona. Yes education is essential when trying to attract employers who need an educated workforce. No the system isn’t working, and yes it’s going to be a long haul.
Dan Friedman