Editorial: School changes are not all good
To the astute observer, the following is obvious: Arizona's education landscape is undergoing changes. While the changes are not what I would call "reform," we have witnessed many tweaks and twists over the years:
School districts used to receive sudden-growth funding;
They also used to enjoy, off and on without battle, inflation funding (voter-approved or not);
It has never been a slam dunk for voters to approve bonds and overrides (I remember some failures from more than 20 years ago); yet, still feeling the effects of the Great Recession, voters - at least on this side of the Bradshaw Mountains - remain reluctant to "throw money" at what they deem is a broken model (Verde Valley voters approved bonds for their school districts in 2013, while the same efforts tanked at the polls here);
State funding for schools continues to be cut; and,
Charters, which are public schools, offer an alternative, but their existence has changed how districts do business (for the good - competition; for the bad - districts now market themselves to prevent "brain drain" and further loss of funding).
While I could keep going with this list, one more change is at least a little troubling.
About one month ago, AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) went away. In schools the Arizona twist on Common Core is underway. These are the Obama Administration's standards - in Arizona, called "Arizona's College and Career Ready Standards" (basically the Bush version of No Child Left Behind on steroids).
The state House voted March 11 to drop the new Common Core school standards, and to strip the state Board of Education from the power to adopt new standards. House Bill 2190 now heads to the Senate, which rejected a bill to eliminate Common Core two weeks ago.
Now up to date, I received on Monday, March 16, a news release from the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas supporting "allowing local school districts and charter schools to select one of several statewide achievement tests to administer to their students."
Apparently, if passed, House Bill 2180 - sponsored by House Education Chairman Paul Boyer - would establish a set of statewide achievement tests that would be available to schools beginning in the 2015-16 school year. Each test would be nationally recognized.
Do I like this? Not really, it's a double-edged sword.
If we stick with Common Core - because we've already spent money on it and the federal government has threatened punishments (as much as $600 million in lost funding) - it remains a non-local (read: federal) driven test.
If we move to multiple assessments (potentially different among each district or charter), the ability to chart progress becomes more complicated, if not impossible, looking across the board. A 'B' ranking for a school here on one test, would not be equal to a 'B' across town from a school with a different test.
Still, the latter would be "local control," which Common Core clearly is not.
In the end, as much as I despise unfunded mandates, at least No Child Left Behind didn't come with fines.
What are your thoughts? Email me at email@example.com.
- Tim Wiederaenders, city editor
Follow Tim on Twitter @TWieds_editor