This afternoon, in his 2018 State of the State address, Governor Doug Ducey made some important commitments to public K-12 education. He promised that 80 percent of the new priorities of the budget to be released Friday will be for education. And he listed the following specific areas to be funded:
- All-day kindergarten
- Career and technical education
- Computer coding
- Reducing waitlists
- Closing the achievement gap
- Rural high-speed broadband
- New school buses
Almost every month this year brought big news for K-12 education in Arizona. Here is our condensed overview of the year’s six biggest stories:
#6 – SCHOOL LETTER GRADES
In October, the State Board of Education released A-F school letter grades for the first time since 2014. The new grades are based on the AzMERIT test rather than the old AIMS test, and the grades use a new formula that places more weight on student growth over the course of the school year than the prior system. It also gives points for other factors like graduation rates, taking Career Technical Education (CTE) courses, and taking college preparatory exams like Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB), among other changes.
The new letter grades immediately sparked criticism due to the complexity of the new formula, some concerns about the integrity of the data used to calculate the scores, and the large emphasis on growth that penalizes schools where most students already have high proficiency levels. Many schools appealed their grades. Raising the stakes, only schools with a grade of “A” will receive the new performance-based funding passed by the legislature in the spring.
#5 – MISALLOCATION OF FEDERAL FUNDS
In October and November, the Arizona Department of Education disclosed that it had improperly allocated $85 million of federal funds for Title I (low income) and IDEA (special needs) programs to Arizona school districts and charter schools. Some districts and charters received too little funding while others received too much. It’s still unclear whether the schools that received a surplus of funds will need to pay those funds back. But the verdict on that, which will come from the U.S. Department of Education, will have major implications: the state’s three largest school districts alone (Mesa Unified, Phoenix Union, and Tucson Unified) are staring down the barrel of a potential hit to their budgets totaling $7.8 million.
The miscalculation dates back to 2013. However, the Arizona Department of Education under Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas (who took office in 2015) has known about this issue since an audit in March 2015 and did not take action until early this year.Read more
Tempe, AZ (August 7, 2017) – Jonathan Gelbart, former Director of Charter School Development for the nationally top-ranked BASIS Charter Schools, today announced that he is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction. He has resigned his position at BASIS to campaign full-time.
“I’m running for this office because nothing is more important for Arizona’s long-term success than our public education system,” Gelbart said. “And our incumbent has really engaged in dereliction of duty. We need a state schools chief with a fresh perspective, the will to fight for our public schools, and the long-term vision necessary to build the education system of the future. Our workforce is facing an oncoming freight train called automation, so business as usual isn’t going to cut it anymore.”
Gelbart has managed the opening or expansion of schools for more than 8,000 children across Arizona, including the number one public high school in America according to U.S. News & World Report. Gelbart’s efforts involved building relationships with communities from Prescott to Tucson and obtaining more than $250 million in bond funds for school construction, renovation, and expansion.
To ensure broad, ongoing feedback from education professionals, Gelbart has formed an Educators Advisory Group composed of educators and school leaders with more than 100 years of combined experience in Arizona schools. “I want our Arizona school system to be one of the best in the country, and Jonathan can help us move in that direction,” said Michele Savoia, a member of the group and a psychology teacher in the Deer Valley Unified School District for 28 years.
“Arizona has the opportunity to lead the nation in creating a more flexible education system that truly prioritizes creativity, self-motivation, and critical thinking," Gelbart added. "Schools need to treat every child as an individual human being, not a test-taking robot.”
Gelbart was born and raised in northwest Phoenix, graduated as salutatorian from Barry Goldwater High School, and earned a master’s degree in engineering from Stanford University. His family roots in Arizona go back nearly 70 years. If elected, Gelbart would be the youngest Superintendent of Public Instruction since statehood.
The available evidence suggests quite strongly that school is bad for children's mental health. Of course, it's bad for their physical health, too; nature did not design children to be cooped up all day at a micromanaged, sedentary job.
-Dr. Peter Gray, Boston College
It's time for a bold rethinking of what school should look like. The world has changed while schools have remained frozen in time. The impact if we continue down the same path is heartbreaking and terrifying. Education commentator Kerry McDonald reports:
- "A 2013 study by the American Psychological Association found that school is the main driver of teenage stress, and that teenagers are more stressed-out than adults."
- "The suicide rate among 10 to 14 year olds has doubled since 2007."
For girls age 10-14, the suicide rate has tripled over the past 15 years.
- "A national study of trends in adolescent depression rates found that teens reporting a major depressive episode (MDE) within the previous year skyrocketed" by 32% from 2005 to 2014, to 11.5% of all teens.
What's driving this? One reason is that we have taken all control away from kids and left no room for them to develop on their own, or have much of any input in their learning or environment. Peter Gray from Boston College adds:
Children today spend more hours per day, days per year, and years of their life in school than ever before. More weight is given to tests and grades than ever. Outside of school, children spend more time than ever in settings in which they are directed, protected, catered to, ranked, judged, and rewarded by adults.
These hours have come at the expense of free play, which is critical for self-development. This has another dangerous effect: "In free play, children who feel harassed or bullied can leave the situation and find another group that is more compatible; in school they cannot."
In the workforce of the 21st century, people need to be creative, independent, and self-motivated. But schools teach the opposite:
In school, children learn quickly that their own choices of activities and their own judgments of competence don't count; what matters are the teachers' choices and judgments. Teachers are not entirely predictable: You may study hard and still get a poor grade because you didn't figure out exactly what the teacher wanted you to study or guess correctly what questions he or she would ask...Given a choice between really learning a subject and getting an A, the great majority of students would, without hesitation, pick the latter. That is true at every stage in the educational process, at least up to the level of graduate school.
For the sake of the future of our kids, we need to start thinking bigger and bringing schools together to reimagine what public education can look like. Arizona is in a perfect position to be a cutting-edge innovator in this field. And Jonathan Gelbart is the only candidate for Superintendent even talking about this critical need. Join, sign the petition, and donate today!
Photo by Phil Roeder, Flickr.