Education Solutions

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An exchange of ideas to improve public education with Chairman of the House Education Committee Representative Rich Crandall; Jack Lunsford, President and CEO of Westmarc; and John Wright of the Arizona Education Association.

Ted Simons: As lawmakers continue working on solutions to the state's fiscal crisis, a coalition of education advocates is preparing to offer some advice. They plan to provide solutions that will not decimate education. But first they're meeting with citizens across the state. David Majure takes us to the first of the forums that took place last month in Phoenix.

Woman1: The questions were -- were really handled very differently at each and every table.

David Majure: In search of ideas to improve public education, the education coalition Arizona learning first alliance is holding public forums across the state.

Tom O'Halleran: Eight years of the legislature, I don't think we've had a budget talk that said anything about where do we want our schools in five, 10, 20 years.

David Majure: The meetings start with a video that includes commentary from elected official, teachers, business and community leaders and summarizes some of the political and financial challenges facing education this Arizona. And it sets the stage for a thoughtful discussion. This group focused primary on education spending and student assessment. Here's an edited version.

Man1: What's the investment we need to make to ensure the students are making the academic growth based on where they're starting. If we had data to show what the average growth is across the state, what that growth is, with the investment we're putting into it, because to accelerate a young person's academic growth is going to take additional resources, funding to move them at a higher level than we're able to do at the current time.

Janie Hydrick: What I expect our students is to come out at whatever point they come out, whether it's 10th to 11th or 12th grade to college or trade school with a basic expertise in 21st Century skills. That includes critical thinking, that doesn't occur anywhere in the assessment. And an appreciation of art and music and other people and includes a commitment to citizenship. None of those are being tested, therefore, none of those are being valued today.

Woman2: If we're going to be able to expect more money, we're going of to measure something. We're going to have to be able to say either math or whatever. Because that's how we get the money.

Andrew Morrill: I don't ever, as an educator, want to run from the subject of measurement and I don't think educators do. We need to be talking about the measures, and the data that guides United States. It's a strategy.

Janie Hydrick: Educators have -- Socrates cared about the student's mind and that argument doesn't fly. What flies is going to people who are making policies and decisions about funding and saying you know what? This is your return for the money. If you invest here in education here's what we have, 30 years -- 30-year studies of 50 states and the data is clear. The investments in education give the greatest return for the investment. We're not saying that. We kept going back to you must invest in these children. And sadly, that's not the argument that's winning.

Andrew Morrill: You have to -- the trick is you don't want to build a system that validates the assessment. You want a system where the --

Susan Carlson: But the reality is there are people and there are policymaking positions that have lost trust with education and one of the ways they identify what's going on in schools is an assessment of some sort.

Man2: We have the human capital that hasn't developed to overcome tremendous obstacles and we're investing billions of dollars in education. Our budget and our 58 school districts is $5.6 billion of resources. We're getting minimum results. Will more money make a difference? Can we demonstrate? The question was, what do we expect of our students and teachers and schools? We get into a debate. The fat cat and the poor victims. There are a lot of people who want more for education than you can believe. The fact of the matter, we're in an economic collapse of the state.

Andrew Morrill: We didn't get there by --

Man2: It's when you have more expenditure than revenue.

Andrew Morrill: And when you curtail the revenue --

Man2: Why not make a case -- why not make a good case, five, six, 10, when the funding formula came in 1980, why did we not make a good case in terms of results for children? You're not against being accountable. I never thought I'd be a politician, but I realized I had to be to get the points across.

Jane Hydrick: We're trying to get -- at educators, we're trying to get the wrong point across. What increases the economy of the state? Education.

Andrew Morrill: Don't mistake the assessment for the goal, you would say don't mistake investment for the goal. Don't assume that increasing the funding is the goal in itself. I agree there has to be some show of gain or return.

Jane Hydrick: A goal of education is not a score on a standardized assessment. A goal of education is contributing to economic development. How do you measure that? Well, there are all kinds of things. There are -- there are billions of dollars in our national economies that are lost because kids don't complete high school. That's an assessment. That's an assessment.

Susan Carlson: It's so complex. So complex. That it's impossible to assess everything for both formative and summative testing. But -- let me finish. But every individual student has learning goals. Correct? I mean, you're the educator, would you not say that?

Jane Hydrick: Absolutely.

Susan Carlson: You need to be able to tell me as a mom and the education community ought to be able to tell parents and the community that students have achieved goals, either a teacher assessment or a school-wide assessment but my kid going to school and my neighbor's kid, for my kid, the school they're going, that they're doing a good job with my kid. There's an assessment involved in there someplace.

Jane Hydrick: It's been a critical core of what I do without assessing my students. I don't know what to teach -- every day, I'm making hundreds of decisions based on all kinds of assessments. The unethical piece comes in when somebody who's not an educator -- this is how you'll assess these students and based on that decision I have made, we will fund schools, or we will support you or not.

Ted Simons: Joining me to talk about public education is representative Rich Crandall, a Mesa Republican who chairs the house education committee. Penny Kotterman, chair of the education coalition, which is sponsoring the community forums. And Jack Lunsford, president and CEO of Westmarc, an organization that promotes quality of life and economic vitality in the west valley. Good to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.

Jack Lunsford: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Wow, we had quite a bit of discussion there. Let's go to a more general term here. Let's start with Arizona, the state's revenues, the idea that there's not enough money sent to education in Arizona. The revenues simply aren't there. Start there.

Penny Kotterman: Well, I think that the education coalition recognizes the current economic crisis Arizona is in makes it very, very difficult to make huge investments in public education right at this moment. On the other hand, most of the information and data from the lengthy part of the video suggests that we didn't necessarily get here just because of the housing crisis. We got here because of a series of decisions over a 20-year period, policy decisions that changed, essential essentially, the infrastructure of our taxation system and that's made it difficult to make the investments we need it make in public education.

Ted Simons: Policy decisions at play here?

Jack Lunsford: Absolutely, absolutely. And to take off what penny said, Dennis Hoffman, from ASU, spoke to our annual meeting in economic forecast this morning, and actually it's 30 years of decisions where we've winnowed away the revenue stream and in some aspects it was an attack on supply side economics because we weren't able to hold spending for a variety of reasons and we continued to cut revenue. And now we're in that situation. So we can't now retract and hold all of that spending back while the revenues have gone down more than the expenditures.

Ted Simons: We're hearing talk from the legislature, again, more income tax cuts. The corporate taxes are separate and apart, but as far as income tax cuts, there's a plan to cut them further.

Rich Crandall: We have to deal with the hand we're dealt. Because of turnover you have 20-30 new legislators every year out of 90. Over a six-year period, almost complete turnover. My first year as house education chair, I'm dealt a specific set of details, parameters, things I can work with. What can I do, working bipartisan and with the community and what can I do to get education moving in the right direction. Boy, there's great opportunities we have this session.

Ted Simons: It sounded like the video that Arizona's leaders are simply not making the right decisions to improve the state. Valid?

Rich Crandall: In the past, yes. After next Monday, no.

Ted Simons: What happens next Monday?

Rich Crandall: Therefore, been several lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans and business groups and foundations that have been working for the last years, on wholesale education reform. The majority of them will be heard a week from Monday in the house education committee.

Ted Simons: Give us a taste.

Rich Crandall: One the biggest problems that Arizona has, we give our high school graduation exam sophomore year and the majority of students pass it had. If you passed your high school graduation exams sophomore year, what would you do junior and senior years? Slack off.

Ted Simons: Does that sound like a strong idea?

Penny Kotterman: One of the things that came out of the forums that the AIMS test is not sufficient for what we need in terms of data to measure student progress. Another very strong viewpoint that came from the group, in both of two forums we held so far, we have to look at assessments differently. We have to look at building assessment systems and data systems from pre-K through university and even potentially to track people after they get into the workforce so we can make decisions along the way. And the whole idea using assessment for measuring growth and gain and giving teachers in classrooms real time data they can use to make instructional decisions are powerful recommendation that is came from the forums as well.

Ted Simons: Are you hearing from the legislative package, throughout Monday, that perhaps AIMS is on its way out and should it be?

Jack Lunsford: The answer to the second question is probably yes. But that doesn't mean we just ignore an exam. We need to have some kind of exam for our students. And I think the business community wants accountability. And they want it through assessment. And -- but I think if we have homogenous look at assessment, that's problematic because we don't have a homogenous product coming in the stream and it's hard to assess what the quality of that product is coming out.

Ted Simons: Is that a problem of coordination and cooperation within the community? A problem there?

Jack Lunsford: I think it is, and one of the things I said in the forum, I looked to the educators and said, the business community is not your enemy. And I looked to the business people and said, the -- the teachers are not your enemy. We have to all be in this game together to raise the educational attainment of our students because that's our economic future.

Penny Kotterman: We have to change the conversation from the end point being the assessment to the assessment being a tool that we use to measure the success and progress not only of a system, but of individual teachers and students and you don't do all of that with one test. That's our biggest mistake. We've made the assumption we can build one assessment and use it for everything. To rate students and teachers and it doesn't work that way so you'll hear a lot of educators talking about real accountability in terms of multiple assessments used for the right things and under the right circumstances and most of the education reform movements out there nationally are doing exactly the same thing.

Rich Crandall: An important point, Penny, you're right, the AIMS exam, there's a place for it. I have confidence in the third through eighth grade portion of that. The 10th grade, is where you'll see the most reform and you have issues with third grade. We'll talk about that in a minute.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about it right now.

Rich Crandall: The governor mentioned it in the state of the state. A child who fails -- a child in Arizona who fails third grade reading, AIMS, has a 90% of still moving. Actually, a little bit higher. That same child who fails later, we don't hold children back. There's no consequence for failing your third grade AIMS exam. Florida, put in a consequence, and their reading scores went through the roof.

Ted Simons: If you hold kids back at the third grade level, by the time they get to teen years, they're the kids who were held back and I've seen studies the opinion that say the kids held back at younger grades wind up doing worse once they get to the impressionable teenage years because of stigma.

Rich Crandall: You have to do it right, if you hold a student back just to hold them back and make them go through third grade again, it will fail every time. Instead of being off by sophomore year like this, you're at the same level.

Penny Kotterman: I'm not certain I agree we never hold kids back. We do. But the decisions that are made to hold a child back in a particular grade are usually made jointly between the teachers and parents and I think if you take the parents out of this -- the parents out of this situation, you're making a mistake. Very often it's the parents who will push to have their kids moved on. Sometimes when they're not perhaps not ready to do so. As Jack said earlier, every kid doesn't come into third grade equal and they're not going to leave equal. It's the support systems you put in place that will cause reading achievement to go up. I taught reading for a number of years and you'll get a classroom of 30 kids and you're not going to get them to the same place. But you can move toward proficiency and that's where teachers need data on a real time basis so they can deal with the strategies on the spot and if we're going to say you're not getting out of third grade if you don't pass the test, which I'm not excited about, as a state, we better be prepared to invest in the strategies and support systems that will not create social stigma or emotional drain and give our kids the skills that are necessary for them to be successful.

Jack Lunsford: If the teacher has come forward and said, look, Johnny or Susie is having difficulty and probably shouldn't be promoted and in conversation with the parent, the agreement is to promote, that didn't negate the need for intervention that's a cost of education that we need to recognize and implement. My oldest daughter, was a fifth grade teacher and not teaching anymore. She was featured here on "Horizon" with Arizona town hall about why do teachers leave the profession, and talked about those issues where we want parents involved. I think you called it the helicopter parents. That's a great term. But if the parents are in denial because Johnny and Susie should be moving on or fearful of the stigma, we do need the intervention.

Rich Crandall: It's not like we're the first state to do this. Our two largest school districts, Mesa and Tucson, just over this last year, 2500 third graders fail the AIMS exam, the reading portion. 83 of them were held back. 2400 kids who couldn't read one bit still moved forward. And in fourth grade too. They're moving through the system is what the stats say. Let me finish --

Penny Kotterman: They're not making proficiency.

Rich Crandall: We've catching up with other students have proven to be successful.

Penny Kotterman: I don't know if I would consider that success. I have family in Florida and they're far from magical. They have increased assessment scores but not by creating a high stakes third grade exam. The notion that you say they're failing if they're not meeting proficiency because there are four levels in the AIMS exam and kids could be very, very close and you wouldn't want to hold a kid back who was very, very close. You have to have judgment in a case like that.

Rich Crandall: You're right --

Penny Kotterman: And you might not want to hold those kids back so a system that looks at multiple factors is incredibly important in this kind of discussion. It can't just be about the test score.

Ted Simons: I want to get back to funding for education and what we're talking about here regarding stigma and societal attitudes. When society in general hears that Arizona is cutting, cutting, cutting education, how are we going to get parents to be reminded what a priority education is, what it seems like, according to some, not a priority to the state.

Rich Crandall: Our top 15-20% of students and they may be of helicopter parents, our top 15-20% can hang with any other student in the world. We know that. Our bottom 20%, are about the same as bottom 20% in the other states. That middle percentage is where we are failing. We have no incentives 7th through 12th grade for a student to want to move through the system.

Ted Simons: What do we do? How do we get that middle group ratcheted higher?

Jack Lunsford: A couple things. First, the legislature's referral to the ballot of additional revenue for the state that they did today was extremely important. I -- I think it's a little late, I would hope they would have done this with the majority of both -- you know, both houses, but that's a step. Because -- because that goes to education and public safety and healthcare and those are the places we need to put the money. The second thing is that the standards that we've talked about in this state, I don't think anybody denies we need standards. But the question is is what is the -- the alliance of those standards with really what is necessary? And let me give you a quick example. When my oldest daughter was graduating from high school and taking all the prerequisites to go to whatever fine college she was going to go to and she was in advanced geology and said, I want to be a dancer. Why do I need to know the tangent of anything? I'm going to do a kick. And I said, at least you know the relationship of the angle of your leg going up in the air. And we need that correlation of what's in the classroom to what we're testing and business needs to also get with an understanding, and I'll say it again, that -- that is not a homogenous population coming in the door.

Ted Simons: Quick comment from each of you on this. Have we hit a point where education is at a crossroads? Where something needs to be done and if it's not done, we're going to be left behind? Are we there?

Penny Kotterman: I think so. I believe that we are in a great place, actually, in Arizona. We can make really good investments and really profound decisions about the direction we go with assessment. About the investment we're willing to make in the long term in our K-12 and university systems. And we can make a difference. Or we can continue on this sort of status quo mentality of suck it up, cut where you have to and try to ratchet the test scores no matter what. And if we stay there, we're in deep trouble for the kids in the 21st Century.

Jack Lunsford: 40 students in classrooms in high schools, upper 30s in junior high, even as high in the mid 20s in kindergarten. That's not acceptable. So are we at a crisis? Yes, and will parents begin to recognize that? If they don't now, they will soon.

Ted Simons: Are we at a crossroads, will parents recognize it, will lawmakers recognize it?

Rich Crandall: It's interesting to see, we're at such a crisis that the majority of these bills dropped on Monday have extreme bipartisan support. Both sides recognize it. If we don't -- if we stay status quo, we'll be passed by not just 49 other states but literally the rest of the world. We have the pieces in place, but have to figure out how to adjust it. We've had problems with AIMS. Why only this year is there something being done about it?

Ted Simons: We'll stop it there, great discussion. Thanks for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Rich Crandall:Chairman of the House Education Committee Representative;Jack Lunsford: President and CEO, Westmarc; John Wright, Arizona Education Association;

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