Education Report

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Center for Education and Workforce recently released a report on the status of education in all 50 states. The report grades states and the District of Columbia on the effectiveness of their K-12 educational system in 11 areas, identifying the leaders and laggards. Arizona Education Association president Andrew Morrill presents an opposing view to the report.

Ted Simons: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Center For Education and Workforce recently released a study on the status of education in all 50 states. The report gives letter grades to k-12 systems, identifying states as education leaders and laggards. Here now to discuss the report is Arizona Education Association president Andrew Morrill. Good to see you again.

Andrew Morrill: Thanks for having me on.

Ted Simons: This report, we've talked about this before on the show, but in general, overall academic achievement, this is basically an indictment on Arizona public schools. What do you take from it?

Andrew Morrill: It's probably more useful to talk about it as being helpful where and unhelpful where? Where does this report shed some light on things here in Arizona? It does represent kind of a giant disconnect because we don't really need a U.S. report that tells us what the challenges are here. On the other hand, it is always beneficial to hear from the business community what their expectations of schools are, what's on their minds. We have that in Arizona here with the Arizona business and education coalition, a little closer to home. On the other hand, you know, nobody is issuing this kind of report where it would do the most good, for our 60,000 classroom teachers in Arizona who are now trying to teach standards that the business community wanted. That would be a good report.

Ted Simons: This report and it's chamber of commerce here. Not too surprising when we find return on investment regarding the high achievement relative to state spending, they gave the state a B. As far as parental options, charter schools, tax scholarship programs and such, gave the state an A. And yet achievement, all up and down the line whether you're ready for the workforce or ready for secondary, bad grades, C and lower. Again, what are we supposed to take from this considering it was a chamber of commerce report?

Andrew Morrill: I think you see the tracings of an agenda, even in the introduction of the report there is a disclaimer that says we're not trying to forward any particular policy pieces. At the same time the report grades states higher, not only for a lot of choice options, but if there's money directed to help parents with those choice options so if I'm giving your state points on a scale for certain things being present, then I think we can say that I value those things and I would recommend them. There's a push for alternative certification under teacher quality. The problem is many forms of alternative certification lead to rapid exits from folks after two or three years in the classroom because they find out they're not prepared. There's a push for charter schools, which is great. We have some good charter schools in the state of Arizona. We also have some that are struggling every year and there are national reports that say that charter school students don't gain anything over their district counterparts.

Ted Simons: Is there no worth at all in these ratings from this particular report?

Andrew Morrill: I think one of the advantages of this report is it gives you multiple indicators and allows you to zero in. Yes, there's a particular letter grade sort of offered in summation, but there are a lot of different data points and probably it's worthwhile to look at some of those individually, but you can't look at the letter grade. You have to go into the assumptions that drove those.

Ted Simons: As far as this report is concerned, any reports that looks at everything from academic achievement to low-income minority achievement, return on investment, postsecondary, what kind of a report do you want to see?

Andrew Morrill: I think that teachers in this state would love a report that says you are behind the Arizona college and career ready standards, you have accepted those as a workforce, we know they're presenting challenges. Guess what? We're going to do some research. We're going to put as much money into a report on the top 10 methodologies for teachers, the top 10 ways to make ends meet because we are the state with the largest education funding cuts. How about uses of technology and resources? Let's put the chamber to work helping educators teach the standards that chambers all over the country have promoted in the standards here.

Ted Simons: So when they say that poor job preparing to compete in a global economy, international competitiveness got a d, that's pretty bad. What do we take from that? What can the establishment say, you may not be education specialists, but they see global preparedness and they think it's a d.

Andrew Morrill: You're not going to find out in the report because there's not a road map to improved practice and if you look at the goals that led to the writing of the report in the first place as the chamber characterized them, you don't get a lot of ideas in any of the report that I've seen as to how to get to those goals. What you see is an agenda that we've heard before from the chamber.

Ted Simons: It's interesting you mentioned agenda because if the agenda is more charter schools, more programs, a better return on investment, all of which got good grades, but all of the results aren't very good, that sounds like it's an indictment on the good grades.

Andrew Morrill: More than one person has said that if choice options really improved an entire education system, Arizona would know it by now.

Ted Simons: Why doesn't Arizona know it?

Andrew Morrill: There's more to a complex education base structure, system, over a million students, Arizona has a very high-needs population. We have a number of students struggling. This report didn't really want to take a look at the close association of socioeconomics and what students bring with them from home into schools and that's okay. We would like them to be honest about that and say there are impacts on an education system that may be beyond our ability to assess, they were beyond our scope and really as all research shows, teachers struggle with those things every day.

Ted Simons: They did mention that achievement for low-income minority students, was a D. Only 15% of 4th graders proficient at reading. It sounds like the report wasn't as comprehensive as you would like to see it or as involved and yet it is a bit of a warning flag, is it not?

Andrew Morrill: Well listen, we don't need a report from any national entity to tell us that we have issues here. We have a teacher shortage of terrible proportions. We've had over 500 positions open right now, according to superintendents, who are looking to fill those positions this late into the school year.

Ted Simons: Why is that?

Andrew Morrill: We've got educators who can't afford to stay in the profession, we are overusing and misusing standardized test scores in a way that teachers don't even recognize the profession they trained for, we have created an evaluation system that is a better disincentive than it is an actual instrument of performance and this very shaky three-legged stool is ushering some of our greatest teachers out of the profession.

Ted Simons: Wasn't that three-legged stool, as shaky as it is, wasn't it constructed because in the past these kinds of reports have come out, these kinds of results have shown something needs to be done. Someone figured they had to make something.

Andrew Morrill: It's a shaky stool, but we've been cutting the legs out of the funding leg pretty well and you take one leg away, you have real problems. The widget effect released a few years ago challenged educators to come up with an evaluation system that really described teacher performance in a helpful way, but it did not contain the massive punishments that Arizona policy has heaped onto that. There's a good example of where a report offered something productive, and then in the policy arena, the consequences became very different.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask, regardless of how you feel about this particular report, what difference does it really make? Are policy makers paying attention? Are they off on their own agenda? Is it education establishment on its own agenda? Are the trains ever meeting anywhere?

Andrew Morrill: I have a feeling that candidates in an election year are very selective about who they're talking to and there are a lot of calculations going on about who they're talking to and why and who they're listening to. We can expect a very dynamic legislative session in 2015 and I believe you will see some policies launched as a result of studies like these. The trick would be to dedicate as much time, resource and energy into studying what's going on in Arizona and focus our attention on the educators who most need the help.

Ted Simons: Okay. I'm the chamber of commerce here, I'm the U.S. chamber of commerce. I come to you and I say I understand you're not crazy with my study. Help me with my next study.

Andrew Morrill: Let's do a study on the most effective practices to elevate student achievement to the standards we now have. Let's do a study on the impacts of funding public education well and job creation because all we've heard for 25 legislative sessions is tax cuts create jobs. It hasn't worked. If that worked, we would know about that, as well. There are studies that suggest that you create more jobs and build a stronger state economy with a slow, study increase in funding of our public schools. Let's look at that relationship.

Ted Simons: And for critics who say education funding has increased over the years and we're still not seeing the results, you say...

Andrew Morrill: It turns out that the number of students has increased in our system. It turns out their needs have increased and the expectations on our schools have increased right along with the funding increases that have come from bits and pieces, but not really comprehensively.

Ted Simons: All right. Always good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Andrew Morrill: Thank you so much.

Andrew Morrill:President, Arizona Education Association;

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