Sunday, March 29, 2015

Razing Arizona

The Arizona Capitol Times last week ran an op-ed from a concerned citizen who wants to stick up for the beleaguered common core standards. Rebecca Hipps bills herself as a descendant of some of Arizona's founding families, and as such, she doesn't want the pioneer spirit to be damaged by the ejection of CCSS.

Hipps is not actually in Arizona. According to her LinkedIn profile, she spent her first three post-college years in three different teaching jobs before heading to DC, where she has worked for the DC Common Core Collaborative, a charter school, Teach Plus, and O'Dell Education, an outfit that appears to specialize in the manufacture and sales of Core-related programs and PD. They were founded by Judson O'Dell, who was Dean of Students at a university in Argentina before coming to work at the College Board and Educational Testing Service. That's Hipps' current employer, so her love for the Core is not exactly a surprise.

When she discusses her fears about the core ditchery that Arizona is contemplating, she says this:

My greatest fear in Arizona repealing the CCSS is that poorly developed standards with a hidden agenda will take its place.

Yes, yes, I can see how one would worry that schools would be commandeered by a set of standards developed by educational amateurs and pushed forward with an agenda of opening up public schools to private corporations or cracking open and unifying markets for publishing companies. Seriously-- "poorly developed standards with a hidden agenda" is as good a description of the common core standards as anyone has ever written. It's as if for a split second Hipps forgot which side she's paid to be on.

Her list of reasons that Arizona students need the Core is the usual boilerplate. Critical thinking, writing, reading, mathematical reasoning-- because apparently Arizona teachers are currently unaware of these things. Hipps is afraid that without the Core, Arizona teachers will slide back to some lesser land of educational inadequacy.

Given Hipps' concern for Arizona education, it's curious that she doesn't mention one of Arizona's other outstanding educational features-- leadership in frequent and brutal cuts to education budgets in the entire country. Arizona has cut public ed spending steadily since the late oughts, and they rank 50th in college per-student spending. It's a wonder that Hipps did not bring this up, as it would seem that Arizona is a poster child for spending bottom dollar on education and getting bottom dollar results.

At least Hipps is able to speak out at all. Arizona's teachers, superintendents, principals and school board members have spoken up about the slash and burn methods of their state leaders, and the state leader response has been to float a law that will require them to shut up.

Arizona lawmakers have attached an amendment to Senate Bill 1172. It prohibits "an employee of a school district or charter school, acting on the district's or charter school's behalf, from distributing electronic materials to influence the outcome of an election or to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation."

On the one hand, it's a good idea that Mrs. O'Teacher not give her class an hour of self-directed worksheets while she stuffs envelopes for the new ballot initiative. On the other hand, there's that whole First Amendment thing. And the law is so broadly worded that I imagine a citizen asking a school district employee, "I'm really worried about the new proposed law cutting all money to public schools. Will that hurt our programs here," and said school employee must reply, by law, "I cannot share any information about that with you." Other critics of the bill fear that it would even prohibit any discussion of educational programs that directly affect children with those children's parents.

And while I'm not concerned, exactly, I am curious-- would this law also prohibit charter schools from advertising?

The law is clearly one more attempt to push educators out of the political world. No more informational letters to parents and voters. No more taking a public stand against assaults on school funding by the governor and legislators. Presumably no teacher or administrator in Arizona could write a response to Hipps' op-ed-- at least not with any indication that they were writing their response from the perspective of a public educator.

In other words, Arizona educators can use their professional judgement and expertise-- they just can't let anybody know that they have any, or share what it leads them to conclude. Note that the law doesn't make any distinction between advocacy based on facts and that based on political preferences.

In New Jersey, charter operators have been trying to shut down Rutgers researcher Julia Sass Rubin, whose research has been embarrassing charter operators and the government buddies with the use of actual facts and fully-supported data. Their argument in NJ has been that Rubin shouldn't be allowed to mention her credentials-- in other words, she can share her data without explaining why it should be given credence.

But that's reformsterism, and as Hipps' plaintive cry for the Core and the amendment's inclusion of charters might indicate, Arizona's leadership is not so much pro-reform as it is just plain anti-public education. Hell, even DFER is on their case (turns out that Arizona has little money for schools, but lots for prisons). New governor Doug Ducey (previous job-- CEO of Cold Stone Creamery) has shown no interest in continuing the reformy policies of his predecessor Jan Brewer.

Governor Ducey (whose children attend Catholic school) was plain as day at his inauguration that tax hikes are verbotten and that all of Arizona's financial problems come from spending money poorly, not spending too little. He likes school choice, but has not explained how that will work, particularly if all the choices are brutally underfunded. But then, he seems to admire the model of such no-government paradises as Somalia; it would seem that school choice is not so important as making sure that all schools are underfunded and unregulated. This is all more than a little ironic-- have you ever been in a Cold Stone Creamery? Workers there are regulated down to how they must talk and behave for the customers, and franchise owners must spend enough money to do things properly.

Why, out of this whole constellation of issues, Hipps would find the possible ejection of Common Core to be most alarming and troubling is, given her employment history, not exactly a puzzle. But even from way over here in Pennsylvania, I can see that dumping a bad set of amateur-created standards is the least of Arizona's worries. Let's just hope that the people who can identify those problems are still allowed to talk about them.


  1. "The law is clearly one more attempt to push educators out of the political world."

    What a pity there are no laws attempting to push wrongheaded, meddling politicians out of the education world.

  2. Yes, as educators in Arizona we are treated every day to large doses of chain-jerking. Gubner Privatize has had a barrel of fun since taking office and his education side-kick is our own Queen of "Put the Money in the Backpack", Lisa Graham Keegan. I could go on and on with the dollar for dollar swap our state has made between schools/universities and prisons, but suffice it to say that orange is the new diploma in Arizona. And, bless her pure and caring heart, Ms. Keegan is dismayed that we won't be able to teach phonics in our schools if CC is repealed.
    As far as the "gag the teachers" bill, I can't wait to see that one in court. And the only reason to give a crap about whether CC comes or it goes is that it's another chain-jerk for teachers to mess with it. I kind of hope they vote to ditch it so that Gubner Privatize has to squirm when he signs it knowing that his "business" allies and the lovely Queen don't want him to. Never a dull moment here, particularly when our legislative goof-balls are doing their job!
    Love your blog it.

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  4. SB1172, Letter C, Line1-5: "An employee of a school district or charter school who is acting as an agent of or working in an official capacity for the school district or charter school may not GIVE PUPILS written materials to influence the outcome of an election or to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation." ............. Those 2 words really change the tone of the bill, doesn't it?

  5. Hi Peter, I always appreciate opposing viewpoints as they challenge my own thinking. Just to clarify, I am currently employed by DC Public Schools. I worked for the organizations you listed as an independent contractor, briefly. Your point about funding in Arizona is really important- I think it gets at the root of Arizona's problems in education. I chose to focus this article on the CCSS because of the pending decision at the time of publishing. I was actually unaware of the legislation passed to silence educators. I think that putting teachers on the front line of reform is essential, and it is outraging that Arizona is trying to put a gag order on those in the best position to make decisions for our field. Thank you for bringing light to the situation.