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Arizona Schools: Why We’re Failing as a Country

Joseph Warren, Editor

Throwing more money at a failed system. Proposition 123 barely passed this last election. What is Prop 123? It’s a poorly conceived idea by our Republican governor to offset the probable consequences of litigation that has been pending for some time whereby our legislature has, purportedly, underfunded our public schools system. To offset this legislative failure, Governor Ducey pushed Proposition 123 to (eventually) empty out the state’s trust fund - something that many argue ought not to happen. As a result on June 30, $191 million will be paid out to our schools.

What will happen with the money? According to all sources it will be used to pay bonuses and raises to existing staff. In Kingman (Kingman Unified School District #20, or KUSD) that will likely be the case, as well.

Bonuses? Typically a bonus is something used in private sector to reward achieved results that are above a stated goal. It’s usually not something doled out to those who perform to a less than poor level. In Education we might imagine that a bonus, as incongruous as it seems in this context, might be tied to the academic performance of our children who attend public schools.

AZMerit testing results are in for Arizona’s schools. They paint a less than bleak picture of academics in Kingman and throughout the state, for that matter. This testing system replaced the earlier, much loathed AIMS tests. It was supposed to be more relational. That is, AZMerit would tell us more accurately how well our students were doing compared to the rest of the state, and thus the nation.

Under the prior testing scheme KUSD always ranked at or below the statewide average, and well-below the national average. The results for AZMerit are reflective of the same poorly focused educational system.

As an example, Lee Williams High School’s most recent results for Math showed a 23% Pass rate. In other words, 77% of students Failed the test. In English Language Arts, 30% Passed, while 70% Failed.

Could it get any worse than that? Yes it can: For Kingman High School, just 13% Passed the Math component while only 16% Passed English Language Arts. The Arizona Republic, like many other resources following the test results release, has a searchable database here.

It begs the question: Why would either or both raises and bonuses be paid to a school district’s staff and administration where not even a simple majority of the district’s children can pass the statewide accepted measure for academic success?

And it’s nothing new, as we mentioned above. During 2009 this same school district received a total of $7,578,563 in Economic Stimulus payments, in addition to their regularly-received State support, Federal Special Programs and Grants payments. In that same year they reduced teaching staff by 20 full time teachers. In 2012 another 17 teachers lost their jobs. There may have been more job losses, but back then when we made inquiry, we did not receive a response from the district’s administrator, Roger Jacks, regarding current levels in both teaching and administrative positions. (You’ll note that no reductions apparently were made to administrative staff, only classroom teachers, resulting in a consolidation of students and the resultant ratio of student-to-teacher of 36-to-1.) The school district’s graduation rate ranges between 50% to 67% and during that period continually scored below average on all tests, such as Stanford 10 and Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards or AIMS, now the AZMerit.

Mathematically, in the case of Kingman High School, test scores would have been higher had the students been instructed to not read the questions and arbitrarily pick a multiple choice answer. Is it time for KUSD’s Roger Jacks and staff to be replaced? It certainly isn’t time to pay a bonus...

It’s the same story across the USA: We have learned to tolerate mediocrity and accepted our fate as a Third World nation, economically and educationally. According to the most recent Pew research, we rank 14th of the the top 40, and we’re falling further every year. We’re 44th in Health Care Efficiency. And, of greatest significance, per IPSOS Mori, we’re the Second Most Ignorant Country, just behind Italy, regarding our own Social conditions. In other words, we don’t see the writing on the wall. Perhaps, owing to our educational failings, it’s because we can’t read them.