Monday, February 16, 2015

Arizona Has No Concept of a "Conflict of Interest"

Last Friday, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber resigned from office because of allegations that he used his influence to get employment for his fiancee. In Arizona, such conflicts of interest would not even raise an eyebrow. A few years back, Arizonans saw the Chairperson of the State Charter School Board award a charter to a non-profit foundation (which was really K12 Inc., the online school provider), then be hired by the foundation to head the Arizona Virtual Academy, and then be hired by K12 Inc. as a vice-president for something-or-other. She continues to occupy the latter two posts.

Arizona simply doesn't recognize things called conflicts of interest. I could list dozens concerning public education. A staff member the Board of Regents once told me that in Arizona if you declare your connections, then you can no longer be accused of having a conflict of interest. Perhaps this qualifies as some minimal level of ethical behavior.

A new flagrant conflict of interest has just become apparent to me. A man named Greg Miller is president of the Arizona State Board of Education. There is also a man named Greg Miller who is CEO of Challenge Charter School in Glendale, AZ, a suburb of Phoenix. Matching up photos of the Board president and the charter CEO leaves no doubt that these two individuals are one in the same Greg Miller. Mr. Miller, a civil engineer for 25 years, founded Challenge Charter School in the late 1990s and for a while served as principal. His current title is CEO. Mrs. Pam Miller, his wife, once served on a school board; the Challenge Charter Schools website lists no current duties for Mrs. Miller. But daughter Wendy Miller was appointed Principal of Challenge Charter School the same year in which she earned her MBA.

Challenge Charter School Inc. is registered as a non-profit organization so it must file an IRS 990 form, which is publicly available. Here's what that form shows as salaries of the top management for 2013.

Greg Miller, the CEO of a school "system" with about 650 students, is being compensated to the tune of $145,000 annually. His wife receives the same salary, though her duties are never enumerated at the website and her position is only described as "Executive Director/Vice-PR," whatever Vice-PR is. The Miller's daughter Wendy, who has degrees in Public Administration and Business, receives a salary of more than $120,000 for acting as Principal/Secretary. Basically, the Miller family, while working assiduously 60 hours a week each as reported on their IRS form, is taking about $425,000 a year out of the coffers for salary. This nepotism and "business" attitude of the founders has not been lost on the disgruntled parents who have reviewed the school online.

Challenge Charter School portrays itself as a highly academic school, claiming to be Arizona's first official Core Knowledge school. Like many charter schools of its ilk, the appeal of this heavy academic focus seems to wane quickly in the eyes of parents. Enrollments drop from more than 100 in 1st grade to fewer than 50 in grade 6. As with many charter schools advertising themselves as "academic" in diverse communities, Challenge Charter School is contributing to racial and socio-economic segregation in the Glendale community. The enrollment of Challenge Charter is almost 85% White and Asian, where as the enrollment of Canyon Elementary, a traditional public school just 12 blocks distant, is 70% White and Asian. But more strikingly, Canyon Elementary has 40% of its 400 student eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch, while Challenge Charter has less than half that percentage.

Crony capitalism, conflicts of interest, charter schools lining the pockets of amateur entrepreneurs, "quasi-private" schools being operated at public expense, an increasingly segregated state school system ... it's just education reform Arizona style.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Arizona Education Politics Getting Weirder and Weirder

It all started when Doug Ducey won the governor's race last November. Ducey, who cut his political teeth as a student at Arizona State University editing the campus newspaper, made his millions in the ice cream business (Cold Stone Creamery). Immediately upon taking office he instituted a hiring freeze and promised to increase school choice. That same mid-term election saw a virtual unknown Republican school board member, Diane Douglas, defeat ASU Education professor David Garcia for the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Douglas vowed to dump Common Core on grounds of its being federal intrusion into a state responsibility, but policy had nothing to do with her victory; if you had an R behind your name in the mid-term election, you won.

Two days ago, Douglas fired two of the top administrators of the State Board of Education -- Executive Director and Asst. Executive Director. It's not hard to imagine why; they were far down the road of installing the Common Core in Arizona schools. Although Douglas is ex officio member of the State Board, the Governor questioned whether she had the authority to hire these two persons and he reinstated them. Yesterday, the whole business erupted in a public fight between Ducey and Douglas over whether the latter has the authority to fire people in her department. After a prayer breakfast Thursday morning, the Governor was barely out the door before he gave reporters an insincere piece of his mind: "[I'm] sorry she chose to go down that path." Douglas shot back. Ducey, she said, is establishing a "shadow faction of charter school operators and former state superintendents [referring to Lisa Graham Keegan who supported Douglas's opponent in the election] who support Common Core and moving funds from traditional public schools to charter schools."

Score +1 for Douglas for speaking the truth. The Arizona Senate has moved forward quickly in this session to support the privatization of K-12 education. The Senate education committee has already approved bills that would 1) award vouchers (at 90% state per pupil expenditure) to any student whose application has been turned down to open enroll in a public school or a charter school within 25 miles of their home, and 2) award a voucher to any student on an Indian reservation. Clearly the Republicans are flexing their muscles after the November victory; such radical pro-voucher legislating has never before made it into law in Arizona. Perhaps this is the year.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Leonard Waks Explains How Most Education Reformers Operate

I don't think that Leonard Waks blogs. But he posted a long message on his Facebook page that really captures so much of the madness that currently masquerades as education reform. In the interest of promulgating his message, I have reproduced his post below — without asking him and without his permission. (Who could possibly object to having their thoughts shared far and wide?) What Waks argues here is that the modus operandi of education reform is not unique to education, but in fact is a strategy for effecting change in many other areas of modern life. Just to be clear; what follows is not my writing, but I agree with all of the ideas expressed.
Leonard Waks writes:

Most of my professional energy over the last fifty years has been devoted to attacking educational tyranny. There is a pattern in this form of tyranny.

First, a crisis is manufactured. The nation is at risk. The sky is falling. None of this is innocent; there are interests pushing crisis - those who will profit from it either by gaining bureaucratic power or commercial profit. Next, the situation is grossly oversimplified. We are committing educational suicide because our test scores are falling. (In the education case, the data were simply misinterpreted - our always low test scores were actually rising). So we fall into simplistic thinking where a single criterion variable is substituted for a balanced picture about what education should achieve.

Next a magic bullet solution is found - involving a direct approach to that single variable. The problem is test scores, so we will impose a test-prep and standardized test regime. All thinking is then reduced to "what works". My friends in the educational research community will remember how the department of education rejected all research proposals that were not about "what works" - and what works = what raises test scores.

The solution may have some impact on the criterion variable - test scores may go up. In some cases the data is simply falsified to make believe that they do.

Then a coercive regime is imposed where every school district and teacher is compelled to fall into line. Test prep galore. No child left behind = do what we mandate or lose your funding - and for teachers, do what we mandate or lose your job.

There are costs. The most significant costs are that in a test-prep environment, thinking, productive struggle, self-directed learning, teacher-student cooperative projects, the arts, and the pleasure of learning get eliminated from the curriculum. These are, however, the factors that matter most in education.

The costs, however, are mere "side effects" that are not measured. We have a single criterion of evaluation - test scores. So when the question arises about the true costs of the test-prep regime, no one knows. This is educational tyranny, and it is prevalent.

Now I do not want to make a strict analogy with the vaccine war, but I do want to call attention to some parallels. We start with a manufactured crisis. We have 100 active cases today. People might remember the Ebola crisis. We had, if i am not mistaken, zero fatalities. The crisis is not innocent - again there are powerful interests in play. (A note: I do not know the ages of the affected, or whether they had already been vaccinated. Age matters, because for older people measles is a nasty business).

Second, the situation is grossly oversimplified. We have to wipe out this deadly scourge.

Third, a magic bullet is found. vaccines "work". And no child can be left behind.

A single criterion variable is used - in this case the reduction in cases of the childhood diseases (MMR).

A coercive regime is then put in place to assure that everyone is compliant.

As in the education case, the vaccine regime has at least potential costs. For example, vaccine immunity is temporary while natural immunity from the disease is permanent. So those who get the vaccine have less (or no) immunity as adults, when, unlike in childhood, the disease is really nasty.

Some data suggests that measles is now more concentrated among adults.

The vaccine dissenters hypothesize that in addition those who have gone through the childhood diseases have better general immunity and are less susceptible to other adult diseases ranging from MS to cancer.

With the single variable approach - the reduction in the childhood diseases - no studies are made of such "side effects" as compromised adult immunity. If we ask about the costs, the answer is 'who knows?'

So to make my own position clear: I am not anti-vaccine. I am totally for the tetanus vaccine - which actually provides better long term immunity than the disease itself. I am for the polio vaccine - because polio was a really nasty business - I saw my friends dropping like flies in the summers of the 1950s, and saw the vaccine wiping polio out.

I am not a dissenter on the MMR vaccine. But I don't know enough to endorse it wholeheartedly. I want to know more about it's long term effects.

What am i against? The pattern of manufactured crisis, gross oversimplification, single variable 'science', magic bullet solutions, and coercive implementation.

~Leonard Waks

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.