Douglas: “state of education in Arizona is poor”

douglasArizona’s educrats in both the charter and traditional public school spheres bristled as the newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Diane Douglas, spoke truth to power yesterday in her State of Education speech before the Arizona House of Representatives. Douglas said what everyone has known for sometime: “The current state of education in Arizona is poor.”

As the Arizona Education Association scrambles to hang onto the failing status quo, and school choice proponents offer up privatization as a panacea, neither side wants to admit that on almost every level – from funding to the colleges of education- our K-12 students are being deprived of a quality education in too many traditional and charter schools.

Douglas laid it out is simple terms. “Arizona received a D+ and was ranked 47th overall. This is hardly news to Arizona’s parents or its education and business communities,” she said. “As a former school board member who has talked with countless parents and teachers and has visited innumerable classrooms, it isn’t news to me either.”

Douglas hit all the key points. She criticized “the unproven Common Core Standards, which came to Arizona as a de facto federal mandate―only to be renamed Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.” Douglas pointed out, “This is not the first time Arizona has changed its entire education system to reflect the latest fad, top-down approach, or cure-all sold as the solution for student achievement.”

Douglas advise the legislators that “the brand new, unproven, inaptly named AzMERIT test” will be rolled out “in the next 10 weeks. Make no mistake, that team and districts all across the state are working diligently to fulfill this mandate.”

She reiterated that the ADE will have had less that “less than half a year, to prepare a test for students at almost every grade level.” She admitted that “our precious children are being used as guinea pigs to advance some education agenda,” but stopped short of calling on the Legislature to provide parents the option to opt their children out of the testing. Instead she vaguely said, “I call on this Legislature and the Governor to stop the madness and put our children first.”

She addressed the issue of Tucson Unified School District’s divisive and ideological-based Ethnic Studies classes. “Teaching children by ethnicity is academic segregation, reinforcing in young minds that somehow we are different and separate from each other,” said Douglas. “These standards changes will allow children statewide to look at each other not by color or ethnicity, but as fellow Arizonans, respected for their own unique history and culture which has contributed to the state.”

Full text of speech:

Mr. Chairman and members of the House Education Committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today. It is my honor to address fellow elected officials who are focused on educating our children.

The current state of education in Arizona is poor.

Too many Arizona children are not receiving the education they deserve―one that will prepare them to contribute to our great state and nation as active citizens and allow them to pursue their dreams and ambitions.

Education Week recently released its annual “Quality Counts” report, which rates all 50 states on overall student achievement, students’ chances for success, and school finance policy.

Arizona received a D+ and was ranked 47th overall.

This is hardly news to Arizona’s parents or its education and business communities. As a former school board member who has talked with countless parents and teachers and has visited innumerable classrooms, it isn’t news to me either.

Challenges Facing Education in Arizona

Let me give you specific examples of the problems we face, here and now.

State Standards and Assessment

Our Arizona state standards were discarded and replaced with the unproven Common Core Standards, which came to Arizona as a de facto federal mandate―only to be renamed Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.

The continual disruption of standards, accountability, assessment, and educator evaluations has caused uncertainty and stress in the education community as well as among Arizona parents.

This is not the first time Arizona has changed its entire education system to reflect the latest fad, top-down approach, or cure-all sold as the solution for student achievement.

Common Core is just the latest, and it was implemented virtually without public communication, input or support. This constant roller coaster of dramatic changes has shifted the focus away from educating children and placed it on change for the sake of change itself.

Parents, students and teachers are exhausted and districts are broke from rewriting curricula and lesson plans every seven to ten years. Just as some stability is reached, everything is changed once again.

And now we will be subjecting our children to the brand new, unproven, inaptly named AzMERIT test―the name is the only thing Arizonan about the test―which was hastily chosen just 11 short weeks ago behind closed doors, once again without public discussion or vetting.

It was created by a self-identified, self-described behavioral and social research organization―not by education experts.

Our dedicated assessment staff at ADE has the daunting task of rolling out this new test in the next 10 weeks. Make no mistake, that team and districts all across the state are working diligently to fulfill this mandate.

A mere 21 weeks from adoption to implementation―let me repeat, 21 weeks, less than half a year, to prepare a test for students at almost every grade level. Once again, our precious children are being used as guinea pigs to advance some education agenda.

I call on this Legislature and the Governor to stop the madness and put our children first.

Graduation Rates and Success in College

Arizona’s education system also is lagging behind in graduation rates.

Graduation rates dipped slightly last year, with about 75 percent of students graduating in four years and just over 80 percent of students graduating in five years.

Sixty percent of high school graduates entering our community college system require remedial instruction. This delays their progress toward a degree, uses up much of their student loans and savings, and places an undue burden on the taxpayers funding this system.

Additionally, of the 50 percent of high school graduates who directly enter universities, less than 19 percent graduate from a four year institution within six years.

One third of high school graduates enter college, but leave without a degree. They bear the costs of an incomplete college education without receiving a degree to obtain better employment opportunities.

Teacher Recruitment and Retention

Arizona currently is unable to attract and retain high quality teachers for all students, and nearly one quarter of Arizona’s education workforce is eligible to retire within the next four years.

Additionally, new teachers are leaving the profession at alarming rates. In fact, 24 percent of first year and 20 percent of second year teachers in Arizona quit after the 2013-2014 school year.

Arizona’s average teacher salary is ranked 42nd in the nation and salaries are a major obstacle when recruiting outside Arizona.

Without experienced, highly effective teachers in every Arizona classroom, our students will struggle to succeed.

Our business community complains that Arizona graduates are not ready for the jobs of today much less the jobs of tomorrow. Every Arizona job should have a qualified Arizona graduate ready to fill that position.

However, merely training students for a job is insufficient. We must also provide them the civics education necessary to become successful citizens of our great state and nation.

Improving Arizona’s Education System

As Superintendent of Public Instruction, I will take an honest and realistic approach to addressing these issues.

Let me be clear―responsibility for the issues we are facing cannot be laid at the feet of any one person, board or organization.
We were not placed in our current situation by uncaring policy makers or educators.

I fully realize the strain that previous expenditures and tight budgets have placed on all involved. Our current fiscal environment does not make our job of putting education on the path to improvement any easier.

However, it is our duty to put our children ahead of ideology or trendy education theory.

Today, we start on a collaborative path so others will look to Arizona as an example of education excellence.

Continuous Improvement of Arizona Standards for Arizona Students

First, Arizona’s children deserve high standards in education.

I intend to establish an annual deliberative and ongoing process for standards review by a broad spectrum of Arizona classroom teachers, colleges, businesses and, yes, parents to ensure continuous improvement. It is long past time that we start asking parents what they expect for their children’s education rather than telling them what they must accept.

Our continual improvement process will allow us the flexibility to make whatever changes are needed―without asking permission from Washington, D.C. or seeking agreement from more than 40 other states.

We can make moderate changes in a transparent process each year. This will allow students and teachers to absorb changes without disruptions and without major costs to districts.

Support for Our Teachers

Standards and assessments cannot take the place of effective teachers connecting with individual children. Make no mistake, standardized and high stakes testing measure demographics, not student achievement or teacher performance.

For many children, the personal confidence shown in them by a caring teacher is something they will remember as a key moment in their life.

Our teachers’ content knowledge and skills must be built upon, rather than erased and replaced with new fads.

I know first-hand just how hard our teachers work and how much they care about their students. We must commit to work just as hard to support them.
We have an opportunity to build upon the teacher preparation programs that are training the next generation of Arizona educators. By enhancing the quality of these programs, we can positively impact teacher retention and work to stabilize the growing need for highly qualified teachers.

For many years teachers have been asking for additional support. I intend to listen and come to their aid.

Safe and Meaningful Education Data

Next as Superintendent, I will build on the information technology progress the Department of Education made during the previous administration.

Our first step is to complete accurate data systems. But data is not useful, unless it can be distributed to teachers as information they can actually use to improve classroom instruction.

In addition, I am committed to strengthening our data security. Every child should have their data collected only if necessary, and it should be protected with the care that parents expect and deserve.

Accurate and Inclusive Arizona History

Finally, all children should be taught accurate history, which requires the inclusion of the rich cultural heritage of Latino-Americans, African-Americans, Native Americans and every other group of immigrants who has come to Arizona and suffered through challenges and tribulations to make our state great.

As part of this effort, the department in the past has reached out to these communities for advice.

Now it is time to take this input to the next level. All ethnicities will be properly represented in history, language arts, music, civics and all other appropriate areas of study.

Teaching children by ethnicity is academic segregation, reinforcing in young minds that somehow we are different and separate from each other.
These standards changes will allow children statewide to look at each other not by color or ethnicity, but as fellow Arizonans, respected for their own unique history and culture which has contributed to the state.

Closing Remarks

Arizona will be a model and a leader in education. Today we will put away the failed tactics of the past and start Arizona on a road to excellence. This committee, this legislature, this Superintendent, the Governor, along with the dedicated educators, parents, and children across our state will look back and realize today was the turning point.

By fostering statewide collaboration and building new partnerships we will:
 Create high, academic Arizona standards for Arizona students through public meetings that accept input and provide feedback.
 Create accurate and inclusive history and civics standards to prepare students for citizenship.
 Protect personal, private student data while also protecting parental rights.

These efforts and a commitment to supporting the great teachers who work tirelessly for our students is the only way to move Arizona forward.

Of all the programs in the entire state, giving our children a world-class education should be the one thing we can all agree upon. The children of Arizona are our future.

I know everyone in this room cares about providing our children the best education. My commitment is to work tirelessly with all of you to achieve that goal. I look forward to the challenge. Those of us who went through the gauntlet of primaries and general elections did so for a purpose. To do what is right. To make a difference. Let’s impress the voters where it matters most ― helping our children be successful by any measure.

I take the confidence shown in me by the voters very seriously. I will not stop until we have the best education system in the nation―right here in Arizona.

Thank you again for this opportunity. I am deeply honored to work with all of you.

11 Comments

  1. aLL THEY ARE DOING WITH cOMMON cORE IS STUDYING TO PASS A TEST. tHEY ARE NOT LEARNING ANYTHING. tHE CLASSICS ARE GONE. tHEY ARE READING FOR INFORMATION ONLY. COMON CORE WAS JUST A WAY FOR SOME INDIVIDUALS TO MAKE A GREAT DEAL OF MONEY BY FORCING THE SCHOOLS TO PURCHASE THEIR MATERIALS. aS FAR AS THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE CONCERNED. tHE cHARTERS ARE DOING MUCH BETTER. tHROWING MONEY AFTER THE SCHOOLS IS NOT THE ANSWER, QUALITY NOT QUANTITY. FOR EXAMPLE WASHINGTON DC ACQUIRES MORE MONEY THAN ALL THE OTHER SCHOOL AND HAS THE WORSE RATING. SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS AT SOME SCHOOL MAKE OVER $100,000. tHE MONEY NEEDS TO GO TO THE CLASSROOM NOT ADMINISTRATORS. SCHOOLS DECADES AGO DID A MUCH BETTER JOB.

  2. Time to stop harping about funding and find out what is broken in the AZ education system. It has to be more then funding and the students that are the problem. Time to clean house instead of complaining.

  3. Private schools work. Increase funding to allow more to have access. us the tax dollars saved, and do something good to help the children.

  4. Arizona education sure has a lot finger pointing and politics from the teachers, school boards, administrators, politicians. Each are blaming someone else even though they all know that they are all the problem. Take politics out of the schools and focus on educating the students.

  5. it doesn’t matter what you learn – it’s what agenda it supports – they don’t have text books printed anymore – they are ‘in the cloud – like those of the people in the teaching system’ – don’t like what the book says next week, doesn’t fit with the agenda this week, just edit… tada tadays lesson plan is ready…

  6. Devilsown, teaching and education does not HAVE to be BORING. It can be fun, but for it to be so the educator/teacher must be someone who will take the effort/chance to get the kids attention. Too many do not want to do that. Yes there are some great teachers but they in reality are few and far between. There are good teachers but they too are few in number. and the rest, well they are teachers. Remember the old adage, those who can do and those who cant become teachers. That in itself could be one reason many leave within 2 years. Statistics can be misleading and as far as pay is not basic entry pay around $35 K? Thats better than the military for someone just starting out and actually a lot of other places in the private sector.

    Now you are 100% correct, the PARENTS are not involved with their kids in ANY fashion it would seem. Some are and you can tell by the kids those who are. But the kids just do not want to be talked at by teachers or parents they need to be engaged and understand what it is that they are being expected to learn. I work with kids everyday, and yes I also have an education degree. Never taught school, but taught classes to adults in and out of the military. Most concepts are foreign to these folks and it just shows that the education systems everywhere are deficient. My son is a TEACHER and has kids WANTING to be in his classes. But he is frustrated by the ‘administrators’ who only want to tech tests. He has gone so far with some of his compatriots to try and establish a CHARTER SCHOOL, they have received approval from their district and support. Too bad the same cannot be said of things here in baja az. Yes he is in colorado springs and is very happy there as a teacher.

    Even the states that throw lots of money are having issues. Calif, Wash DC (where they get tons of $$ for poor results) the list goes on. Money is NOT necessarily the answer. Parent involvement is KEY and the parents must DEMAND DUE DILIGENCE from the school boards on down. Here the purpose of the bored seems to be to get select individuals prepared to be name recognizable and be part of the continuing problem, ala the greedyhalfas. They are just preping their nests for future failures as individuals but who will suck off the public tit indefinitely!

    So go ahead and enjoy the retirement, but if so inclind, run for school boreds but try not to be like the past failures of burns et al who created this current local situation with dumb ideas and directions. Be positive, be active. As to kids who are disruptive, don’t suspend, send them to schools that are setup just for their kind. Kinda like Mary Merideth. Remember the fuss and fury of kid that was killed in a driveby some years back? He was suspended and was playing out on the streets instead of being in school, so suspension is really not the cure all. Take an empty school (there are at least a dozen in town here) recruit teachers who are willing to work and give them some extra incentive/pay, have a security force present and bus, have the parents take them to that location EVERYDAY! Set standards, have the parents buy in and go for it many will some will not and then the parents are taken to task for failure to support. Look at the parents in MD being taken to task because they let their kids play outside on their own!

  7. Madam Secretary:
    Not only is Arizona ranked #47 and received a D+, Arizona Students ranked BELOW the National Average at EVERY Grade Level and Subject Tested.

    If States and Local Governments are to retain control over Public Education, we need a National System for evaluation, like COMMON CORE, to ensue that Federal Monies are not wasted on States, like Arizona, with a SECOND RATE System of Public Education.

    Federal Monies must be tied to a States’ Academic Performance.

  8. As far as I am concerned, Douglas showed her true colors when she walked away from TUSD. She as much admitted in her speech that what TUSD was teaching is indeed against state law but she chose to walk away and not engage in a fight. With that kind of leadership what do you think will happen with Common Core, funding, and all the other “stuff” that education requires in the state of Arizona. Douglas must be willing to get her hands dirty and indeed it will be a struggle with TUSD and common core but that is why she was elected. If she doesn’t want to do it, tell us now and common core and very poor administrations like TUSD and others will continue to flourish and our children will learn NOTHING. Without leadership of any kind and she has flunked her first test our education system will be rated 50th.

  9. I must say, “Amen!” to everything Diane Douglas said to the AZ House of Representatives. I’m leaving education after being in it for over 3 decades because the entire system is corrupt and self-serving to administrators in schools and throughout any district in which one teaches in the state of Arizona. Schools are now run by micromanagers who care only to maintain their medieval fiefdom of power over teachers. We know our craft much better than an administrator ever will. However, the micromanagers’ goal is to find something if not everything wrong with the teachers, insisting that they rewrite their lesson plans, that students must be “engaged” every second of class instruction with technology, white boards, not learning to read and write with books, pens, and pencils. It must be fun, fun, FUN!

    I’m not promoting boring instruction, but what worked with the Greatest Generation back in the 1930’s-1940’s was reading a textbook, taking pencil or pen in hand and applying it to paper. In many cases with basic grammar, rote memorization was necessary. The Greatest Generation of students behaved at school and for the few who chose to disrupt the educational process, their parents dealt with them when they got home after the principal and teacher did so at school. One did not shame the family honor by acting out at school. Now, districts have written behavior policies, but they never enforce them. Female students come to school half-dressed for night clubs, male students sport the dropped pants and show off their underwear, the language they use is deplorably profane, and the micromanagers do nothing about the disruptive behavior for fear that their statistics will look bad. Gone are the days when expulsion of such “students” was a viable option; it’s all about the statistics and the money. Very few accept the responsibility of being educated; if a student is flunking, it must be the teacher’s fault, they’re not writing their lesson plans just right, not making learning fun, they expect too much of the student, on and on, but always the fault of the teacher. Damn it, micromangers, get out of our classrooms and let us do what we’ve been professionally trained to do, which is to teach the future citizens of this country. Take your rewriting of lesson plans and curricula, fold it five ways and put it where the sun doesn’t shine. You’re a micromanager because you can’t teach; your big job here is to keep the campuses supplied and safe. That means expel the students who are disruptive. Put the burden back on the parents for disciplining their children. When the teachers and students feel safe, learning will take place. Get rid of the idea that technology is the only way to do effective teaching. By the time a student begins formal schooling, they can outdo most adults on the various electronic devices, but they cannot concentrate long enough to read and understand a book or a literary essay because they are so visually over-stimulated by technology. They cannot do basic Math. Leave the technology for home research, specific computer classes, and the libraries and stop telling the teachers how to teach. Let us do our jobs; your job is to support us and keep the schools safe and supplied.

    Sadly, nothing will change, but will only get worse. I’m done with it. Goodbye to all that!

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