SBE Rejects Higher Standards Proposed By Douglas

Superintendent Diane Douglas stayed focused on the needs of students during her tenure. [Photo from the Arizona Department of Education]

Across the State of Arizona, the more serious minded members of local school district governing boards have complained that the proposed Science Standards for K-12 students lacked rigor. In fact, like outgoing Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, many educators viewed the the proposed draft standards as vague, incomplete, lacking adequate expectations.

On Monday, the State Board of Education adopted the sub-standard revised History and Social Science Standards and the Science Standards with recommended edits by the Arizona Science Teachers Association.

The Board’s decision came as no surprise to Douglas and others who for years have watched the dysfunctional charter-school controlled Board work to erode confidence in traditional public schools through neglect.

Opponents of more stringent standards like those favored by Douglas created a baseless crisis around standards involving evolution. They claimed that Douglas had hoped to introduce “Intelligent Design” to K-12 students. There was no evidence to support their hysterical claims, but that didn’t stop the mainstream media from promoting them.

There is little doubt that much of the fake news and hysteria surrounding the standard development process was generated to give progressives ammunition to use against conservatives.

A group, known as the “Mommy Lobby,” seemed to confirm suspicions that they are little more than a coffee klatch of critics in search of a crisis when they failed to show up to the Board meeting this week to offer support for Douglas’ proposal to adopt the Hillsdale College Barney Charter School standards. Many members of the group praised those standards in the past. The fact that they couldn’t show up to at least slow down the adoption process suggests that they dislike Douglas more than they like students, or would rather complain about a problem rather than solve it.

In what will likely be her last State Board of Education meeting, Douglas delivered a powerful message to the public and her fellow Board members, arguing for the higher standards Arizona’s K-12 students deserve.

Statement of Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas at the October 22, 2018 meeting of the State Board of Education:

I bring before the SBE today 3 sets of standards under this agenda item. The Hillsdale College Barney Charter School standards and the draft Science and Social Studies standards.

Hillsdale’s are the best standards for our students IF giving them the education to which they are entitled – for success post K-12 and as citizens of our great state and nation – is more than just lip-service. Coincidentally, I’ve been told Arizona’s first Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mr. Charles O. Case (1912-21; 1933-41), a Democrat, was a graduate of Hillsdale College.

I’ll briefly remind you of what I shared last month. 56% of our 3rd graders are failing reading or writing – their native language in most cases. 47% of 3rd graders are failing basic arithmetic and obviously can’t read well enough to solve word problems – after 4 YEARS of instruction. Science fairs not much better with 4th and 8th grade proficiency hovering at 60%.

While over half of our schools are receiving “As” and “Bs” under our letter grading system – the actual number of students proficient in ELA & Math at the A & B schools is disturbingly low.

Have we done any better by the time our students leave high school? Maricopa County Community College mirrors national remedial rates. District-wide 60% of MCCC students need remedial classes. Roughly 40% of all first-year students require remedial education before they enroll in credit-bearing courses. As many as 1.7 million first-year students take a remedial course in the subjects of math, reading, or writing. Only 52% of ACT-tested graduates were determined to be college ready in reading content, while only 43% were college ready in math.

This is nothing new. This un and under education of our children has been going on since Horace Mann and John Dewey “reformed” or, in my opinion, co-oped the education of our children more than 100 years ago.

Since we began defining the problem starting even before Why Johnny Can’t Read (1955); The Miseducation of American Teachers (1963); A Nation at Risk (1985) through all the “reforms” America 2000, Goals2000, NCLB, RTT, ESSA our children’s education has not improved. It is just more fads, gimmicks and tricks with lots of testing added on for good measure as more and more of our children pass through the system being guinea pigs to the unproven theories.

The Hillsdale Barney Charter School Standards

In December, 2016 this board adopted new ELA and Math standards. While these included stronger phonics and math fluency, among other improvements, our hands were tied from considering completely different standards. Now is the time to do so and to stop defining insanity by doing the same things again and again.

I became aware of the Barney Charter School standards about a year ago; around the time the initial draft standards were being completed by the working groups and that the Lake Havasu City Governing Board was bravely moving forward with a magnet school using these standards. While the draft science and social studies standards were very vague, ambiguous and, in many ways, incomplete; the Barney standards are robust and detailed; clear and very concise about what our parents should expect for their children’s education and taxpayers for their precious dollars.
Several considerations

1. I have been told of concerns from “minor” world religious communities about “losing” standards related to their religions – Shikhism, Taoism, Hinduism. However nowhere in the draft social studies standards are world religions, major or minor, explicitly taught; there are only footnotes in 6th grade and H.S. World History. Hillsdale clearly allows for explicit instruction of world religions and beliefs although I would not object to even more clarity. Anyone who does not understand world religions, world views and governing systems is under-educated at best and incapable of understanding much of the dynamics that have impacted our history and our current world relationships.

2. Barney standards include Latin in 7th-9th grades. While Latin is commendable and will lead to a better understanding of English, in my opinion, the study of any world language would be acceptable for English proficient students of course.

3. SBE may consider Hillsdale Music and Art standards for a later adoption. Although it may help discourage the use of obscene lyrics being brought into our classrooms.

4. Specific literature recommendations should be placed in an appendix.

5. The two areas in which Barney Charter veers from standards are ELA and Math in which explicit programs are used specifically “Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking” and “Singapore Math.”

And while I don’t believe that it must be those exact two programs our teachers must be trained to provide explicit and intensive phonics instruction using phonetic based reading programs. We shouldn’t certify any elementary teacher without it.

ARS 15-704, which has been “on the books” for years, requires, “evidence-based” reading curriculum, phonemic “awareness,” phonics, vocabulary development, reading comprehension. All are elements the “experts” tell us can be apply to “Whole Language,” “Look/Say,” or word memorization programs. All, perhaps, except ARS 15-704(H)(1)(d) “reading fluency” clearly with a 56% failure rate this is not being achieved nor has it been for eons as our children and society becomes less and less literate.

For years I have heard and continue to hear the demeaning of explicit arithmetic instruction as “drill and kill.” I’ve got news for you – arithmetic facts get into long-term memory for instant recall by repetition. Just like we train our student athletes’ bodies to respond by repetitive practice likewise we must train our young students’ brains through repetitive practice of certain subject matter – and yes, you can make that instruction fun. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard high school math teachers lament that they can’t teach students algebra and geometry when the students can’t do basic arithmetic – 47% of our 3rd graders failing basic arithmetic.

It seems here in Arizona, we are allowing charter schools and ESAs to be the choice to address the lack of academic rigor – rather than demanding it from all our schools. Many charters offer and ESAs allow certain parents to access a classical education such as Barney charter however, after 20 years of our charter experiment still about 85% of our students continue to attend traditional district schools.

We cannot, MUST not continue to fail any portion of that 85% of our students in traditional districts with minimum, inadequate standards. When our children fail it is because we have failed to provide our precious children with the education to which they are entitled as students of this great state and nation. This has been going on for DECADES – it must be stopped here and now.

“Time is like a river. You cannot touch the same water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again.” How many of our students’ academic river has flowed past them? How long will we allow it to continue?
The science and social studies draft standards, we have heard in this boardroom on numerous occasions, while not word-for-word are essentially nothing more than the Common Core Next Generation Science and C3 Social Studies. Lacking explicit study of science and the social sciences these draft standards are vague and incomplete – at best; indoctrination at worst. My hope had been we would eliminate “social studies” and transition to explicit History, Civics, Economics and Geography standards – sadly that is not the case.

I cannot and will not recommend that this board adopt standards that are less than the best for our students.
While I will make a specific motion if not the will of the board to adopt the complete Hillsdale Barney standards. We have heard several recommendations that this board should consider a menu of standards. This would be an excellent choice for our schools/district for high standards over and above the minimum bar that our current standards set for our students.