Holding schools accountable without punishing kids

Arizona’s first school accountability bill is working its way through the state legislature. SB1444 would base a portion of schools’ state funding on performance, starting at 1 percent the first year and incrementally increasing to a total of 5 percent after five years.

The ‘performance funding’ as it’s called, is based on two factors: overall test scores and school improvement (i.e. improving from a D to a C).

Many critics, particularly Democrats, are skeptical. They fear the plan will hurt students in poorer districts, particularly those districts with a high percentage of English Language Learners (ELL) and low-income students. These are the students most in need of a great education. Decreasing funding (if the schools fail to improve) seems counter to the needs of these students.

And yet, as a parent who has two school-aged children, I cannot subscribe to the same old argument that funding is the solution to our education crisis. Yes, funding is important, but there are many other factors that need to be taken into account as well, and parents with students at schools with D and F rankings understandably want better results and greater accountability.

As other countries continue to make strides in education, the United States remains stagnant. We are losing because we refuse to change. We seem attached to a system that may have worked fine many decades ago but is clearly not working so great anymore. And as a mom and someone who values education, I don’t want to wait around anymore for the system to magically repair itself. It won’t.

Performance funding is one just idea, and while this alone will not fix our schools, it will force them to think outside the box. And that, I believe, is exactly what we need if we’re going to reform education. Bold ideas! Continuing the status quo should not be an option.

While I would prefer the majority of the performance funding be based on yearly academic improvement instead of a split between improvement and test scores, the bill is at least a good start in the accountability conversation. A conversation that was, by the way, spearheaded by the Arizona Ready Education Council, which includes education professionals as well as business leaders.

Another bill working its way through the legislature is HB2488, which would provide an 8 percent increase in funding for schools who switch to a 200-day calendar. This is the type of targeted, increased funding that makes sense, but like all education bills, this one has its enemies as well.

Tea partiers in the House have voted against this, saying it would result in the state raising children, which I believe is code for “we don’t want to spend money on education even if it’s targeted funding.”

A 200-day calendar would be most beneficial for low-income students. These are the very students who do not have the means to afford summer enrichment programs and tend to be most at risk for “summer brain drain.” This is one way to help bridge the achievement gap between low and high-income students. The bill passed the House (with 14 nays) and is now with the Senate Education Committee. It needs to pass.

Another bill receiving all kinds of negative attention is HB2047, which would make the transition from AIMS to Common Core. Many of the same legislators who were opposed to funding a 200-day calendar are also opposed to this bill but for a very curious reason. They believe it supports the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory.

Not familiar with that one? Basically, it’s the belief that Agenda 21, which is a NON-BINDING plan created by the United Nations to help governments implement sustainable development, is actually a plan to create a one-world government. It was signed by the first President Bush and has since helped many local governments, those run by both Republicans and Democrats, devise ways to conserve natural resources.

The conspiracy folks even have a list of key words they deem are traceable to the Agenda 21 takeover. These words include: sustainable, international baccalaureate, affordable housing, walkable communities, and Common Core Curriculum (to name just a few – click here for a complete link).

Apparently, if we hold our students to a higher standard or do anything that promotes sustainability (the biggest swear word), we will be subjecting ourselves to a takeover by the United Nations.

While that sounds incredibly silly to most of us, it is a huge part of the tea party’s philosophy, and a huge part of what makes our legislature the object of ridicule. It is also an unfortunate reason many good bills fail to see the light of day, even when those bills have Republican sponsors.

School accountability can and should happen in conjunction with a hand up for those students most in need of support. But it won’t happen if we keep electing legislators who quash education reform because of some asinine idea that “outcome based education” (naughty key word) will result in a UN takeover. Nor will it happen if we continue to cling to an outdated system that has failed many of our students and put us in a race to the bottom.


  1. Mike Slater

    Julie, parents are the key to a child getting a good education. My wife and I would sit down ever night with our 2 kids and go over their homework. We didn’t give them the answers to the questions but would show them how to find the answers.

    The problem with poor and minority parents is the fact that they don’t have much education and are little help for their children when it comes to homework.

    My son’s wife is a teacher and her biggest problem is having parents involved with their children’s education. She calls and sends flyers home telling them about parent/teacher meetings but few parents ever show up.

    More money for education won’t change a thing if parents aren’t involved in their child’s education.

    1. Post
      Julie Erfle

      I agree that parental support is important in a child’s education, but I don’t think we should give up on kids who lack that support. Those kids still have potential, but they need additional support staff within the school — tutors, et al — who can help them. And yes, that tends to cost more.

      I came from a low-income family and had little to no parental involvement growing up because my mother was a high school dropout and my father worked very long hours. I excelled in school and went on to college (something neither of parents did) for several reasons, including some wonderful teachers. Teachers can and do make a huge difference in kids’ lives.

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