If you’ve seen the movie, A Christmas Story, you undoubtedly remember the scene where the boy is goaded into sticking his tongue to a frozen flagpole, and of course, his tongue sticks to it.

The scene is great because it captures how posturing and speech are involved in our interactions, and how we can paint one another, or sometimes ourselves, into a corner.

Flick: Are you kidding? Stick my tongue to that stupid pole? That’s dumb!

Schwartz: That’s ’cause you know it’ll stick!

Flick: You’re full of it!

Schwartz: Oh yeah?

Flick: Yeah!

Schwartz: Well I double DOG dare you!

Narrator (Ralphie as an adult): NOW it was serious. A double-dog-dare. What else was there but a “triple dare you”? And then, the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister triple-dog-dare.

Schwartz: I TRIPLE-dog-dare you!

Narrator (Ralphie as an adult): Schwartz created a slight breach of etiquette by skipping the triple dare and going right for the throat!

 

If you’re in education, in any capacity, you’ll undoubtedly have heard the phrase, “ … what’s best for kids.”

If you’re not in education, you’ll likely be surprised to hear how vexing that phrase is to teachers!

The phrase is often used in the context of, “I want you to do this, after all, we have to do what’s best for kids, right?”  It’s coercive, manipulative, and rarely used to promote something that has any impact on what’s best for kids. It almost always has to do with what’s best for the person using the phrase.

And, it’s powerful.  I’ve used it myself, a few times.  Like the triple dog dare, it’s a trump card.  The first person to play it tactfully wins.

Let’s talk about what really is best for kids, in the context of education.

  1.  Stable Home Life

I never appreciated how important a stable home life was until I became a teacher.  I believed it was imperative, without consideration, and my wife and I worked very hard to provide a quality upbringing for our daughters.  But I never knew how bad things can turn for kids in the absence of a stable homelife. I’ll not chase this too far, though it deserves an incredible amount of attention, but is just far beyond the scope of what AZWP does.

The vast majority of incarcerated felons are high school dropouts.  The number one reason kids drop out, and this could be argued and dissected many ways, goes back to quality home life.

  1.  Teachers

Education is performed by teachers.  

In a way, I think that says it all.  The end, thanks for coming.

As a society we can provide the best books, facilities, the safest possible schools, the best support staff, counselors, administrators, school board members, the best buses and athletic programs, but the vast majority of kids will not receive a quality education without a quality teacher.

Yet, a quality education can be received by a student in a dangerous school, without textbooks, in a run down facility, without counselors or support staff, with bad administration, and corrupt politicians…if they have the right teachers.  That teacher that’s a source of light in a dark, dark world.

I’ve heard many, and want to tell, stories of those diamonds in the rough.  The story of a bad school in a bad neighborhood, and a kid with the cards stacked against him (or her).  Yet, in the most unlikely of places a teacher reached them, put them on a different path, one that led to prosperity and fulfillment.

If we, as a society, do not attract the right people into education, and then help develop those people into quality teachers (nobody is born a good teacher), and then encourage those people to stay IN THE CLASSROOM, it’s all for not.

Let me clear up a few points.  For a school to function well as a whole, all of the pieces need to be in place.  The top priority though, is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. We need the right people in the classroom doing the dirty work.  All of the other components are important and need to be high quality as well, but the act of educating kids is done by teachers.

The value teachers provide and the baseline perceived quality of teachers have both been under attack for decades.  Teachers are vilified and distrusted, they’re pointed at as the problem in education by textbook and test publication companies, politicians, and sadly enough, many citizens.  I could easily write volumes about each of these sources, their motivations and their proposed solutions. But there’s no need because they all have a common tactic, attacking the value of the teacher.

Teachers will still be leaving, at a record pace, if they do not make a livable wage.  As many have noted, and I’ve explored at some length here on my blog, the state average teacher salary is around $48,000 annually, as reported by the state.  That amount is far from reality when you consider the phrase I used earlier, IN THE CLASSROOM.  For those that don’t understand the reference, there are a lot of people that do not teach students that are reported as teachers.  (I’m not suggesting the services they provide aren’t valuable, but they skew the averages drastically.)

I have been teaching longer than most in Arizona and I’d be dancing in the streets if I made $48,000.  I work my second job to get to $48,000.  I would need another 26% increase over the 10% I just received to get to $48,000. I’m a quality math teacher headed into my 12th year of teaching.

Our current situation is this: #REDforED is trying to get more money into schools, and in my opinion the bar is too low.  We are trying to return to our per-pupil funding levels of 2008, when we were considered “The Mississippi of the West,” for education.

Regardless, once that money goes into schools the first and most important thing that must happen is that teachers need to earn a livable wage.  That’s not to say that other employees should be forgotten and passed over. That’s not to say facilities shouldn’t be updated. It’s not to say better safety precautions are not essential.  The act of education is performed by teachers. All other components support education.

We need enough money for all of those things.  The reality of the situation is that we are not receiving enough money for those things, not even close.

Analogies are risky because they’re always riddled with connections that are close, but not quite right.  The understanding gleaned from analogies is based on different situation with its own set of nuances and relationships and pitfalls are plentiful.  But analogies are powerful and useful in exposing key ideas.  These are all similar in the respect that the primary function of an organization is performed by one role.  Please consider a hospital without doctors, a transportation system without drivers, a computer with a processor, an airline without pilots, a team without players, a band without musicians, a canvas without a painter, a school without teachers.

#REDforED was spurred into existence because of a massive teacher shortage and all signs pointing towards the rapid expansion of that shortage.  Teachers, even after (if it comes to fruition) the 20×2020 deal, will not be staying in education, at least not in Arizona.

If you want what is best for kids, attract the right people into education, support and develop them into quality teachers, then reward and encourage them for staying.

Having quality teachers in classrooms is what’s best for kids. 

Governor Ducey claims he is giving a 20% raise to teachers in Arizona by 2020.  Let’s dig in and see what it’s all about. As is often the case with politicians, what isn’t being told is very important, it completes the picture.  What is Governor Ducey hiding here?

But first, a little history to contextualize the source.  Under Governor Jan Brewer, Doug Ducey served as State Treasurer.  Money was illegally taken from Proposition 301 (education money), and a suit was filed.  The state of Arizona lost the suit and the money that was taken from public education was to be restored.  In response, Governor Ducey came up with Prop 123, which essentially settled the debt for around 7 cents for every dollar owed.  

The dark money sponsoring the governor and his programs billed the proposition as a boon for public education.  Arizona voters have consistently voted pro-education funding and so the proposition passed. Ever since then Governor Ducey has cited Prop 123 as how generous he’s been towards public education.

Despite the funding for public education in 2017/18 being $1.1 billion below the funding a decade before (not adjusted for inflation), the governor refused to provide more than a 1% raise for teachers.  Teachers mobilized and he came up with his 20×2020 plan.  Again, he has claimed that he has always invested in public education and worked hard to fund those programs that protect the most vulnerable of our citizens.

It is as if there were 20 cookies in the cookie jar and without permission he took 18 of them.  When caught he put two back, then pointed and claimed, “Look at how many cookies I’m putting in the cookie jar!  I’ve increased it by 100%!”

Now, also keep in mind this is an election year.  

Politicians are clever with how things are worded.  The 20×2020 plan has been said to be a raise for teachers, 20% by the year 2020, and 10% this year.  But, as you’ll see, this is really a 5.7% bump in education funding. Of course that is a desperately needed influx of new money, but the problem is it leaves us about $700 million short of what funding for education was a decade ago.  It falls far short of the claim that this plan, “Fully restores recession-era cuts.”

Here are the details about how the 10% was calculated and how it is being distributed, which are why it is a 5.7% increase in education funding and not a 10% teacher raise. Governor Ducey took the average salary for people that fit his narrow definition of teachers (many elective, art, and special ed teachers are not counted) and increased that amount by 10%.  He then took total and added it to the ADM (you can read about ADM here if you like).  For all intents and purposes, ADM is used to calculate the money that schools receive, like what might be thought of as a general fund.

The increase in ADM is about 5.7% over last year.  There is no legally binding language or even hand-shake agreements that earmark the money to go to teachers and or staff.  The governor can say the money is for raises to the press, but what’s written and legal is what is real. Districts have discretion to use the money however they see best, without any guidelines even suggesting it goes to staff.

Here’s the rub: People read the headlines and hear a 20% increase in funding (Often websites misrepresent this by saying the increase is in education funding, not teacher pay. CNN reports, Arizona teacher walkout ends with new education funding,).  Teacher pay is, of course, just a part of education funding.  And not all teachers were even considered when coming up with the total amount to be added to the “general fund.”  The actual amount of increase is far less than it appears and far less than needed.

 

And some districts will really suffer.  Districts will not receive a 10% increase based on their “teacher” salaries, but instead will receive the 5.7% increase of the ADM.  Some districts will be far short of the 10% of teacher salaries, other will be far ahead.

This is also very important because one the of the major victories that the #REDforED movement had was to get people to focus their attention on the state, not the local districts.  The expectation of a 10% raise can easily become a major problem for districts that do not have that amount of money! The governor can sit back, point his finger and say, “Go ask your district, I gave them the money and the freedom to make sure it goes where it’s needed!”

This can easily take the focus off of the governor and put it on local districts, and inappropriately so.

It gets worse.  There are two other major problems with this proposal.  The first is that the proposal is not a piece of education reform legislation but a budget.  Budgets are only valid for one year. They carry no legally binding value beyond that. If the governor is not re-elected, this “deal” is dead and gone.  If he is re-elected, the 20×2020 plan is a promise from a person who has repeatedly taken money from public education (even illegally), and who is likely to run for a national level position once his next term is complete (reads little concern for righting any wrong).

The second major problem is that a portion of the money injected into education will require certain districts to raise their property taxes. In order for this to be legal, according to the Arizona constitution, a ⅔’s majority vote would be required.  The governor has tried this before and it was struck down by the state supreme court.  It is entirely likely that a lawsuit will be filed over this unconstitutional raising of property taxes.

In the past Doug Ducey has defunded public education and has only stopped when he had little or not choice (lawsuit, 75,000 marching on the capitol).  He is up for re-election in a few short months and has whipped up what he claims is a 20% raise for teachers in a few years. This is a misrepresentation of reality, one that leaves education over $700 million short of its claim!

It is my humble opinion that this is a ploy to buy some time … time enough to get the election behind him.  And his ploy is working. Over 75% of Arizonans are in favor of the program.  What would that percentage be if they understood it was a 5.7% increase, leaving us $700 million short of where we were a decade ago?