Don’t Confuse Meth Addiction with Homelessness 

Don’t Confuse Meth Addiction with Homelessness 

By John Huppenthal |

I recently observed a tent camouflaged behind freeway road bushes in Chandler. Curious, I looked around the corner. I caught a man heating the bowl of a meth pipe in the act taking a deep drag. There were two men there. The second man looked in terrible shape, like a character out of Breaking Bad. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. I called 911.

Catching him in the criminal act was pivotal. Court decisions have given meth addicts a constitutional right to occupy our right of ways, defecate on our streets, and urinate on our sidewalks.

But these court decisions don’t protect criminal behavior.

I volunteered for two years at the school for the homeless. I never found one of the students to be homeless. They were sleeping on couches, in a spare bedroom, on someone’s carpet. Their families found someone, a relative, a friend, willing to be helpful. In my opinion, most people on the street don’t want to be in someone’s house. They are giving in to their drug addiction. Each one of them, willing to abide by the rules, can immediately enter a shelter. Rules are the key: shelters don’t allow drugs. Most of these people we describe as homeless are really meth addicts and should be described as such, not as homeless.

Meth addiction is a horror beyond all description. Read the case studies. One woman, after three days of smoking meth, cut off her boyfriend’s head and took it to his mother in a bucket.

Meth culture is now everywhere. Several months ago, a friend and I drove to hike Peralta Canyon. Leaving the paved roads, we noticed a man running, flapping his arms. Then, further on, we encountered 50-foot-long skid marks on a dirt road leading to a snapped barbed wire fence. Beyond the fence, in the distance, we could see a truck with an attached travel trailer.

Over the next hour, we put together the story. The man flapping his arms had been smoking meth for several days when he suffered a full-blown psychotic break. Somehow, convinced the cartel had arrived to assassinate him, he threw his cards and driver’s license down into the dirt so that the cartel could not use the magnetic strips to track him. He took off in his truck at an incredible rate of speed along with the attached trailer and another trailer behind it with his motorcycle. Driving in tight circles so that he could dodge the cartel’s bullets, his vehicles were bouncing a half foot into the air as he crossed the berms of the dirt road. His rate of speed was such that he was hitting five-inch palo verde trees, snapping them off without slowing. Losing control, he ran full blast into the barbed wire fence, snapping all three strands. He continued out into the desert hitting so many cholla that the cactus limbs piled up on the hood of his truck more than half-way to the top of the windshield. Finally, the sand of a desert wash trapped him but not before he had destroyed the economic value of all the assets he could claim in this world. As the fire fighters checked him out and the police took him away, he proclaimed to the world “I’m having a bad day.”

That’s the abyss addicts slide toward as they take communities with them.

Meth culture spreads. I encountered a gentleman taking pictures of the water retention basin a little further north. His mother, whose home and fence backs up to the water retention basin, had become fearful upon hearing noises that they were setting up camp in that retention basin. I told him to have her call police. The retention basin is completely fenced but there is plentiful evidence of addicts in discarded clothing and bedding.

All totaled, there were seven of these meth camps along Price Road, both on the Chandler side and the Tempe side.

I interviewed one of their residents. Waking him up at 10 in the morning, I offered him $30 for a 15-minute interview. He couldn’t find his glasses. Mentally fatigued from a stroke (a side-effect of meth addiction), he couldn’t last beyond a few questions. However, he did mention that both his father and his sister had died from drug addiction. His mother lives in Mesa. His age appeared to be late 40s. He couldn’t remember when he was born. This man was living in a makeshift tent in the 2 feet between the freeway sound wall and the bushes on the side of Price Road. 

One of the camps was behind an SRP power transformer at the edge of Price Road. I got a garbage bag and just started cleaning it up. I took out 40 pounds of garbage. I didn’t have it in my heart to take out their foam mattress bed, their new running shoes, or their clothes. 

I also posted my observations on a neighborhood social media platform. It attracted considerable attention and alarm as people realized how close they were to children.

All seven of these meth camps are now gone.

Unfortunately, according to an article in the Arizona Republic and their sources, there are over 3,500 of these encampments in Phoenix, destroying neighborhoods.

Be disciplined in your thinking. These are meth addicts. You can be sympathetic, empathetic and because of your sympathy and empathy, demand that they not be allowed to slide into a meth culture. They must get off the street. At least they must get off our streets. They are learning to beg and where to steal. They are engaging more people in meth culture. Somewhere, they have a friend, a father, a sister, a relative who will help them get clean. Keep them moving toward a better future.

What Should We Do with the D and F Letter Grade Schools? 

What Should We Do with the D and F Letter Grade Schools? 

By John Huppenthal |

In 2008, I introduced and passed legislation to grade schools in Arizona on the A through F letter grading system. The system was to be based on the test scores and academic gains of students. 

If I were king, I would abolish the system which I established. I believe that it has inhibited innovation, damaged great schools, and shifted the focus in education away from the critical areas most fruitful for getting better outcomes in Arizona.

Letter grading, in part, has resulted in Arizona not achieving the full dividend we might have received from our tremendously advanced school choice environment. We are doing very well, but we should have done even better. 

These detrimental effects particularly affect D and F rated schools. 

I’ve worked inside such schools daily as a volunteer since leaving as Superintendent in 2014, so I have been able to directly observe the effects. Tremendously skilled and dedicated principals and teachers apply to work in such schools because they have a passion for the students. Then, a few years later, they are “all burned out”—as one father described his daughter, a teacher, during a recent fundraiser. These schools burn through principals and teachers at a horrifying rate with teachers, particularly excellent ones, leaving for more satisfying work environments. 

Certainly, such schools have always been high pressure environments, but the letter grading just increases the pressure, already unhealthy, to an absolutely toxic level. 

As Superintendent of Public Instruction, I had the ultimate test score database: every student’s testing results for six consecutive years. I could tell you the academic gains of Basis students when they were in Basis schools and when they were in other schools. Bottom line? The academic scale score gains of the top schools were 20% higher than the academic gains of the D and F schools. That’s all. That’s it. 

Being a volunteer as former Superintendent, I was immune to all that pressure. I ran my math class exactly the way I wanted to run it. When the thought police showed up and demanded to know if I was teaching to the standards, I assured them absolutely. The students who didn’t know how to count were counting. The students who didn’t know how to add were adding. The students who didn’t know how to multiply were multiplying. They were all on their way toward the fractions, decimal, and proportion standards of fourth grade. They weren’t there yet because none of my fourth-grade students had achieved third grade standards, and few had achieved second grade standards. But we were on our way. 

My scale score gains were double the statewide average. But not the best. One other teacher bested me by a point, a particularly inspirational sixth grade teacher. One year, one class in a school with 27 classes was not enough to rescue the school’s letter grade. 

That teacher still haunts me. He should have received great accolades for his accomplishment. He should have been featured on TV. His students loved him. He was saving students from jail. He was saving students from drug addiction. He was saving students from prison. Instead, he soon left the school. 

This year, I am working in kindergarten. Why? Because as I did my work, I came to understand that the initial years in school are, by far, the most critical years. In these years, students establish their personal identity, their habits, and their foundational skills.

How does this relate to letter grading? Letter grades can only take into account academic gains from fourth grade to eighth grade. Our first test is at the end of third grade, establishing the baseline for measuring academic gains in fourth grade. 

The academic gains from fourth grade to eighth grade are less than the academic gains from the start of kindergarten to the end of third grade. 

So, the entire letter grade system is based on the least important half of the pie. As a result, the attention of the entire system is shifted away from where it should be focused—the early years. 

Education culture is the foundation of our entire society. How we think, how we interact. Our degree of interconnectedness. We can do better. We should be the state the goes full free market. Get rid of letter grades. Instead publish customer satisfaction scores. And let’s find out what percentage of parents believe their child is getting an INCREDIBLY GREAT education when given a choice between that and very good, good, or poor.

Where Does Arizona’s K-12 Education System Rank Nationally?

Where Does Arizona’s K-12 Education System Rank Nationally?

By John Huppenthal |

Mainstream media loves to disparage Arizona’s kindergarten through 12th grade education system. State rankings are often the source of this disparagement, invariably ranking Arizona 47th, 48th, or 49th.

Over the past year, U.S. News and World Report ranked New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut as the top education states in the nation, first through third, respectively. Next, WalletHub ranked these same three states as the top three states in the nation. Then, along comes an organization called Scholaroo also ranking Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut as the top three K-12 education states in the nation.

They all agree on the three states with the top rankings, but where do they rank Arizona? They rank Arizona respectively, 47th, 48th, and 50th. That would seem pretty definitive.

But do these three states really have better schools than Arizona? Both U.S. News and WalletHub seem to think so . But is their ranking based on science? Are they correct? Are they completely out of whack? Let’s check their analysis.

The U.S. Department of Education performs the National Assessment of Educational Progress, spending over $100 million per year to measure the performance of the U.S. K-12 system. The National Assessment is based on a random sample of over 3,000 students in each state. This sample is pulled once every two years.

U.S. News, WalletHub, and Scholaroo each make a fundamental error in the way they compare states. Because Connecticut is 75% White and 42% college educated, they are comparing the test results of a White student with college educated parents with a minority student from Arizona with immigrant parents. That’s not science. That’s a joke.

We can use the National Assessment data to make an apples-to-apples comparison. 

Here are is the data for 8th grade math scores of Blacks and Hispanics for Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Arizona:

8th Grade Math ScoresArizonaMassachusettsConnecticutNew Jersey
Blacks267267256266
Hispanics269269263269

Arizona 8th grade math scores for Blacks and Hispanics (42% of our K-12 student population) are equal to or greater than all these states considered top three states by WalletHub and U.S. News

In other words, if test scores are your measure, Arizona’s schools are among the very best in the country in educating Blacks and Hispanics.

These are media companies. It’s not unusual to find them to be short on scientific standing. When you dig in to find out why the media companies get it so wrong, you find that the source of their error is that they are comparing a low-income Hispanic Arizona student with a high-income east coast White student and pretending that you can make a conclusion from that comparison about the quality of schools. No reputable researcher believes that. Each state has a different percentage of Hispanic, Black, and White students.

We can expand this 8th grade math comparison to all 50 states. When we do, we find that Arizona Blacks rank 3rd, only a point away from first. Only two other states have 8th grade test scores for Blacks higher than Arizona. Arizona Asians rank 5th, Arizona Hispanics rank 14th, and Arizona Whites rank 6th.

Race is only one factor you can adjust for. Several years ago, the Urban Institute did a more comprehensive regression analysis which also took into account parent’s education and family income as well as race. In that ranking, Arizona ranked 13th in the nation. Even that analysis is suspect. Arizona ranks 4th in the nation in the percentage of foreign-born Hispanics. The Urban Institute’s analysis did not separate foreign-born and native-born Hispanics and as a result, ranked Arizona lower than it might otherwise have been.

We know that Arizona schools, strengthened by the nation’s most competitive school environment for 30 years, rank much higher than the mainstream media would let us know. And perhaps higher than the leftist think-tanks want to admit.