Arizona Families Need Tom Horne as Our Next State Superintendent

Arizona Families Need Tom Horne as Our Next State Superintendent

By Christine Accurso |

Arizona families need a complete change in our state’s Department of Education. The current superintendent, Kathy Hoffman, has not served Arizona’s children well, and she needs to be replaced. With the election upon us, NOW is the time for change.

For far too long, the Department of Education has placed its focus on teachers. But while the needs of teachers are important, the primary focus should always be on students. That’s why we need someone who will change the focus of the entire department to a service-oriented organization—and who will build a team that wants to serve the people of Arizona. The public servant that we need is Tom Horne!

Tom will not need any training. He successfully led this department before, and he will hit the ground running to get our children back on track immediately. Tom is an attorney and has served in the legislature and as our state attorney general. He supports the new ESA school choice law and wants to see that program serve our children well. Tom has met with many of Arizona’s families and has truly listened to our needs. I have full confidence that he will address them immediately when he is in office.

In contrast, under Kathy Hoffman, our children’s test scores have been plummeting. She pushed for extended school closures during the pandemic. She violated our families by releasing sensitive, private information on our children during the data breach of 2020. She pushed for professional development under gender and sex topics and equity, diversity, and inclusion. She also pushed to repeal the “No Promo Homo” law and started a “Q chat” on the ADE website where any child can be easily groomed or confused when exploring their sexuality online, away from their parents. The last four years have been dreadful for everyone except the unions who back her.

The role of the Superintendent is to execute the state education laws and the State Board of Education policies. The Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) law is administered by the Superintendent, and the State Board of Education writes the policies and rules around this program. It has been in effect for over 10 years. As our current Superintendent, Kathy Hoffman has publicly stated that she wants to see an end to the program and has proven in the last four years that ESA Students who are in the program are not her priority. The fact that she picks winners and losers and plays games with our children’s education proves that she is not a good leader. Every single child matters and deserves an education that they will thrive in.

It’s time to turn our focus back to the children of Arizona. The most important focus is the academic success of our children in the core areas of study. This is a very important race, and I implore all of the people in Arizona, especially parents and grandparents, to support Tom Horne so that our children will be front and center again. Our children deserve the very best, and our families deserve to have a fully functioning Department of Education.

Christine Accurso is a wife, mother, and ESA parent who led the charge for the Decline to Sign Movement. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Breaking Down Barriers in Education to Better Benefit Students

Breaking Down Barriers in Education to Better Benefit Students

By Kurt Rohrs |

Public education funding accounts for nearly $11 billion of Arizona’s $18 billion state budget. Considering this cost, taxpayers should have a clear perception about the return on this massive investment.

We can define the purpose of public education as the process of producing capable adults who can effectively participate in the economic activity of the community. This puts the focus on developing students who can be productive after they leave our public education system and identifies the return on investment for substantial state spending.

The economic benefit of Career and Technical Education (CTE) should then become the primary objective of each public education institution that is funded by the taxpayers of the state. The goal of CTE should be the attainment of professional degrees and technical certificates that demonstrate proficiency in various career-related specialties that allow students to attain beneficial employment.

There are several public education institutions that share the responsibility for preparing our students to be productive adults.

1. Pre-K-12 District and Charter Public Schools

Some Examples:

    • District Schools: Mesa Unified, Chandler Unified, and Tucson Unified are the largest in the state.
    • Charter Schools: American Leadership Academy, Legacy Traditional, Archway (Great Hearts)
    • Online Schools: Sequoia, Portable Practical Educational Preparation (PPEP), Arizona Connections Academy

2. Community Colleges 

    • Maricopa Community Colleges and Pima Community Colleges are the largest.

3. Technical Schools

    • East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT), West Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC), and Pima County Joint Technical Education District (Pima-JTED) are the largest.

4. Colleges and Universities

    • Arizona State University, University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University are the three public universities.

Coordination and Collaboration

Students often use several of these institutions in their educational journey but many of the programs overlap in their requirements. However, many students have also found that their credits earned by completing courses in one institution are not readily transferable to another institution, resulting in a student having to repeat classes they have already passed. This unnecessarily delays their attainment of educational goals and adds additional costs.

There does not appear to be any good reason for this uncoordinated approach to public education. It also serves to harm students and discourage their educational progress.

While some institutions do attempt to collaborate for the better benefit of students, the effort is spotty and uncoordinated. In a recent presentation to the EVIT Board of Directors, Chief Academic Officer Ronda Doolen demonstrated the chaotic approach to the transfer of credits from one institution to another. There is clearly no consistency and no universal process for doing so leaving students, as the clients of the system, to be served poorly.

Universal Portability, Student-Centric Education

One solution is to have state level certifications for certain classes that can be applied to each student’s education transcript and universally accepted by any public education institution in the state. This makes a student’s academic achievements “portable” and shifts the focus from “institution-centric” to “student–centric” in order to better benefit students.

One current model is the Dual-Credit platforms that are now in place between some high schools and local community colleges. However, the programs are usually governed by specific Inter-Governmental Agreements (IGAs) at the school or district level. But the programs are typically difficult to navigate and there is no guarantee of universal acceptance of credits that can be applied at any Arizona public school.

An example would be a basic college level English course (“English 101”) that can be universally accredited as fulfilling any higher education requirement. However, this basic course typically has different course titles depending on the institution and may or may not be accepted at a community college or one of the Arizona universities—depending on the whims of that particular institution. This basic course should have one course title, one course number, and one course description in use by every public education institution in the state of Arizona and be fully portable between them.

Other courses that should have universal accreditation would be Basic History, Civics, Basic Math and Science Courses, Basic Arts and Humanities courses, and Foreign Languages. It would be far more efficient and far less costly to have these courses taken at accredited high school or community college institutions instead of at the university level.

Follow the Money, Institutional Self-Interest, and Territorialism

Many of the roadblocks to a more efficient and service-oriented approach to public education revolve around funding. However, we must first recognize that most education funding is ultimately derived from taxpayers. These taxpayers do not typically have much of an interest as to which institution receives their tax dollars as compared to their more beneficial interest that their funds are spent efficiently and not wasted on ineffective or duplicative efforts.

Unfortunately, there is an institutional self-interest in how funds are allocated to them by the state. No one wants to have their budget cut. This can lead to a bias in how universal course credits are supported that can run counter to the best interests of students, for whom these institutions were originally created to serve.

An example would be that there is little practical justification for our universities to offer general education courses that are also taught at community colleges, and some high schools, at a fraction of the cost to students and taxpayers. Wouldn’t it far more useful to have highly paid university professors spending their time teaching advanced courses that could only be offered at the university?

There does not seem to be any evidence that an English 101 course better serves a student if it is taken at a university as compared to a community college or even a good high school. This one single reform should significantly reduce the cost of education for students and their parents, who help pay their tuition, even though it may threaten the territory of certain institutional “empires” that have built up at taxpayer expense.

Re-thinking Public Education, Some Conclusions

    • The goal of public education should be to develop productive adults.
    • Public education should then be more focused on Career and Technical Education in order to have real value for students and the community.
    • Public education must be re-oriented to be “student-centric” and less institution-centric” to be more efficient and cost effective.
    • Course credits in higher education should be “portable” and universally accepted by all taxpayer-funded public education institutions.

Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about his campaign here.

Should We Do More Job Skills Training in Schools?

Should We Do More Job Skills Training in Schools?

By Kurt Rohrs |

In the ongoing struggle between academic and social instruction in schools, perhaps we are leaving out the most practical instruction of all—job skills training.

As our local economy continues to develop, there has been a shortage of both skilled and non-skilled workers who can take jobs that are available. This has frustrated business owners and slowed economic growth. A prime example is Intel, which is building two world class wafer fabrication facilities here in Chandler. These projects will employ thousands of workers in high-paying jobs during their construction and once it is completed. We should be preparing our local Chandler Unified School District (CUSD) kids to fill those jobs. That requires a plan.

What Would It Take to Get There?

An education plan that incorporates job skills training could take the following form:

  • Elementary School (PreK – 6th grade). Provide a firm foundation in reading and math skills that prepare students for the next steps in their education. In fifth and sixth grade, introduce general career choices for students to consider.
  • Middle School (7th and 8th Grade). Broaden curriculum into other education areas such as science and history, and also introduce specific career path opportunities to students to form a basis for potential career choices.
  • High School (9th and 10th grade). Students should start making choices on specific career paths and learning the details about these choices.
  • High School (11th and 12th grade). Involve students in off-campus work/study programs, internships, and job training programs in addition to classroom learning programs in their specific fields of interest.

Present a Broad Array of Choices

One criticism of CUSD is that they are too narrowly focused on a university education as the preferred, if not only, goal of a graduate. Career counselors typically do not present other options as equally beneficial to students. This ignores the reality that not all students are suited for a university education and not all good-paying jobs require a university degree. There are also some university degree options that have rather doubtful economic value to students. They can then become saddled with excessive student debt and little opportunity for reasonable job prospects.

In addition to a university education, other suitable options that should be presented to students are:

  • Trade Schools. There is a significant shortage of skilled trade workers. These are often well-paying jobs with detailed training programs. Students typically complete these programs with no debt and have a good job waiting for them.
  • Technical Certificate Programs. The technology field moves very quickly. In order to keep pace, many technology companies often offer their own certificate programs specific to their technology, such as application development, database management, cybersecurity, and network management. These are the jobs of the future.
  • Military Enlistment. Some of the best technical skills training is provided by the military. They are very proficient at taking young people from all types of backgrounds and training them in complex operations.

Keeping Students Engaged and Motivated

One of the common complaints heard from parents and teachers is the challenge to keep their kids engaged and motivated. Igniting a student’s interest in a career path early on in their education may help them be more keenly aware of their purpose for being in school. Students who typically ask the question “Why am I here?” or say things like “This is boring” would have a clear and immediate reference to the purpose of being in school and participating. The goal changes from just merely “graduating” to “I have a plan after graduation, and I know what I need to do to realize it.”

K-12 education is sometimes regarded as a monolithic entity unto itself with tenuous connections to continuing activity after graduation. Perhaps it should be regarded as just one part of a journey of a student’s development into a productive adult.

Partnering with Other Education Entities

Effective cooperation with other educational entities, such as the East Valley Institute of Technology, Trade Schools, and Community Colleges that offer critical opportunities is the key to developing the pathway to successful careers for our students. However this can be hampered by interagency squabbles, mostly about control and funding since there is a lot of money involved here. Which entity “owns” the kid and the funding that comes with that kid is often a serious point of contention. These obstacles need to be removed for there to be effective cooperation between these entities. This may require some legislative fixes since funding rules and regulations come primarily from State statutes. But when it’s all said and done, these fixes shouldn’t be about the institution’s best interests. They should be about the student’s best interests.

Partnering with City Government and Local Businesses

The City of Chandler also has a keen interest in the availability of a skilled workforce as an integral part of their economic development plans. Companies will be reluctant to locate here if they cannot hire the employees they need to operate their facilities. The City should be sharing critical information on projected workforce needs to help CUSD develop useful programs and for students to better understand what opportunities are available to them. Local business hiring managers should frequent the schools to talk to students and explain the expectations for when they eventually enter the workforce. This should also help connect students to the business community outside the classroom and expand their perception of the very real world that awaits them after they graduate.

So, What Is the Purpose of Education?

Schools should be more than just “babysitting” duty or fulfilling a state-mandated curriculum. There must be tangible and well-defined goals that engage our students and develop a sense of purpose in them. Teachers may find it useful to help motivate students if those students more clearly understand why they are in school and what the intended result of their education is. It’s time to redefine the purpose of public education as the process of producing capable adults who can effectively participate in the economic activity of the community.

Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about his campaign here.

Are Stressed Out Teachers Being Asked to Do Too Much?

Are Stressed Out Teachers Being Asked to Do Too Much?

By Kurt Rohrs |

As we see a steady stream of experienced teachers leave the profession, we should be questioning why they are leaving. Maybe it is not always about money.

If teachers are expected not only to educate our kids, but now to raise them as well, perhaps we should consider that teachers may not realistically be able do all the things they are being asked to do.

Teachers usually come to love their kids, care about them deeply, and want what is best for them. It is part of what being a teacher means. But is there a limit to how much intervention a teacher should have in a child’s life?

We are now seeing an aggressive effort by Progressive Liberals to reshape American society to match their own personal preferences. This has become most evident in school classrooms where there appears to be a deliberate intent to influence children to accept their particular worldview. So, are teachers now expected to step in front of parents to drive these controversial ideologies?

This is leaving parents concerned and dismayed by the social conditioning that is being exposed in the classrooms with regard to sexuality, race relations, and political ideologies. They are also becoming more agitated and outspoken as they perceive their own children being weaponized against them. 

So are Progressive Liberals, in the form of “Woke” activists, engaging in a deliberate effort to pit teachers against parents in a rather ruthless bid to gain political power and control?

Are these activists now simply using teachers as tools to accomplish their political goals? This would be deeply disrespectful to the profession. If this realization sets in for teachers, it is quite doubtful that they will appreciate being used in this way. And hopefully, they will start to turn away from this scheme.

But teachers aren’t the only ones affected. Children can also feel caught in the middle between parents and teachers, which could leave them traumatized by this contrived conflict. It’s like children who watch their mother and father argue at the dinner table and, wanting to please both, don’t know which way to turn. This cannot be a healthy and positive situation for children. It is of little wonder that we seem to have more children displaying mental and emotional health issues than before. They are being unnecessarily over stressed.

We have also seen national teachers’ unions trying to bully, intimidate, and discredit parents who dare to question their efforts to control dialogue in the classrooms. They label these parents as “Domestic Terrorists” and threaten that dissenting parents be sanctioned by the Justice Department.

Because of these aggressive activities, there is a concern that the bond of trust between parents and teachers is being frayed almost to a breaking point. This is a great disappointment. Now, more parents want to pull their children out of public schools because of the dissatisfaction with this type of undesirable social conditioning. Many feel that their children are being taken away from them, so they are responding by removing these children from that perceived threat.

There is a responsibility for teaching professionals to develop and maintain healthy and positive relationships with parents, to explain to parents what they are teaching and why, to define the limits of their intervention in the raising of children, and to reassure parents that they are not trying to replace them. They must convince parents that public schools are the best place to send their kids—and that there are well understood boundaries of what will and will not be presented to their kids in the classrooms.

Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about his campaign here.