It appears the costs of pandemic-era remote learning far outweighed the benefits, based on the average student’s comprehension in math and reading.
According to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data released Monday, Arizona students were middle of the pack in a nationwide decline. The state’s scoring revealed severe learning losses in math and nominal losses in reading.
Nationwide, the NAEP report revealed a negative correlation between remote learning and learning loss. Chalkbeat displayed the correlation through graphs. Public schools and large cities experienced the greatest decline in math scores.
In a press release, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) associate commissioner Daniel McGrath warned that learning losses in math could limit STEM candidates.
“Eighth grade is a pivotal moment in students’ mathematics education, as they develop key mathematics skills for further learning and potential careers in mathematics and science,” said McGrath. “If left unaddressed, this could alter the trajectories and life opportunities of a whole cohort of young people, potentially reducing their abilities to pursue rewarding and productive careers in mathematics, science, and technology.”
The scores come after several years of Democratic leaders advocating for school closures amid the pandemic.
Julie Gunnigle, Democratic candidate for Maricopa County attorney, claimed in an August 2020 interview that remote learning would make kids smarter and stronger. Throughout the pandemic, she insisted that schools be restructured to prevent COVID-19 transmission before reopening.
“I think these kids are going to come out a lot stronger than, for example, my generation is. Like, having to cope with all of this. And a lot smarter, too,” said Gunnigle. “They’re going to be really prepared to brave this, well, brave new technological world.”
Last October, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told NPR that the number of school age-youth with mental health issues rose from 13-22 percent to 80 percent over the course of the pandemic. Last December, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy reported that the pandemic caused a mental health crisis in the nation’s youth.
“The COVID-19 pandemic further altered [youth] experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating,” stated Murthy.
Kathy Hoffman, incumbent Arizona Department of Education (ADE) superintendent, advocated for remote learning as recently as January. Like Gunnigle, Hoffman insisted that preventing COVID-19 illness was more important than an in-person education.
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
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)
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.
Just what exactly are the priorities of the Chandler Unified School District (CUSD)?
Every parent and taxpayer would love to know. But unfortunately, these priorities do not seem to be clearly presented in any readily available public communication. This makes it difficult to understand what the district is doing, why they are doing it, or hold them accountable for their performance. It’s time for the district to be much more transparent with the public.
That’s why I would like to suggest these five priorities for CUSD, which should be communicated clearly and made readily available to the taxpaying public that supports them.
Catch up on learning loss from recent school closures. Some information indicates that our students are up to two years behind on their academic achievement. Many are falling behind, and CUSD must take this seriously.
Ensure that Reading and Math proficiency is greater than 50% at every school. CUSD should direct massive amounts of resources to any school that falls far below this standard.
Increase student retention. The district must compete effectively to increase their headcount by better satisfying the demands of parents who will ultimately make the decisions on which schools their children attend.
Increase staff retention. It is critical to reduce the turnover rate for Certified (Teaching) Staff and Classified (non-Teaching) Staff. But CUSD must remember that issues with staffing aren’t always about money. While that is certainly something that needs to be examined, staff working conditions should be carefully considered as well. And the district should ultimately work to determine the primary reasons that staff leave their positions and take appropriate corrective actions.
Improve career and technical education. CUSD should refocus attention back to developing practical knowledge instead of social conditioning. The primary mission should be to develop functional adults capable of supporting themselves and contributing economically to the community.
If CUSD is serious about the future of its students, it must refocus its priorities. And it should take a much more pragmatic approach to its communication. This will not only make the district more relevant, but it will improve engagement with the community, especially the parents who have the ultimate say in how their children are educated.
Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board.You can find out more about his campaign here.
Arizona law affords students forced to quarantine by their schools for COVID-19 the right to court-appointed counsel at the expense of the state, according to Attorney General Mark Brnovich. In an opinion issued last Friday, Brnovich responded to an inquiry from State Senator Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) on the issue.
The attorney general explained that schools relying on county health department quarantine or isolation protocol must also adhere to the requirement of counsel outlined in the same law:
“The court shall appoint counsel at state expense to represent a person or group of persons who is subject to isolation or quarantine pursuant to this article and who is not otherwise represented by counsel,” reads the law. “Representation by appointed counsel continues throughout the duration of the isolation or quarantine of the person or group of persons. The department or local health authority must provide adequate means of communication between the isolated or quarantined persons and their counsel.”
The law also stipulates that legal counsel must be acquired at state expense and last the duration of the isolation or quarantine.
In reference to mandatory quarantines for students exposed to COVID-19, Brnovich referenced the authority cited by the Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) in their letter to communities in August. The letter cited MCDPH authority for student quarantines came from a statute which, in turn, cited the two statutes outlined by Brnovich granting legal counsel.
“When a county health department or public health services district is apprised that infectious or contagious disease exists within its jurisdiction, it shall immediately make an investigation. If the investigation discloses that the disease does exist, the county health department or public health services district may adopt quarantine and sanitary measures consistent with department rules and sections 36-788 and 36-789 to prevent the spread of the disease. The county health department or public health services district shall immediately notify the department of health services of the existence and nature of the disease and measures taken concerning it.”
Brnovich concluded that parents may seek a court order to lift the quarantine immediately, which would initiate the appointment of state-provided legal counsel to the student. A court would have 24 hours to hear the case, and 48 hours to submit its ruling. Counsel would also be available for parents petitioning to change quarantine conditions. In that case, a court would have 10 days to hold a hearing.
“[U]nder MCDPH’s quarantine requirements, which appear to be issued pursuant to A.R.S. § 36-788, MCDPH, through public schools, is mandating student quarantines without a court order. Once a parent or guardian receives the MCDPH letter requiring quarantine, the parent or guardian is entitled […] to immediately seek a court order lifting the quarantine,” wrote Brnovich. “And once a parent or guardian requests court review, A.R.S. § 36-789(M) requires the court to appoint counsel for the student at state expense. Similarly, if a parent or guardian files an action on behalf of the student challenging the conditions of a quarantine, the court is required to appoint counsel for the student at state expense.”
The attorney general noted that Arizona law doesn’t necessarily define “state expense.” He opined that the cost of counsel could fall on county health departments.
That wasn’t Kelly’s only request for Brnovich’s legal opinion as of late. The state senator requested Brnovich’s opinion on religious tests and denial of religious exemptions by employers.
An answer on Kelly’s latest question has yet to be published.