Allhands: Rewarding excelling schools won’t work (even if it should)

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Joanna Allhands: Gov. Doug Ducey can’t win with the current plan to reward schools that excel academically.

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Who doesn’t want schools that are doing a good job to succeed?

It’s about rewarding excellence, not mediocrity, right?

That’s the idea behind the governor’s plan to increase funding for excelling schools.

And I love it – in theory.

But it’s not going to improve education. Not in its current form, at least.

The plan offers $400 per student to poor schools – those with 60 percent or more students qualifying for free or reduced lunch – compared to $250 for richer schools.

It also dumbs-down the standards for poor schools, presumably so more would qualify. Only 41 percent of students at poor schools must pass standardized English and math tests to be considered high performing, compared to 65 percent for richer schools.

We don’t know what ‘high performing’ is

Don’t listen to a recent report that ranked Arizona education poorly. Something good is happening in our classrooms, columnist Robert Robb says, even if we don’t want to talk about it. azcentral.comWochit

Yet the bulk of the $38 million would still go to richer schools, because so many more meet the qualifications set for them.

This tells me two things:

1) We’ve set the definition of “high performing” way too low, particularly for rich schools, and

2) We really have no idea why rich and poor schools are excelling.

Arizona students made greater gains than any other state on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. White students scored eighth-best nationally in reading. Latino students ranked 11th-best in math.

And we have no idea why.

Let me be clear: All schools, rich or poor, need more funding. But the reality is we have limited dollars to work with. We can’t afford to spend money on things that won’t move the needle — or in this case, make the state’s student achievement gap even worse.

In other words, maybe before we hand out cash to schools that are doing it right, we should do a better job of identifying what “right” is.

-Originally published by Joanna Allhands on 4/25/17 on 2:42 pm