A long road to student recovery amid pandemic 

Oliver Estrada, 5, receives the first dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine at an Adelante Healthcare community vaccine clinic at Joseph Zito Elementary School, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Phoenix. The pandemic has had a significant impact on students’ learning. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

With students now back in school, it’s time for Arizona to focus on the educational challenges the Covid pandemic created for educators, students and families.

While the full impact of the pandemic on student learning is still being determined, we do know that the impact has been significant, affecting nearly every student and school in the state.

When the pandemic struck, educators faced an unprecedented challenge to transition overnight to remote learning. As hard as educators worked, several factors — such as limited technology and student and teacher anxiety — restricted student learning. Ultimately, the educational needs of parents and students were not met.

Paul Luna

The return to classroom learning was a step in the right direction. Now that students are deeply engaged in classroom learning, it is clear that lost in-person instruction time will take several years to recuperate.

Arizona needs a comprehensive response that addresses the specific learning needs of students. The task is too large for educators to solve the problems on their own. They will need the support and help of business leaders, philanthropists and volunteers across the state.

From what we’ve learned so far, much of which is explained in “Increased Disruption, Decreased Progress,” which Helios Education Foundation produced in collaboration with Arizona Department of Education and Arizona State Board of Education, here are the key issues to address:

  1. Mathematics: At every grade level, mathematics scores have declined faster than in English Language Arts.
  1. Early Literacy: English Language Arts scores fell the most in the elementary school grades. If children aren’t proficient readers by third grade, they are unlikely to succeed in the upper grades.
  1. English Learners: During the pandemic, the existing achievement gap between English Learners and their English-proficient peers widened. Just as worrisome, enrollment of the English Learner population fell by 10% over two years. These vulnerable students will never be able to catch up if they don’t return to school.
  1. Vulnerable Students: Other students who were already behind before the pandemic — those who are low-income, Latino, Black, or Native American — now have additional gaps to overcome to catch up to grade-level learning.

These lingering effects on student learning have severe consequences for our students and our state, and we all need to focus on helping to address them.

Arizona will need to sustain a multi-year recovery effort structured around intentional strategies to address incomplete learning, accelerate student progress and provide targeted support to students and educators. It is essential that entities throughout the state prioritize sustained, collaborative studies of the pandemic’s impact on student learning and outcomes. We need to understand how students have struggled over the past two years and use proven methods to help them catch up.

Those solutions include intensive tutoring, additional instructional time in math and early literacy, as well as extensive outreach and support for vulnerable populations, which fell further behind during the pandemic.

The task is enormous. But there is some good news – researchers are starting to detect a rebound in student achievement during the 2021-22 school year. But Arizona cannot rest on those laurels. Students lost too much and fell too far behind during the pandemic.

This work is essential — and we all must participate. We can’t afford to lose a generation of Arizona learners.

Paul Luna is president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation.




Alicia Williams: An educator who can post up


Alicia Williams is often mistaken for a kindergarten teacher.

And sure, she’s put some serious thought into going that route one day, but she actually got her start in Arizona’s education system teaching middle school social studies.

“And if you can teach middle school, you can do anything,” she said.

Williams may not have entirely believed that herself before joining the State Board of Education, but now, she’s the executive director at 32.

Cap Times Q&AIt sounds like you progressed pretty quickly. What do you think put you on that trajectory?

I truly believe you meet people at the right time to push you into your next role or job or life event. … I didn’t know why someone would pick me for this job. Policy and politics and government is not my background. I’m a teacher. I’m an administrator. … When Carol Schmidt resigned last year, I didn’t apply. Like it was open for about a month, and I didn’t apply right away. And really, it was a lot of soul-searching, like could I do this job knowing the stresses that come with it. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared when they announced my name or when I knew the board was going to vote on my hiring. I was petrified. But I go back to my college basketball days. There’s always going to be someone who thinks you can’t do it, so prove them wrong.

The board noted you are a young leader in education. It seems that there are a lot of young leaders emerging in education. Do you identify with that trend?

I’m not a political person. I tend to be like straight down the middle, and ultimately, my goal is always what’s best for kids. But I think that we’ve seen a national trend with women taking higher positions in government, and I think it’s cool. I’m interested to see how the young people shake things up, not just women but the men, too, who are young and have fresh ideas. My role’s a little bit different, so my opinions sometimes don’t matter because it’s about the board. I’m a servant of the board, and I take that very seriously.

Your previous work for the board involved disciplining teachers. What was that like?

There’s no teacher oath, but you pledge to protect your students. You would do anything for your students. That’s like your mini family for 45 minutes before the bell rings. So sometimes when teachers cross those lines, it’s very difficult to read and understand. Look at an extreme case when the board votes to revoke a certificate. Yes, that teacher’s losing their livelihood, but at the same time, we’re protecting students from something terrible happening again. You want to ensure that you’re looking at the act that was done… but then also allowing that person to come to talk about what happened.

Do you ever find yourself thinking about teaching again?

All the time. … Member Jill Broussard invited me to go to a high school, and they were having their homecoming pep rally. Just to see all those high school kids, it was just so cool. At the end of the day, it’s really important for me and also for my staff to go to schools and to listen to the administrators and teachers and remember why we do this. That whole place was loud and they were cheering and the freshmen were going after the seniors, and it was just phenomenal. You kind of forget that when you’re out of the classroom. And as much as I love high schoolers, I love kindergartners, too. They’re learning new things every day, and it reminds you how fun learning can be when you sit with a group of 5-year-olds. They always ask the darndest questions. Usually, it’s when I’m reading a book and they ask a crazy question about the illustration. Like I don’t know why the dinosaur is purple. He ate a lot of grapes that day.

I miss just being able to go into a classroom and experience love. Even if I had to just give a kid detention–still happy to see you. Or walking into a cafeteria filled with kids, and they’re stoked to see you, telling you about their corn dogs.

You mentioned you played college basketball.

I remember in my senior year, I knew that whatever I did, my siblings would eventually follow. If I made good choices, my siblings would. But I didn’t know how I would pay for college, so I was thinking about joining the military. I went to a recruiter and all that stuff, and a week later, I got a call from the University of Mount Union. They wanted me to come play basketball for them. D-3 schools don’t give you full rides, so I was still working a lot at the grocery store and I did the team’s laundry. … I am very blessed.

Do you play anymore?

I do. I will go to the gym and shoot hoops. And I am great–ok, that’s a little boastful. I’m decent. … I cannot play a pickup game, and this is why. I’m always the only female on the basketball court. If a gentleman comes up to me and says they have nine players, will I be their tenth, I’ll be like, “Sure.” But in my mind, I am classically trained, which is a funny thing to say. It was a full-time job in college, so there are certain things in my mind that I cannot turn off. I know how to play. When I play pickup, sometimes pickup doesn’t follow the rules, and I get very frustrated with that. Plus, they do not pass me the ball!

I specifically remember this one time. I’m very tall. I’m a very big person. And I was a center. And I know how to post up. And I know how to do a hook shot. And I know how to make a layup. This guy who was probably 5’7” was guarding me. I’m posting him up, and they would not pass me the ball. I’m like, “Give me the ball. I will hip-check him, and I will score.” And I remember some random guy came in and started yelling at my teammate to pass me the ball. This is why I don’t play pickup. They just assume I don’t know how to play. … But I know how to move people out of the way.

Board of Ed scraps proposal on sex education rules

State schools chief Kathy Hoffman and Luke Narducci, president of the state Board of Education, listen Monday to a parade of parents object to proposed changes in sex education rules. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
State schools chief Kathy Hoffman and Luke Narducci, president of the state Board of Education, listen Monday to a parade of parents object to proposed changes in sex education rules. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Facing a barrage of parental criticism, the state Board of Education decided Monday to scrap a proposal to remove certain language from the rules on sex education.

Several members of the appointed board said they are unwilling to consider the kind of changes being proposed, not just by gay rights advocates on one side but a coalition of parents on the other who want even more restrictions on what can be taught. Armando Ruiz said that is the purview of elected state lawmakers.

“We’re not the Legislature,” he said.

Monday’s decision is most immediately a defeat for Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, and allies on the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, which sought to remove verbiage that now bans the teaching of “abnormal, deviant or unusual sexual acts and practices.” Instead, that proposal sought to spell out that sex education instruction must be “medically and scientifically accurate” and that courses provide “medically accurate instruction” on methods to prevent the transmission of disease.

That provoked a firestorm of protest, with more than four dozen foes showing up to tell the board to back off. It also raised questions from Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa.

“Who decides what’s medically accurate?” she asked the board, suggesting that scientific studies often reach the result desired by the organization that funded the research.

But board members also chose not to consider vastly different proposals by some parents for what they would change in the rules. Suggestions ranged from requiring that abstinence be the only thing taught in sex education to an outright prohibition on mentioning masturbation, oral or anal sex.

During the approximately four hours of testimony several parents took swipes at state schools chief Kathy Hoffman, who took office in January, for even putting the Quezada proposal on the agenda.

“You’re injecting your political beliefs,” said Scott Weinberg who said he has two children in the Kyrene Elementary School District.

“I understand that you won that election,” he said. “But that doesn’t give you the right to change the curriculum for all of our children.”

Lesa Antone was more direct, focusing on the state’s low rankings nationally in scores on reading, writing and math.

“Why don’t you spend more time focusing on that and less time trying to sexualize little innocent babies, because that’s what they are,” she said.

“And you want to put them in makeup and make them drag queens and make them sexualized individuals,” Antone continued. “Shame on you!”

Hoffman insisted that she was not trying to push a specific agenda. Instead, she told those in the audience that she was simply putting forward the suggestions from Quezada for the board to consider.

“I thought this was worthy of discussion,” she said. “I would give the same respect to any senator.”

But former schools chief Diane Douglas, defeated in last year’s Republican primary, accused Hoffman of giving “priority status to your most favorite organization over every other concerned parent that’s sitting in this room today.” Douglas did not publicly identify the organization.

Animosity to Hoffman, however, predates Monday’s proposed rule change.

She used her first State of Education speech to call on lawmakers to repeal a law that prohibits any courses on AIDS and HIV from portraying homosexuality “as a positive alternative lifestyle.” Hoffman, a Democrat, told members of the House Education Committee at the time that the verbiage “contributes to an unsafe school environment” and leads to discrimination and bullying.

Hoffman got her wish — but only after gay rights groups filed a federal court lawsuit and Attorney General Mark Brnovich declined to defend the law.

And the board last month separately repealed an existing rule that had required sex ed classes to “promote honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage,” a provision also challenged in the federal court lawsuit and demanded by plaintiffs to drop their lawsuit.

Hoffman, in defending herself Monday, also said that sex ed classes operate on an “opt-in” basis, with parents having to give consent.

“That is not changing,” she said. “It’s always the parents’ choice of whether or not their child participates.”

Michael Clark, attorney for the Center for Arizona Policy, separately objected to another proposed change which would have allowed – but not required – schools to have co-ed sex ed classes. Madeline Adelman, speaking for GLSEN, said those choices should be left to local school boards.

The board could get some direction from the Republican-controlled Legislature this coming year on what changes, if any, to make.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, vowed to propose a law that absolutely forbids sex education of any type before the fifth grade; existing law allows but does not require schools to provide instruction on AIDS and HIV from kindergarten through Grade 12.

And Allen, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, made it clear she’s not particularly pleased with what is being taught at all grade levels.

“Schools should never be in competition with what parents are trying to teach at home and how they are directing their children,” she said. Allen also took a broader swipe at public education, saying it is moving away from instruction and instead to “social engineering” of children.

There were other political overtones in the hearing,

Ashley Davis, who said she was a member of the Patriot Movement, complained that 75 percent of teachers in the nation “openly identify with many leftist and Marxist values that are indoctrinating the youth of America with spite for our flag, disgust for our history, hatred for our values but, most of all, violent rhetoric towards our awesome president Donald J. Trump.”

Board of Ed to sit on $20M earmarked for cops and counselors

classroom school money chalkboard dollar sign

Arizona schools may  have to wait another school year to hire new counselors and cops.

Lawmakers this year appropriated an additional $20 million to the state’s school safety program, which must be spent on school resource officers, counselors or social workers. The Arizona Board of Education is responsible for distributing the funding as grants, while school district leaders will get to decide which position they want to hire for at the local level.

But the Board of Education voted Monday to delay awarding new grants, possibly until all schools have a chance to apply.

At issue is the lifecycle of the school safety grant program.

Grants are awarded every three years, and by law, the next round of applications are due by April 15, 2020.

Schools that previously applied for a safety grant did so more than two years ago, at a time when the program exclusively funded school resource officers.

The Board of Education tabled a proposal Monday to spend the additional $20 million immediately at schools that previously applied to hire school resource officers. There’s $16 million earmarked in existing funds to pay for school resource officers, but that’s only enough money to hire officers at 114 schools.

Another 87 schools applied, but were put on a wait list until more money became available.

The Board of Education considered a plan to spend that $20 million this year by allowing all 201 schools that applied for a school resource officer grant to hire a cop, a counselor or perhaps both.

Chris Kotterman, director of government relations at the Arizona School Boards Association, said the proposal made sense given Gov. Doug Ducey’s initial budget proposal. In January, the governor proposed more than $9 million specifically to hire school resource officers at those 87 schools.

But most board members balked at distributing any of the $20 million before all schools have an opportunity to apply for the new funding. Board Member Michele Kaye said that the 201 schools whose previous applications were approved applied at a time when the funding was only available for school resource officers, not based on requests for counselors or social workers.

“That wasn’t the purpose of the grant at the time,” Kaye said.

And Board Member Patricia Welborn noted that there are entirely new schools up-and-running in the last two years – since the last grant application deadline – that wouldn’t have the same immediate access to the new $20 million in grants. Nor would schools who didn’t bother to apply because they didn’t want or need to hire school resource officers, Welborn added.

The Board of Education ultimately voted to set aside the $20 million in new funding until officials can create criteria and accept new applications. That may mean the state will have that $20 million sitting in the bank for another year, and schools won’t see additional cops or counselors until schools start in August 2020.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman was the lone board member to vote against stashing the money. Hoffman said that school safety is too pressing an issue, and “it makes me anxious to sit on [that funding].”

Catcher Baden, the Board of Education’s deputy director, later said that tabling the proposal doesn’t necessarily mean that the $20 million won’t be put to use during the upcoming school year. It’s up to board staff to research options for the Board of Education to consider, perhaps as soon as their next regularly scheduled meeting on August 26, Baden told the Arizona Capitol Times

“The $20 million they tabled until they got more complete information… nothing precludes the board on August 26 from approving” a way to spend the money, he said.

What’s unclear is how they’ll do that, considering state law requires the grants be distributed on a three year cycle, with the next round of applications due by April 15, 2020.

“It is challenging that the April 15 deadline is still in statute. However, I feel like that shouldn’t prevent us from trying to find ways to get dollars to schools,” Baden said.

Hank Stephenson contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comments from Catcher Baden.

Board of Education approves money for counselors, cops


The Arizona State Board of Education voted Monday to expedite a process that will award $20 million to schools to hire new counselors and cops.

Board members had previously balked at immediately spending the new one-time appropriation lawmakers approved in the budget – grants have been awarded on a three-year cycle, and by law, the next round of applications for school safety funding weren’t due until April 15, 2020.

But the board worked with Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and Gov. Doug Ducey, and the Arizona School Counselors Association, to come up with a new plan that will begin awarding funds for school safety officers, school counselors and social workers as early as October.

The new process ensures that all, not some, public and charter schools will be able to apply for a piece of the $20 million now available.

The Department of Education will begin accepting grant applications on September 16. Schools will have until September 27 to apply by specifying how the grant will be spent, be it on SROs or counselors, and why the funding is needed.

By late October, the Board of Education will begin reviewing the applications and approving grants for specific schools. As soon as a grant is approved, schools are authorized to begin the hiring process to get new school safety staff on campus as soon as possible.

Another round of applications will be accepted in the spring, beginning on March 1, 2020.

Any unused funds will be retained by the Department of Education to be distributed in future grant-making periods in the next two to three years.

Hoffman praised the board for working closely with the governor and her own staff to ensure that the $20 million goes to schools immediately – otherwise the funding may have gone unspent until the 2020-2021 school year.

“I applaud the Governor, lawmakers, and advocates for prioritizing these issues during the last legislative session, and I look forward to finding ways to build on this work in the months ahead,” Hoffman said in a statement. “Our students are counting on us to ensure their mental health and physical safety – we cannot let them down.”

Ducey, in an effort to ensure that the school safety funding made it to schools this year, tweeted that he offered the assistance of the Department of Administration’s Office of Grants and Federal Resources, and the Government Transformation Office within Ducey’s administration. 

“This is an important first step,” Ducey tweeted, but “more needs to be done. We want these dollars to reach schools as fast as possible. And we stand ready to work with [Superintendent Hoffman], [the State Board of Education, [Arizona School Counselors Association] and legislators to get more counselors in schools where they can make a difference.”

Board of education votes to settle ‘no promo homo’ lawsuit


Weeks after the Legislature voted to repeal Arizona’s no promo homo’ statute, the Arizona State Board of Education unanimously voted Monday to settle the lawsuit that prompted the change.

In its monthly meeting, the State Board went into executive session to discuss the pending litigation with its attorney. When the board members came out, they all voted to repeal a regulation that sexual education classes in the state “promote honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage.”

Dan Barr, an attorney at Perkins Coie who also represented the plaintiffs said the settlement agreed upon says the statute would be repealed, which it was already, and the regulation would also be repealed, but that anything further than the repeal vote would likely be discussed at the next Board of Ed meeting in May.

Monday’s decision came roughly one month after the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Equality Arizona, and both Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said they would not defend it.

It fell to the hands of the Legislature when Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge offered an amendment to attach the repeal to an unrelated education bill, SB1394. The House voted 55-5 in favor of the repeal, and the Senate voted 19-10. The bill was then rushed to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk where he immediately signed it into law.

Shope credits Hoffman with bringing it to his attention during her first State of Education speech to the House Education Committee of which Shope is a member.

Charter group: Excluding advanced math 8th graders skews test results

The exclusion of nearly 20 percent of eighth graders from the state’s public schools achievement test drove down math results in 2016, according to the Arizona Charter Schools Association.

Ildi Laczko-Kerr, the chief academic officer for the association and the Center for Student Achievement, found that about 16,000 eighth grade students enrolled in accelerated math classes took high school level end-of-course exams that year, but the results were not included in the state’s AzMERIT pass rate. AzMERIT is an annual statewide test that measures student performance in English language arts and math. The pass rate for eighth graders was reported at 26 percent. However, according to Laczko-Kerr, the pass rate is actually 36 percent when those 16,000 missing kids are factored into the equation, along with their general math peers.


In an op-ed written for the Arizona Capitol Times last week, Laczko-Kerr warned that the exclusion and lack of transparent data on accelerated students “creates big hurdles for policymakers who aim to advance policies that will drive academic excellence.”

Laczko-Kerr elaborated following the publication of that piece.

Without complete data, she said, policymakers, teachers and parents may be left to make assumptions about the effectiveness of accelerating students thus far.

“Our parents might think that our students don’t have the capacity to be accelerated,” Laczko-Kerr said. “It’s just being fair to our communities and transparent in the data so that we can make good, informed decisions. The bottom line is, right now, we don’t have the transparency we need, so we may be making poor decisions.”

But according to Arizona Department of Education spokesman Stefan Swiat, the state Board of Education made the decision not to include those taking advanced exams based on how the data has traditionally been reported to the federal government for eighth graders and others. Swiat said that data has been reported based on grade level and assessment taken.

“Essentially, what they’re asking in this editorial is just a different question, a different way of reporting what’s already there,” he said. “That case was made before the board, but the board decided to go with the historic way. As the state, we’ll report it however everyone wants it reported.”

To include the accelerated students’ scores would certainly help the overall pass rate, Swiat said, but it would also be “comparing apples to oranges.”

General math students are tested on subject matter that differs from, say, that of the Algebra I exam. To lump the two groups together struck Swiat as an unusual idea, but if the Arizona Charter Schools Association wants that data, he said the department would be open to providing a report including the accelerated students.

Beyond that, he said, the association can go before the board and make an argument of why the way the data is reported should change.

Ildi Laczko-Kerr
Ildi Laczko-Kerr

But Laczko-Kerr argued that choices driven by this method of reporting now could be detrimental to students for years to come.

Laczko-Kerr said eighth grade is a pivotal year in terms of continued access to math education – something Gov. Doug Ducey acknowledged when he included algebra proficiency by eighth grade among his “Education Matters Arizona” goals.

“What we know is students who have accelerated math in eighth grade actually have more opportunities to take math in high school and to take higher level math classes in high school,” Laczko-Kerr said. “So, if the endgame really is getting more kids college and career ready as a state, then we need to understand what that means to accelerate students and also to track it.”

The best remedy, she said, would be to include all students’ scores in the statewide pass rate. Additionally, she recommended reporting the accelerated student’s scores separately to better track and support their success.

When AzMERIT was first implemented in 2015, schools could not test students outside of their grade levels. But in 2016, schools had the option of giving high school level exams associated with advanced math classes, including Algebra I, Algebra II and geometry. Some schools, according to Lazcko-Kerr, had accelerated students take both exams, but that’s not reflected either.

And she cannot know what 2017’s results will hold.

Eileen Sigmund
Eileen Sigmund

Eileen Sigmund, president and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association who co-authored the op-ed piece with Laczko-Kerr, said they only discovered the exclusion through their own efforts to check on charter schools’ performance. The statewide data included both district and charter schools. Now, she said, they are presenting their findings for the sake of accuracy.

“We just want to have credit for really doing better than what the numbers are showing,” said Sigmund. “We need to measure and report math performance for all of our students in eighth grade no matter what test they take… What you measure you can always improve upon.”

She said there are “reverberating impacts” on the business community when Arizona’s performance may look lackluster compared to the rest of the country.

Sigmund said concrete consequences of the exclusion have not been identified at this point. She was certain, for example, that results-based funding was not impacted. But when school letter grades dictate whether a school can even keep its doors open, she said measuring performance with complete data is of the utmost importance.

Education board rebuffs Christian-centric academic standards

State schools chief Diane Douglas details Monday why she wants education standards crafted by a Christian college to have to be used in Arizona schools. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
State schools chief Diane Douglas details Monday why she wants education standards crafted by a Christian college to have to be used in Arizona schools. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

The state Board of Education on Oct. 22 rebuffed a bid by schools chief Diane Douglas to adopt standards for Arizona’s public schools crafted by a Christian college.

But whether schools can use the standards crafted by Hillsdale College remains an open question.

Several board members said it might be appropriate to have that as an option for schools that choose not to follow the standards that the board adopted for history, social studies and science by a 6-4 vote. Jared Taylor, one of the dissents, said he hopes to revisit the issue at future board meetings.

What is clear is that the new standards incorporate some last-minute changes proposed by the Arizona Science Teachers Association. The most notable change includes a clear statement that “the unity and diversity of organism, living and extinct, is the result of evolution.”

Sara Torres, the group’s executive director, said these standards will “protect teachers of science from being put in a position of teaching non-scientific ideas.”

After the vote, Douglas insisted she is not against the teaching of evolution. And Douglas said she even is willing to concede that “science, to some degree, has proven adaptation of species.” Where she parts company is taking the next steps.

“Show me where any scientist has proven or replicated that life came from non-living matter or that, in the example we see in the museums, that man evolved from an ape,” Douglas said.

“There’s no proof to that,” she continued. “Let’s teach our children all those different things and let them study them.”

The process of revising the standards started two years ago. But it came into sharper focus after some revisions, some initiated by Douglas and her aides.

What they prepared to present to the board last month proved unacceptable to the science teachers.

The science teachers sought – and got – restoration of language that says students should be asked to analyze geoscience data and results from global climate models “to make evidence-based predictions of the current rate and scale of global or regional climate change.” And they wanted students to be able to construct an evidence-based explanation for how the availability of natural resources and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

They specifically convinced the board to adopt the language about evolution.

Douglas, for her part, said her objections went beyond any specific change. She argued that the standards the board adopted are, in effect, just minor modifications of what has been going on for decades, a system that she said is failing Arizona students.

For example, she said 56 percent of third graders cannot read or write at grade level. And 47 percent cannot do basic arithmetic.

And she said that 60 percent of students entering the Maricopa community colleges need remedial classes.

“Hillsdale are the best standards for our students if – and that’s a big if – giving them the education to which they are entitled, which, I define as for success post K-12 and as citizens of our great state and nation, is more than just lip service,” Douglas, who is also a member of the board, argued to others on the panel.

But the Hillsdale proposal came under scrutiny at least in part amid concerns that they are not so much standards as actual curriculum of what is to be taught. And then there is the emphasis on Judeo-Christian teachings, far more than in current state standards in teaching comparative religions.

For example, under the concept of lasting ideas from ancient civilizations, the standards mention the idea of a “covenant” between God and man, and “important stories” like creation and the calling of Abraham. That continues into the New Testament with stories on the baptism of Jesus, walking on water and the resurrection.

Douglas bemoaned the proposal as just another in a long line of so-called “reforms” that are “just more fads, gimmicks and tricks, with lots of testing added on for good measure.” And then, she said there has been “inadequate” input from parents and the community.

“They should be telling us what they expect and what they need for their children’s education and not being told what will be put upon them,” she said.

That lack of community input also bothered Patricia Welborn, another board member, though she wondered aloud if more could be done. She was one of the four votes against the new standards.

Taylor, the chief executive of Heritage Academy, a charter school, had more specific objections to making these standards mandatory. One, he said, was the failure to provide “age-appropriate” content to students in kindergarten through third grade.

“You ask them to do a lot of conceptual work,” he said. “And their brains aren’t ready for it.”

Taylor said schools should be free to adopt either the standards approved by the board on Monday or the Hillsdale standards, which were developed for charter schools.

Rana Singh Sodhi asks members of the state Board of Education to expand its requirements to teach religion to include Sikhs, saying that ignorance resulted in the death of his brother, Balbi, following the 2001 terrorist attacks. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Rana Singh Sodhi asks members of the state Board of Education to expand its requirements to teach religion to include Sikhs, saying that ignorance resulted in the death of his brother, Balbi, following the 2001 terrorist attacks. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Not all of Monday’s debate surrounded issues of science or even teaching history.

A group from the Sikh community urged board members to ensure that its own faith is taught to students when they learn about world religions.

Rana Singh Sodhi reminded board members how his brother, Balbi, was killed at his Mesa gas station and convenience store four days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by someone who apparently decided that he must be a Muslim terrorist because he wore a turban.

“If we can save one person’s life through education, even, I think it is worth it,” he said.

The board took no action on the request.

House passes proposed repeal of ‘no promo homo’ law

The Arizona House voted to repeal the "no promo homo" law 55-5.
The Arizona House voted to repeal the “no promo homo” law 55-5.

The House voted today by a wide margin to strike down the state’s “no promo homo” law and render a lawsuit against the decades-old provision moot.

The repeal of a portion of the state’s law on AIDS instruction that specifically prohibits the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle and safe homosexual sex was approved 55-5. Republican Reps. John Fillmore, Mark Finchem, Anthony Kern, Warren Petersen and Bret Roberts voted “no.”

The repeal was offered as an amendment to Senate Bill 1346. Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, offered the amendment to eliminate the “antiquated” law and save the taxpayer dollars that may have otherwise been spent defending it.

Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, thanked Shope and everyone who supported his amendment for “changing laws for the betterment of all students in Arizona public schools.”

When the law was adopted in 1991, no one would have imagined that six openly gay men would be serving in the Legislature today, he said. And the vote today was a bipartisan demonstration that things are different today.

“This is not a victory for one person or for one group. This is something that all of us share in together,” Hernandez said.

No one who voted “no” explained his decision on the floor.

Both Finchem and Roberts initially voted “yes” on the bill, but changed their minds.

The lawmakers, of Oro Valley and Maricopa respectively, told the Arizona Capitol Times constituents texted them during the vote to encourage them not to support the bill.

Fillmore of Apache Junction did not need to be convinced.

He said the existing law allows kindergartners to be taught about AIDS, and he took issue with that.

The law does state that students in kindergarten through 12th grade may be educated on “acquired immune deficiency syndrome and the human immunodeficiency virus.” The law also states that the curriculum should be age appropriate.

“We’re throwing the innocence of our kids away. … I just find it kind of abhorrent that we do that in our society today,” he said, adding he has no problem with AIDS instruction for older students. “It’s just the whole system. Sometimes you just kind of look at it and scratch your head and go ‘what the hell.’”

Fillmore had already planned to vote “no” on SB 1346 before Shope’s repeal was on the table.

The House also amended the bill to allow the state Board of Education to bring the state back into compliance with federal law regarding the implementation of the “menu of assessments.”

That amendment gives the board the authority to decide which grades could take alternate assessments, giving officials more flexibility to ensure the state once again complies with the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

Without that, the state was at high risk of losing upwards of $300 million in federal funding for low-income students.

Fillmore, a supporter of the menu of assessments law adopted in 2016, told the Republican caucus Tuesday that he would not support the amendment to comply with the feds’ determination because it allowed them to kick the can down the road.

Shope said the decision to add his amendment to one that came with a $300 million-plus price tag was not strategic – SB 1346 was simply the only other education-related bill available – but had wondered ahead of the vote if members’ opposing opinions on the two ideas would affect the vote.

Ultimately, the menu of assessments portion of SB 1346 was approved without comment on the floor.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Legislator proposes law to ban politics from classroom

Rep. Mark Finchem
Rep. Mark Finchem

Rep. Mark Finchem wants the State Board of Education to craft an educator code of ethics explicitly prohibiting politicking in the classroom – an activity already banned under state law.

The Oro Valley Republican’s proposal in House Bill 2002 would require the board to adopt uniform rules for all certified teachers in “taxpayer-supported schools” to bar them from a litany of political activities in school. Those include the endorsement or opposition of any candidate, nominee or elected or appointed official; any pending or enacted legislation, rule or regulation; any pending, proposed or decided court case; or any pending, proposed or executed executive action.

Finchem also proposes a prohibition on “any controversial issue that is not germane to the top of the course or academic subject,” where “controversial issue” is defined as “a point in a political party platform.”

But the bill seems to mirror prohibitions already in place under a state law that forbids the use of public school resources to influence elections. That would include advocating or opposing a candidate or the like during working hours.

Arizona School Boards Association lobbyist Chris Kotterman said the bill does not appear to be a genuine effort to improve the teaching profession, but rather a list of grievances.

“The fact of the matter is a bunch of teachers decided to organize outside of school time and they did an incredibly good job and they made a show of political will, and no one can believe they possibly were able to do that without cheating somehow,” he said. “Without using their district email, without telling all of their students how terrible the Legislature is.”

HB 2002 follows a year of heightened political activism among teachers, tens of thousands of whom swarmed the Capitol in April to strike for higher pay among other things.

Finchem at the time of the strike said it was “an incredible show of bad faith while we are working diligently to rearrange priorities within the state budget.”

“To leave the classroom, and put parents and children in the middle of a budget reorganization is quite the political statement. I am saddened to see professionals do this,” Finchem said.

He did not immediately return a request for comment.

Teachers and school employees are already keenly aware that they’re under a microscope in this regard, Kotterman said. But more importantly, state law has already addressed political activity.

“This just doesn’t feel serious to me. It feels 100 percent political,” he said of the bill. “If you were serious about having a teacher code of ethics, it would cover more than just stuff that seems to have happened in the last 24 months.”

It wasn’t just the Red for Ed movement that irked some lawmakers like Finchem.

One prominent Red for Ed organizer, music teacher Noah Karvelis, was specifically criticized for bringing what some legislators saw as inappropriate lyrics to his classroom.

Outgoing Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, wrote an op-ed for the The Arizona Republic after Karvelis taught the hip hop of Kendrick Lamar, whose lyrics, Syms wrote, include “we hate Popo (police), wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, (N-word).”

Finchem also proposed rules against engaging in any activity that would impede military recruiters’ access to campuses or actions by law enforcement.

And in addition to banning the segregation of students according to race, Finchem does not want teachers to be able to “single out one racial group of students as being responsible for the suffering or inequities experienced by another racial group of students.”

That provision seems to hint at Tucson Unified School District’s former Mexican American Studies program, of which Finchem has been a frequent critic. Kotterman caught that, too.

“We have been down this road. We have a law on the books about this. It’s been litigated three times,” he said. “Believe me when I say that school districts understand their responsibilities.”

HB 2002 concludes with an invitation to professional teacher organizations and unions to adopt a code of ethics voluntarily to prohibit “political indoctrination.”

Kotterman wondered if Finchem would use such language if he’d heard about teachers calling for limited regulations or reduced taxes.

“There’s never a problem of unethical conduct or bias when there’s conservative ideas on the table,” he said.

“The fact that teachers happen to teach children during the day does not mean they can’t get out and advocate for their profession just like firefighters and police officers do.”

Schools chief asks for more money to probe teacher misconduct

In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 photo, Kathy Hoffman, a public school speech therapist, is a Democratic candidate running for superintendent of public education in Phoenix. Hoffman is running against three-term California congressman Frank Riggs, the founding president of an online charter school. In a wild card movement shaking up U.S. midterm election campaigns, hundreds of teacher candidates are running for elected office. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The state’s schools chief says the team in charge of investigating teacher misconduct claims is understaffed and overworked, and she wants enough money to double the staff.

Arizona Department of Education’s investigations unit currently has one chief, one administrator and four investigators who individually work on an average of 120-150 cases per year. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman is asking for $556,000 to double the staff and add a second administrator to help with the workload. The request was part of the agency’s annual budget request to the governor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budget.

Richie Taylor, a department spokesman, said putting that many cases on each investigator is too much, and more employees can help handle the caseload and reach a final disposition faster than the current average of 24 months.

The request comes on the heels of a joint investigation by KJZZ and The Arizona Republic looking into teachers who have been accused of sexual misconduct but have slipped through the cracks in the reporting system. But the request was finalized before the State Board of Education expressed it wants a lawmaker to introduce a bill that would expand the board’s authority to investigate non-certified school employees, such as coaches, support staff and student teachers.

To that point, an ADE spokesman said additional staff would need to be added to also account for non-certified staff on top of what was already requested.

Since fiscal year 2015, the investigations unit has opened nearly 5,000 cases, but only found a small fraction of those cases were adjudicated, according to data from the department and Board of Education.

The department could not provide information on how many cases were closed over that span without being adjudicated.

Alicia Williams, the executive director of the Board of Education, speculated a lot of those cases could be for a first time DUI with no aggravating factors, which she says would be closed fairly quickly.

In 2015, there was a fight over who oversaw the investigations unit – the board or the department, which was managed by Republican Diane Douglas, the superintendent at the time. Control was temporarily given to the board, but the department regained control in 2016, where it remains currently.

Misconduct allegations are reported to the ADE’s investigations unit, and then sent to the board after the case has been investigated.

During Douglas’ tenure, the unit faced a huge backlog of cases, according to data from the board. The department couldn’t immediately provide data on whether the investigations unit currently has a backlog of cases.

In 2015, an investigation found that 79 of 230 cases of teacher misconduct dating back to 2010 had not been reported to state or national databases and a failure to not report those cases yielded deadly results.

A 2009 love triangle involving a teacher who was having affairs with a current and former student of hers resulted in the murder of the current student by the former student. The teacher was under state investigation at the time of the murder for the affair with the former student.

More board data presents a gender divide of the teaching profession and which gender commits the most offenses.

As of December 2018, roughly 77% of certified teachers are women, but roughly 62% of all adjudicated cases are done by the male certified teachers. Williams said there is no data that goes deeper into the gender breakdown, but at a Board of Education retreat in August, one member recommended to keep track of that data moving forward. Williams told Arizona Capitol Times that is the plan for 2020.

Coming up at its next meeting on October 28, Williams said they plan to dive deeper into what they want from the Legislature next session as far as a bill targeting uncertified teachers.

The board, which certifies and revokes certifications from teachers, can direct investigators within the department to investigate reports of teacher misconduct, but it doesn’t have authority now over uncertified teachers and other school employees.

Most district school teachers must be certified, but charter schools don’t automatically require certification. Certified teachers who have been investigated can show up on two databases – the public-facing Online Arizona Certification Information System, which lists disciplinary action taken against teachers, and an internal database accessible only by school hiring managers that notes whether an investigation is ongoing.

If Hoffman does not get the money she is seeking, and this bill makes it through the Legislature to add the non-certified teachers to the list of duties the investigations unit has to handle, the department would be looking at much higher than the average 120-150 cases per person.

Staff Writer Julia Shumway contributed to this report.