Education Mandates Become Punitive Without Funds

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Casey O'Brien

Superintendent, Payson Unified School District

Every year, the Arizona Department of Education assigns Performance Labels to each public and charter school in the state. Last week, as was reported in the Roundup, Payson's 2006-07 labels were released to the public. The news was very good.

In November of 2001, Arizona voters approved Proposition 301 that, among other things, provided funds to the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) to develop "a system to measure school performance based on student achievement, including student performance on the AIMS test." The legislative requirements for the accountability system are stated in section 15-241 (ARS § 15-241) of the Arizona Revised Statutes. The accountability system created to satisfy the statute is referred to as the Arizona LEARNS. The school evaluation given by ADE to each school is referred to as the school's achievement profile or label. Schools are categorized as either: Excelling, Highly Performing, Performing Plus, Performing, Under Performing or Failing. This year Julia Randall Elementary led the way as Excelling. PHS and PES were both Highly Performing and Frontier and Rim Country

Middle Schools were both Performing Plus. The Payson Center for Success received a Performing label; higher designations are not available for alternative schools. As I stated, the news is good, especially when we consider that labels have improved overall over the last three years and this is the first year ever Payson has had an Excelling school.

When we examine a broad spectrum of data ranging from ACT scores to AIMS and Terra Nova test data, graduation rates and now these performance labels, I can state unequivocally that Payson's schools, teachers, administrators and staff are accepting, meeting and even exceeding federal and state student achievement expectations. They do so, however, under increasingly challenging circumstances.

While I am pleased to be able to share our Performance Labels, I am certainly not proud of the fact that Arizona ranks 49th out of 50th in per-pupil funding. One might argue that student performance indicators suggest we have enough funding to do the job and do it well, but I would counter that much of student and school achievement reporting is based on reading and mathematics test scores. Those indicators, as important as they are, do not give a complete picture. Do our children have a wide range of vocational classes with up to date facilities and equipment? Do we have the necessary science materials and lab set ups for meaningful scientific inquiry? Are we able to keep pace with technology, integrating curriculum and preparing students for its required use in higher education and the workforce? Do our school facilities reflect the true value we place on our children and their futures? Are we able to do our best, not just what is minimally required by law, to provide for the needs of our students with special needs?

Many educators were initially optimistic that No Child Left Behind would seriously address these and other deficiencies. Particularly in Arizona, we were hopeful that federal resources would allow us to become more competitive, in a comprehensive sense, with other states. Unfortunately, NCLB funding has diminished, although the compliance mandates have not. We must absorb the cost for implementing both federal and state statutory requirements at the local levels. In fact, in response to Arizona House Bill 2064, The Arizona Department of Education has mandated that all schools provide four hours of English language instruction to every student identified as an English Language Learner. To date; however, no additional funding has been set aside to accomplish this. While the goal of helping every child become English proficient as quickly as possible is noble, its implementation becomes punitive without the accompanying necessary resources.

Yes, Payson Unified School District has done more with less. Will we continue to do so, striving towards excellence? Absolutely. I believe that is my duty to let our parents and community know that this challenge is great and becoming greater. Our teachers, staff and principals are being asked to do more with less.

Fortunately, this community has been willing to take a strong stand in support of K-12 education. Our construction bond and terrific participation with Credit for Kids, is an outstanding example of communities valuing children and the schools they attend. It is my responsibility to keep you informed about the realities of K-12 education. It is our pledge that we will continue to rise to meet the challenges we, in the business of teaching and learning, face.

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