Schools Should Work Right, Not Just Hard


Arizona’s educational system has serious problems. It has nothing to do with money, nor intentions.

It has everything to do with the state’s high rates of high school dropouts and drug users.

A Goldwater Institute researcher recently presented a report to a group of community leaders and educators that chronicled the rise of Florida’s test scores, and compared them to Arizona’s stagnant ones.

Florida has similar demographics to Arizona, but Florida’s ethnic minorities now outperform Arizona’s average student. By holding back third-graders unable to read and making it easier for teachers to gain alternative certification, among other things, Florida’s test scores dramatically improved from roughly equal to Arizona’s in 1998 to 14 percentage points higher in 2007.

Education reform typically begins with cries for more money. We think it’s possible to spend more smartly instead of more profusely.

After the researcher’s presentation, the real fun began. Local educators took offense at the implicit suggestion that what they are doing isn’t working. They took turns at the microphone dismissing Florida’s success as an illusion and expounding on what Arizona does right.

We’re trying our best, the educators said — and we agree. They are.

Arizona is doing some things right. But we are also doing a lot wrong. And trying your best to navigate Chicago with a map of New York will still leave you lost.

The entire community needs to examine different ways of educating our youth. It’s not that Payson is failing — it’s that the United States is falling behind other nations.

Our jails are overflowing, and that’s symptomatic of a faulty education system. Well-educated people don’t turn to crime — with the exception of certain bankers and brokers.

County Superintendent of Schools Linda O’Dell said she was collecting names to start a group aimed at reforming education in Gila County.

We think everyone with good ideas should sign on.

Maybe more business/education partnerships can be forged throughout the county for hands-on education.

Maybe we can assign more hands-on projects that will help kids succeed in life.

Projects like these make learning fun. We are underestimating our students. They’re bored, and many of them aren’t very knowledgeable. The smart ones with good family support are succeeding, but we are leaving others behind.

It’s time to stop making excuses, stop assuming a defensive posture, and start making changes.

Forest must limit off-roaders

Buckle your seat belts.

After years of just thinking about, it the Payson Ranger District will shortly unveil its plan for getting cross-country quads, three-wheelers, dirt bikes and souped up Jeeps back on the maze of dirt roads that reach nearly every corner of the Tonto National Forest.

We hope that off-road users will take a breath, study the map showing the 900 or so miles of still open dirt roads in the district’s 400,000 acres and not make a fuss.

The development of these wonderful little, go-anywhere vehicles has created major environmental problems in the forest. The sturdy vehicles can strike out cross country and roar straight up steep hillsides. Great fun.

But also a big potential problem. The forest already had a dense network of old logging and mining roads — but ORVs can make their own tracks. These tracks can easily become deeply eroded ruts, sending the thin layer of topsoil silting into the nearest creek. Those critters sensitive to disturbance have nowhere to hide.

The Forest Service has to get control of those cross-country users. It should have acted years ago.

Mind you, it probably wouldn’t be a problem if all we had to cope with were local users, who have lived with the forest long enough to love it. But you all know we have to brace ourselves every Friday for the descent of the weekend yahoos, who think of the forest as some kind of theme park — with ground crews to pick up their discarded beer cans.

Moreover, Maricopa County recently closed most of its dirt roads to off-road vehicles to meet federal air pollution standards. Those frustrated quad riders represent a new tourism market for the Rim Country, but only if they don’t strip off 1,000 years worth of topsoil in a single season.

The Payson Ranger District will release a draft of its travel management plan in about a month, which seems likely to pit off-roaders against preservationists.

We just hope that everyone involved remembers that we don’t own the forest. We’ve just borrowed it, for the moment, from our grandchildren.


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