School ‘Reform’ Doing More Harm Than Good

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What a farce. Bar the door and check your wallet: They’re going to fix our schools — again. Newly elected State Superintendent of Education John Huppenthal campaigned on a pledge to place letter grades on our schools, supposedly to spur reform.

This week, the state was supposed to issue new letter grades from A to D, to replace the existing labels — that range from Excelling to Underperforming. But at the last minute the state postponed the release of the rankings after discovering that 59 percent of the schools in the state would end up ranked as Cs or Ds.

The ratings will apparently rest mostly on student performance on standardized tests in core subjects — with great extra weight given to the improvement in the scores of the bottom 25 percent of the students in each school.

All the labels will do is to force schools to become more hopelessly obsessed with multiple-choice tests of basic knowledge and the struggles of the weakest students.

Schools desperate to avoid a D will spend even more time on rote learning and test scores. Once again, that single-minded focus will shove to the side music, art, vocational classes, advanced placement, project-based learning — all the classes that engage students emotionally and nurture their imaginations.

Enough. Enough. Far too much.

Anyone who’s spent time in a classroom knows the key to reforming education. We need to find and nourish great teachers — then get out of their way. But we have burdened inspiring creative teachers with so many foolish, unworkable reforms and mandates that they can barely get through the day without getting buried under a collapsing tower of paperwork. We need to let good teachers, teach and weed out the ones who cannot teach and inspire our youth.

Instead, politicians with the policy sophistication of a bumper sticker continue to inflict one useless “reform” after another — while not really offering up anything new to actually help the schools. What a farce.

It’s an emergency: Time to lend a hand

The mayor of Payson rushes into a Gila County Board of Supervisors meeting panting, disheveled and blackened with soot. “Quick, the wildfire’s almost here — I need a bulldozer.”

The supervisors stare at him, askance.

“My, my. Isn’t this rather late notice?” says one.

“But we may need that bulldozer next year for road grading,” says another. “What’s in it for us?” asks the third. That’s more or less what happened this week when Payson Mayor Kenny Evans appeared before a joint meeting of the Gila County Board Supervisors and the Gila Community College Board of Directors.

Now, granted, the mayor did not fully explain all of the details to the GCC board and county supervisors in the meeting. But still if those board members have been reading half the stories we have written about the ASU campus they would have known most of what the mayor was speaking about. And the county supervisors did agree to allow the process of selling the land to move forward.

The mayor appealed to them to sell the Rim Country Educational Alliance SLE nine acres Gila County owns in trust for the community college. The nine acres will enable the Alliance to build the first, 1,000-student phase of the campus directly across the highway from the planned, 2,000-student second phase.

The Alliance originally wanted to build the whole campus south of the highway on land Congress designated for sale a decade ago. However, the slow-turning wheels of the U.S. Forest Service will likely stall the sale of that land for perhaps another year.

So the resourceful advocates for the campus have an option to buy 67 acres of private land north of the highway. They want to add nine acres owned by Gila County in trust for Gila Community College to the 67 acres.

We thought the supervisors and the community college board would have jumped at a chance to help a college develop in Payson. Instead, they sounded nettled and reluctant, insisting that you can’t hurry such decisions.

Mind you, the Alliance wants to buy or lease just nine of the 60 empty acres, leaving plenty of land to accommodate any future growth of GCC. In the meantime, the sale will offer a windfall for the cash-strapped college.

We are confident the county will grasp the benefit to GCC of having a four-year college next door. But we are dismayed officials in this county fail to grasp this community’s desperate need to move forward the ASU campus’ ability to jump-start our struggling economy.

Unemployment remains above 9 percent, the population is dwindling and 16 percent of Payson students qualify as homeless and yet everyone from the Forest Service to the Gila County supervisors continues to obstruct and delay this community’s best hope for revival.

Smoke fills the air, the flames crackle and roar and time is slipping inexorably away: For the sake of Payson, lend a hand.

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