Is TUSD A Failed School District?

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If you look at the comments following my posts that have anything to do with TUSD, you'll read over and over that the district is a complete, abject failure. You can hear the same refrain in other venues as well, of course. It comes from the "education reform" crowd who love to declare all traditional public education a failure so it can "solve the problem" through privatization. It also comes from a contingent of folks on the left who value public education but think nothing less than "throwing the bums out" will make things better — the bums being the current superintendent and his team of administrators as well as the school board members who enable the inept (and possibly corrupt) administration by rubber-stamping its agenda.

I have a question for the "TUSD is failing crowd": Failing compared to what?

Compared to the Platonic ideal of education? By that standard, absolutely, TUSD is a dismal failure. So is every school that ever existed and every teacher who ever held forth in front of a group of students from the beginning of time. There's no satisfying Plato. We teachers are all Parable-of-the-Cave-ers, showing kids shadows on the wall and pretending it's reality — all teachers with the possible exception of Socrates, and look what happened to him.

Or are we comparing TUSD to other large urban districts across the country? Then, not so much. Urban school districts are troubled places everywhere, and many of the reasons are beyond the ability of the schools to solve. They're embedded deep inside the urban socioeconomic landscape and need intervention that's beyond the reach of educators.

Compared to charter schools? Again, not so much. A thorough study of the nation's charter schools concluded that when you compare students in charter schools in Arizona with similar students in school districts, the charter school kids perform at a lower level on standardized tests.

Compared to private schools? No, not there either. I don't know of any head-to-head studies of private and public school students in Arizona, but in other states, when studies compare students who are using vouchers to attend private school with similar students in school districts, it's basically a wash.

Improving educational attainment for students is a slow, hard slog. There are no magic bullets, and no fixes that can be duplicated and dropped into schools like a new McDonalds franchise. TUSD doesn't deserve the blanket assessment of "Failure." It doesn't deserve a blanket "Successful" label either. Like virtually every school and school district, it's somewhere in between.

The "TUSD is a failure" meme is destructive to the district and the children who attend its schools. It refuses to acknowledge areas where the district is making progress. "Not enough! The district is still failing!" the nay sayers cry. They refuse to give a superintendent or a school time to make the kind of gradual improvements that become part of the school culture and create slow improvement over the course of years. Instead, we're told we have to throw out the current group of bums because the district is failing under their leadership, then do the same thing to the next group of bums, followed by the next and the next and the next, ad infinitum.

It's one thing to advocate for change in TUSD. People who care about education should keep pushing for better education, and more funding to help carry it out. Parents especially have cause to say, "My kids need better schools now!" They should advocate for their kids and do whatever they can to make the school experience as good as it can possibly be while their kids are there to benefit from it. But the "Pox on all of TUSD" crowd aren't doing anyone any good. They just create a steady drum beat of negativity that gets in the way of positive change.

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