Lisa Graham Keegan is the bluebird of "education reform" happiness. Keegan, former state legislator who sponsored Arizona's original charter school bill (and got it passed by threatening Democrats that a voucher bill was coming next if the charter bill failed), then the Superintendent of Public Instruction who got charter schools rolling (and budgeted as little as possible for charter school oversight to make sure the "invisible hand of the marketplace" could work its magic), isn't one of those privatization proponents who spends all her time talking about "failing government schools" and abysmal standardized test scores. She'd rather write, as she did in a recent op ed
in the Capitol Times, that you can find excellent schools everywhere.
These models of excellence can be found in charters, traditional district schools, and district magnet schools. They’re in likely and unlikely places: affluent areas and low-income communities, rural, suburban, and urban.
Isn't that nice? Yes it is. And I have to say, I agree with her wholeheartedly — up to this point, anyway. Unfortunately, though, her sunny depiction of educational excellence is a soft-sell setup for her real point: that we should give more money to the schools she defines as "excellent," a definition that just happens to favor district and charter schools with lots of kids from high-income families.
Keegan, who has played a major role as an educational advisor to both former governor Jan Brewer and current governor Doug Ducey, is pushing Ducey's "results-based funding model" which awards "excellent" schools with more money. She and Ducey maintain that successful schools deserve to be rewarded for their success.
The reward system ignores a few education-related points. First, in most European and Asian school systems—the ones that eat our schools for lunch, "education reformers" never tire of reminding us—extra money is funneled into schools where student performance is low to cover the cost of improving the quality of the schools, not into schools where students are already doing well. Second, the Keegan/Brewer/Ducey definition of "excellence" leans heavily on standardized test scores, and, as virtually every reasonable study indicates, in the U.S. and around the world, test scores rise as family income rises.
"Results-based funding" will reward a few exceptional schools in low income areas by giving them extra money, but lots of schools in high income areas, many of which are only doing an adequate job with their students, will get the extra bucks as well, even though the reason for their seeming success is that their students live with college educated parents, already have their own smart phones and computers, and take academically enriching extra classes along with, if they need it, out-of-school tutoring.
I dislike the idea of "results-based funding" period. But I have a suggestion to make the idea more equitable. A school in a low income area is doing an exceptional job if it gets a state grade ranging from a high B to an A, while any school in a high income area that's not getting that kind of grade should hang its head in shame. So let's link the definition of "excellence" to family income. Schools like those in the Catalina Foothills or Vail school district, to take two high-rent examples, should have to get an A+ state grade to be considered for "results-based funding." They should score in the top 20% of schools with similar socioeconomic characteristics. I can't understand for the life of me why schools like that which turn out such high achieving students need more money than other schools, but at least it would be as difficult for a school full of economically advantaged kids to get some extra money as for a school with students on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.
Betsy DeVos Bonus Feature (if anything about DeVos can be considered a bonus)
: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, speaking to a group of leaders from school districts in large urban areas, said, "I support great public schools, and I support great public school teachers—because I support students—all students." She sounds kinda like Ms. Keegan, doesn't she? She supports public schools—loves public schools!—and private schools, and vouchers, and will most likely oversee the reduction of federal funds for public school education and the shrinking of the Department of Education, and . . . well, we'll just have to wait and see.