A Tale of Two Public School Systems

Author: Joe Blankenship
Date Published: April 9, 2018

The most important responsibility a state has is the education of its children! When education is viewed as gaining knowledge, instead of just passing from grade to grade to graduation, its leaders recognize that every qualitative aspect of a society is determined by the success or failure of its educational system. Whether its economic progress, health and wellness, law and order, fiscal responsibility, social cohesion or participation in the democratic process, education sets the tone for how the society will prosper or fail.

Using the metaphor of Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities,” the author compares the school systems of Arizona and Massachusetts. First is a comparison of the “grades’ of the systems and then a comparison of the “policy” that produces the grades. The discussion provides a look at the process of getting to the current status of the two school systems. The author then concludes as to which state’s leaders VALUE education and are willing to take RESPONSIBILTY for providing the environment for a quality education and which does not.

For questions or comments, email the author at blankenship59@gmail.com

A Tale of Two Public School Systems

Joe Blankenship – April 9, 2018

One was the best of systems, one was the worst of systems,
One was a system of wisdom, one was a system of greed,
One created an epoch of promise, one created an epoch of failure, One introduced the spring of hope, one introduced a winter of despair,
One would lead to everything before us, one would lead to nothing before us,

“..we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – In short, the period led us to the present day, where some of its noisiest authorities insisted on being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

The use of the opening of Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities,” makes good metaphor for the comparison I am going to make between the state school systems of Massachusetts (MASS) and Arizona (AZ). MASS has the best performing school system in the United States and readily compares itself to other nations as a model of international competitiveness. AZ’s school system regularly scores in the lower half of US state comparisons based on several statistical and quality measures. Currently advertisements are being broadcast that champion the “superlative improvements” in NAEP scores by Arizona schools, however, the current “improved” scores still keep Arizona below the national average. These advertisements are an expensive campaign that is funded by outside sources that want to ensure that AZ’s schools stay on a path to privatization, rather than improved to meet AZ Constitutional requirements of a quality education for all.

Comparison of School Performance and School Policies and Implementation

In making comparisons of two school systems I look at the “grades” of the system, usually expressed numerically or with a letter grade. Then I look at the “policy” that produced the numerical grades. Numerical or letter grades are the result of the policies set in place. Policies define the goals of the system and how it will be structured, funded, monitored and held to account. This comparison will first reflect the recent grade and statistical performance of the two systems and then describe the essential parts of the policies that created the outcomes.

Who’s to be the judge in determining the grades? The proliferation of “school choice” has created a large number of organizations that claim to be the experts in determining the best and worst of operating school systems. Although there are some credible institutions that try to make objective evaluations of student achievement, some measures use very narrow information that creates bias toward a specific ideology or desired outcome. I have used comparisons from three national organizations that I deem credible in presenting objective results of student performance and state measures of economic and social support. Comparisons of policy positions are taken from state and institutional web sites and other periodicals that I gauge to be reasonably objective. (An issue: Arizona charter schools are not regulated as public schools and therefore would not fit into my description of public schools even though some of the scores will include test comparisons from charter schools.)

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