Eskildson: Is Arizona pupil achievement improving?

Despite tripling inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending since 1972, overall 17-year-old pupil achievement in America is essentially unchanged, and we’re below the average of economically-developed nations — despite spending more per pupil than all but Luxembourg.

How about Arizona? Very unlikely that our pupil achievement is improving either, given that Arizona educators have done nothing radically different than other states, and that experts repeatedly state that Arizona pupils rank below average.

Loyd Eskildson

But what about those rosy annual reports from the Department of Education bragging about how this or that group is improving, perhaps even exceeding the national average?

Some national lower-grade pupil achievements have gone up for years, but those improvements never work their way up to 17-year-olds. (17-year-old achievement levels equate to education’s “final score.”) Lower level “improvements” largely only reflect curriculum level changes and random variations, and have proven meaningless.

What about all the education “innovations” we’ve heard about, like “New Math?”

“New Math,” fortunately faded away long ago, replaced by “Reformed Math,” Everyday Math, and then “Singapore Math.” None worked consistently, if at all.

The latest Arizona education fad is charter schools. Here we lead the nation –– in implementation, but not results. (Massachusetts has the latter title.)

Despite the incredible successes of BASIS charters and solid performances by others, all three external credible assessments of Arizona charters have reported that, in general, they under-perform existing local public schools.

The “good news,” for contractors, is that the charter fad has brought unneeded new school buildings; for the media they’ve produced lots of reports of scandal; and for charter advocates, new opportunities to cherry-pick and otherwise manipulate data to create “wonderful fairy-tales.”

What is a likely major cause of rising per-pupil expenditures accompanied by stagnant achievement and numerous failed innovations? Lack of accountability.

It is difficult/impossible to compare Arizona’s statewide pupil testing results with those from other states/nations. Arizona’s “accountability” program was deliberately designed to prevent such — we have our own standards/tests and they differ from everyone else’s!

The tests themselves also cannot be credibly used to evaluate/reward individual teachers according to their actual contributions — taking into account prior pupil achievement, key home environment factors, etc. (Actually, it’s even difficult to credibly compare a teacher, school’s performance with themselves from one year to the next, and impossible to do so over a number of years — the latter due to periodically changing tests and standards.)

Who thought up this craziness? Primarily teacher unions, assisted by ambitious politicians seeking teacher votes.

Think a moment about self-determined standards. Does Arizona’s Intel manufacture chips for use only in Arizona, employing “Arizona math” and according to Arizona curriculum standards? Of course not. Employers produce globally, and only care how well an applicant compares to others — globally.

Face reality, fix Arizona education. Get rid of “Arizona” education standards and tests and those who sold us out creating that complicated garbage, set credible goals to become globally competitive, and start rewarding educators according to what they ACCOMPLISH.

Only then will Arizona pupil achievement improve.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Eskildson is a member of the Scottsdale Unified School District community and a Paradise Valley resident.

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