Eskildson: Scottsdale Schools score ‘below average’

Last Tuesday U.S. News and World Report released its 2017 rankings of America’s high schools. BASIS Scottsdale was No. 1 in the nation.

Loyd Eskildson

Chaparral, SUSD’s highest-ranked high-school, was No. 1,051, Arcadia No. 2,274, Desert Mountain No. 1,292, and Coronado and Saguaro so far down they weren’t even ranked.

Worse yet, the data now show SUSD high schools’ overall pupil achievement as below the state average! That means they’re also below national and global pupil achievement averages. Not good preparation for a world in which SUSD graduates increasingly must compete with those from other states and nations, as well as with increasingly capable low-cost robots and artificial intelligence.

Nor is this a good return on the hundreds of millions in additional property taxes Scottsdale residents are now paying to renovate their poorly performing schools.

Surprised?

That’s because SUSD administration and its board brazenly hid overall K-12 declining/stagnant pupil achievement for the last decade or so. Until a Freedom of Information Act request, backed by a state attorney, forced them to finally release that data. Those embarrassing pupil achievement trends, however, didn’t stop them from pretending all was well, and repeatedly, shamelessly asking for millions and millions more in additional funding.

You can find the trend data for each school, in Melissa Fittro’s excellent “Scottsdale Schools start New Year with trends, enrollment conversation,” which was published on Aug. 24, 2016.

After finally releasing the data and a bit of arm-waving and vacuous rhetoric, the topic once again was essentially forgotten. There still isn’t a single official goal for improving pupil achievement anywhere in the district! Even at the top! Superintendent Birdwell’s board-assigned goals are ridiculous, especially for a floundering district — “Develop acceptable  metrics to measure academic achievement, fiscal academic focus, community partnerships, and employee organization health.”

Something any school administrator could accomplish in half a day!

Superintendent Birdwell, supposedly a “tough, no-nonsense, skilled turnaround expert,” has been at SUSD for almost 18 months. Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of schools in the District of Columbia, provides an excellent contrast. She visited each principal prior to the beginning of her first year, discussed their prior achievement trends, and then assigned them specific new goals for improving pupil performance. Similarly with Joel Klein, when he turned around New York City schools.

Want to ensure your children receive a good education, and that your property values don’t decline? Start by voting out SUSD board members Pam Kirby (first elected in 2010), Barbara Perleberg (2012), and Kim Hartmann (2014). Meanwhile, insist they immediately replace Superintendent Birdwell, assign pupil achievement improvement goals to every principal and administrator, and link teacher rewards to their pupils’ achievement gains.

Also insist that SUSD compare its expenditures and results with other public schools, as well as Great Hearts. Great Hearts has volunteered to share data and experiences with SUSD; SUSD, however, declined the offer, probably because it already knows everything there is to know about how to fail at education.

You should also seriously think about enrolling your children somewhere else.

Editor’s note: Mr. Eskildson is a resident of Scottsdale

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