InClass

Centered: The Arizona K12 Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Kathy Wiebke, offers her education insights in this monthly column. When I was a kid my family took a camping trip down the Baja Peninsula. This was long before there were roads, so the trip required four-wheel drive and much patience. Ther

Oct 20, 2017

Centered: The Arizona K12 Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Kathy Wiebke, offers her education insights in this monthly column.


When I was a kid my family took a camping trip down the Baja Peninsula. This was long before there were roads, so the trip required four-wheel drive and much patience. There were five us in my parents’ International Harvester Scout. We towed a utility trailer that carried the tent, sleeping bags, food, and whatever else one needs for a three-week camping excursion in Mexico.

While driving through a particularly rough patch, the axle to the trailer broke. With no help within miles, let alone hours, my father “fixed” the axle with duct tape and some rope. Although we moved very slowly and with great care, the “fix” held out until we could get the axle repaired.

That memory came back to me as I read Robert Robb’s column, “For the Last Time, Arizona Schools Don’t Stink.” In this op-ed, Robb, using the results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — a test administered through the United States — explains Arizona students are actually doing quite well. While he speaks about Arizona’s poor ranking in school funding, he advises too often people equate that money with school performance. Even taking into account the less than stellar school ratings from the new AzMERIT, we aren’t performing where we would like to be, but we certainly aren’t in the basement either.

He closes the piece with the following, “Our school administrators and teachers are holding our educational enterprise together with duct tape. To falsely say that the end result of their efforts is lousy schools compared to other states is as unfair as not giving them adequate resources to do the job in the first place.”

Duct tape — the perfect analogy.

Like the axle on the old utility trailer, educators are holding the system together. However, sooner or later it, too, is going to break. You cannot continue to ask people to do more and more with less and less. That is what has been going on in Arizona’s schools for over a decade. The end result is we have teachers leaving in record numbers and fewer young people wanting a career in teaching. Talk to almost any education professional and you will soon discover they are exhausted. They are drained because class sizes are larger than ever. They are spent because there are fewer supports in place to help our most vulnerable students. And, I have to believe they are wearied because, while policymakers often talk a good game, rarely is it matched with any meaningful action. This is not a new phenomenon. Rather, it has been going on for years.

As I read Robb’s piece, I couldn’t help but think about our schools’ potential. Imagine how great they would be if every classroom had a well-prepared and experienced teacher. Visualize how wonderful our schools would be if they were properly funded and teachers were fairly compensated. Picture how successful they would be if we didn't have so many teachers leaving the profession and far too few willing to enter the profession. Envision how incredible they would be if we had the supports in place to help all children reach their potential. Can you fathom how great they would be if we supported our schools and those who work in them with our words and actions?

The decisions with greatest impact on our schools happen in a square-mile radius of 17th Avenue and Jefferson — the state legislature, Arizona State Board of Education, Arizona Department of Education, and governor’s office. Every legislative seat, as well as many state offices, are up for reelection in 2018. These are the men and women who make the decisions on school funding and policies that impact our students. I challenge you to get to know your candidates and vote. Learn where they really stand on educational issues, as many of them speak a good game, but their votes do not match. You might even consider running for a state office or your local school board. We cannot be complacent on the issues or our candidates. Your vote does matter and Arizona’s kids are counting on all of us to step up because the duct tape is hanging on by a thread.

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